Release Date: March 26th, 1975 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Douglas Hickox Actors: John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson, Mel Ferrer, John Vernon, Lesley Anne Down
spectacular theme song opens “Brannigan,” a hard-boiled cops-and-robbers film set in London. John Wayne, a larger-than-life symbol of confidence and vigilante justice, and a juggernaut who cannot be taken down, perfectly embodies the title role, which can best be described as his version of “Dirty Harry.” Ripping the hinges from doors to enter a room, starting barroom brawls in the name of detective work, and interrogating suspects with an unorthodox sense of good-cop/bad-cop, Wayne’s titular character is still a clear-cut hero, regardless of his questionable methods of bestirring judicature.
Tough, no-nonsense Chicago cop Lieutenant Brannigan (John Wayne) discovers that one of the gangsters he has been tracking for months, Ben Larkin (John Vernon), has slipped away to Europe, where Scotland Yard has agreed to pick him up and deliver him into U.S. custody. Brannigan travels to London to meet with Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough), the head of the “Yard,” who carries on about the United States’ “sort of careless” approach to keeping an eye on criminals. Immediately after his patronization of the American judiciary system, word reaches the two men that crime boss Larkin has gone missing.
Shortly thereafter, a ransom message shows up, brought by uncooperative lawyer Fields (Mel Ferrer), who gathers the huge sum of money for delivery to the drop-off point. Using the mailbox hoax tactic that was later duplicated in “Speed,” the kidnappers are able to get away with the money and, later, demand even more in a second ransom. Meanwhile, as Scotland Yard and Brannigan try to unravel who’s behind the kidnapping, a professional assassin paid to silence the Chicago detective quickly closes in on his prey.
All by itself, the jazzy theme by Dominic Frontiere makes the film worth watching, but as soon as John Wayne kicks an entire door down with the quip “knock, knock,” audiences will know they’re watching an indomitable screen badass, striving for answers without compromise. His towering frame and steadfast resolve aren’t the only resources in his arsenal, either. He’s also quite the lady’s man, pouring gushing words of praise and coquettish remarks on his dewy-eyed London liaison, Jennifer (Judy Geeson). Wherever Brannigan goes, an aura of coolness follows. Few actors in Hollywood could carry such awe, regardless of the role and the level of acting skills. John Wayne basically falls back on the roguish tough-guy persona he portrays in all of his films, while Attenborough does a decent job as a smarmy British lord and everyone else (especially the villain Larkin) delivers rather underwhelming performances.
Brannigan dishes out heavy-handed judgments on random thugs, bookies, counterfeiters, kidnappers, and assassins alike, roughing up those in need of a beating and brawling with rowdy pub patrons just for fun. The abductors aren’t amateurs, so destruction of property, drive-by shootings, bombs, and booby-traps are mandatory in this story of blurred rights and wrongs. Though Brannigan is John Wayne’s Inspector Callahan, and he makes no qualms about being just as uncouth as necessary to get to the bottom of the mystery, the film isn’t a perfect thriller. It is, however, the kind of film that can be viewed over and over again without getting tired of the comedy, adventure, and action-packed retribution.
– Mike Massie