Judge Patrick Naugle is a rough and tumble reviewer.
Saddle up for jolly old England!
Brannigan (John Wayne, The Cowboys) is a Chicago cop with an old west attitude; he does things by the book, if the book corresponds with what Brannigan thinks is right. When Brannigan heads to England to snatch up a bail-jumping thug (a snarling John Vernon, Animal House), the eponymous cop gets more than he bargained for when his intended target is kidnapped by some local hoods, forcing the Windy City detective to join forces with a Scotland Yard detective (Richard Attenborough, The Great Escape) to solve a case that will take him all over London…and into the heart of danger.
Quick: what do you think about when you picture John Wayne? If you said "western movies," congratulations! You've just joined the other 99.9999% of the planet that also links John Wayne with the old west. In fact, it's often difficult to imagine 'The Duke' in anything but a ten gallon hat and spurs. During the iconic actor's long and successful career, Wayne generally stuck to the genre he was most adept at and only briefly would step outside of his comfort zone (see: The Conqueror). During the 1970s the western genre was starting to ebb, and Wayne realized that he needed to find a new way to reach audiences. Unfortunately, legend has it that Wayne made an enormous career blunder by turning down the now classic Dirty Harry, a film that made Clint Eastwood a bona fide star (and went on to spawn four sequels). During the final leg of his career, Wayne made two movies in the vein of "Dirty" Harry Callahan: 1974's McQ and 1975's fish-out-of-water crime thriller Brannigan.
John Wayne fans may be disappointed to see the beloved icon in such a drastically different role in Brannigan. Well, maybe it's not all that different; Brannigan isn't really all that removed from Wayne's other characters, like Rooster Cogburn or Thomas Dunson. Brannigan is a rather no-nonsense Chicago cop who desires nothing more than to "have a hot shower, get some sleep, and get [his] hands on the lapels" of the film's villain. In a way, Brannigan is a departure but also a return to form for Wayne. The film doesn't really break any new ground for Wayne (the actor's personality is so well known that, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's hard for him to disappear into a character completely), but the character does at least give Wayne a chance to stretch a bit (even if stretching just means placing a surly cowboy persona overseas). There are moments when Wayne's character likes to interject his machismo American attitude, especially when ordering breakfast (desiring a good old Midwest portion of eggs, bacon, and pancakes). Sadly, one of the biggest faults with Brannigan is the fact that John Wayne—then in his late sixties—was a little unconvincing as a cop who could keep up with all the action.
The supporting cast features wide range of talent, including a dour Richard Attenborough as an English policeman, John Vernon as the slimy villain Ben Larkin, bubbly Judy Geeson (The Eagle Has Landed) as a fellow detective (and possible love interest), and Mel Ferrer (The Longest Day) as a mobster lawyer. Attenborough makes the biggest impression, playing a no-nonsense character who banters well off of Wayne. The city of London itself is a character in the film, but the scenery is often drab and dirty, which makes me glad I wasn't alive to visit jolly old England during the mid-1970s.
This story may have felt fresh and vital in 1975 (coming a few years off the heels of William Friedkin's The French Connection), but witnessed almost forty years after the fact and the film now feels downright stale. This isn't to say that Brannigan is a bad movie; it's just not a very original one. The idea of taking an American cop and dropping him overseas has been done to death, from Brett Ratner's Rush Hour action/comedy series to director Ridley Scott's Black Rain. John Wayne would pass away only a few short years later from stomach cancer, and it's a shame we never got to see what 'The Duke' would move onto in the 1980s (and maybe even a bit into the 1990s, had he lived a long life). As it stands, Brannigan shows the path he may have tread (grizzled cop movies) had he not been forced to ride off into the sunset.
Brannigan (Blu-ray) is presented in 2.34:1/1080p HD widescreen. I can't say that I was all that impressed with this video transfer. The image quality often looks soft and grainy; while this doesn't mean the picture is a complete disaster (it's still a good step up from DVD), it also doesn't mean it's an enormous high def improvement. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono in English. Overall this is a very front heavy mix that doesn't feature much in the way of surround sounds or directional effects. Also included are English subtitles.
Extra features on this Twilight Time release (in a limited run of only 3,000 units) include a commentary track by actress Judy Geeson, some behind the scenes home movies the actress shot during the film's climax, an isolated soundtrack for Dominic Frontiere's score, and an original theatrical trailer for the film.
Brannigan finds John Wayne in a different setting, playing basically the same character he'd played for the last half century. It's a decent enough entry in the gritty 1970s law enforcement genre, but certainly not one of Wayne's best films. Twilight Time's work on the disc is passable, but with an only average transfer and few extra features, the $30+ price points seems a bit steep for this title.
Best suited to die hard John Wayne fans.
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Studio: Twilight Time
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