sun 21/04/2024

Blu-ray: Brannigan | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Brannigan

Blu-ray: Brannigan

Ludicrous but likeable crime thriller, strikingly played by John Wayne and Richard Attenborough

John Wayne and Richard Attenborough in 'Brannigan'

Brannigan begins in arresting fashion, Dominic Frontiere’s funky theme playing over leery close ups of the titular hero’s Colt revolver. Directed by Douglas Hickox and released in 1973, this was the only film starring John Wayne which wasn’t shot in the US.

A brief prologue sets up the plot, with ageing maverick Lieutenant Jim Brannigan flying from Chicago to London to extradite gangster Ben Larkin (John Vernon), currently in the care of the Met. But the presence of Mel Ferrer’s slippery lawyer suggests that things won’t go to plan, and Larkin is subsequently kidnapped and held to ransom before he can be returned. As if that’s not enough, Brannigan is being stalked by Daniel Pilon’s contract killer Gorman whilst trying to get to grips with British law-enforcement techniques. Here, he’s helped by Richard Attenborough’s upper-class Commander Swann, exasperated by his new partner’s gun-toting bad habits.

BranniganJohnny Mains’ excellent booklet essay suggests that Brannigan is one of a series of hardboiled early 1970s British thrillers, though it’s not in the same league as Get Carter or The Offence. Wayne had turned down the chance to play the lead in 1971’s Dirty Harry and later regretted the decision (“How did I ever let that one slip through my fingers?”).

Brannigan, despite a few violent scenes, isn’t comparable. At times it’s more like watching an episode of The Sweeney, with a much bigger budget. And, as such, it’s a lot of fun. The odd-couple pairing of Wayne and Attenborough works well, and there’s palpable warmth between Wayne and Judy Gleeson as the young sergeant charged with looking after him. We get entertaining cameos from Brian Glover and a young Tony Robinson. Wayne was seriously ill when he shot the film, having lost a lung to cancer, needing oxygen on set. Despite this, he looks incredibly robust, though his action sequences don’t involve much more than pushing doors open, shouting lots and shooting. There’s a spectacular extended pub brawl, Wayne’s punches accompanied by comedic thwacks.

Though the film’s geography is a bit cockeyed (this is one of those films where you cross Waterloo Bridge to reach Buckingham Palace), and you’ll marvel at the scenic view from Wayne’s booby-trapped toilet (don’t ask), the location footage of an ungentrified London makes Brannigan mandatory viewing. There’s an iconic car chase across Tower Bridge, the famous leap realised with some nifty model work. Several scenes were shot in and around London’s then undeveloped docklands, and the final confrontation between Brannigan and Gorman is well-staged.

The BFI’s documentation and bonus features are superb, especially some recent interviews with co-stars and production staff, all won over by Wayne’s charm and charisma. We learn that he was impressed by British wig-making techniques, taking those he wore on set back to the US after shooting had finished. And there’s a host of short films about London life, my favourite being one following a PC patrolling the streets of Notting Hill in 1973.

The location footage of an ungentrified London makes 'Brannigan' mandatory viewing

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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