In 1971, Clint Eastwood redefined the cop thriller with Dirty Harry. The rogue, doesn’t-play-by-the-books detective spawned countless imitators that are still being birthed to this day, but those that followed in the early 70s were among the most desperate. The Duke himself, John Wayne, made not one but two attempts – in 1974’s McQ, and subsequently in 1975’s Brannigan.
Brannigan saw Wayne as the titular Jim Brannigan, a tough Chicago detective sent to London to extradite a notorious American gangster (John Vernon, who starred in – yes, you guessed it – Dirty Harry). Teaming up with stuffy upper-class Commander Swann of Scotland Yard (Richard Attenborough), Brannigan tears through the city when things don’t go to plan.
This is a peculiar film. Dropping John Wayne into 1970s London is jarring at the best of times, let alone when Wayne clearly doesn’t really give a shit about the project. At 68, his glory days are well and truly behind him – and the project is clearly a bitter attempt to prove he’s still relevant while newcomer Clint Eastwood’s career was on the rise. It’s something of a vanity project, which I’d be able to get behind if Wayne was putting in any particular effort.
The film’s main character is the city of London itself, and Gerry Fisher’s cinematography captures it wonderfully. Here is the bleak, colourless, underbelly of 1970s London in all its glory, and it sure is a treat to see some familiar locations from the Capital in this lens. It’s all rather charmingly grey.
On the whole, though, Brannigan is just dull. The raw, compelling grittiness of Dirty Harry is nowhere to be found, action sequences are few and far between, the narrative is clunky, and The Duke is checked out from the first scene.
BFI’s new Blu-ray release is a stunner, boasting a stellar transfer of the film and a wealth of new and archival special features – the 89-minute audio interview with Attenborough is particularly fascinating, and worth the price of purchase alone. Take It to the Bridge, a 20-minute selection of London film dating from 1905-1956 is also a wonderful companion piece to the film’s 1970s footage of the city. But this is one of those releases where the supplements are actually far more entertaining than the main feature!
Brannigan is certainly up there with Wayne’s worst, and any attempts to reestablish The Duke’s relevance and on-screen power were futile with this dull effort. BFI’s release is excellent, though, with a stunning transfer and oodles of bonus features. Recommended as a curiosity more than anything.