A year after looking silly starring in the Dirty Harry clone "McQ," John Wayne gave the modern-day cop thriller another try to much better effect in "Brannigan," a fine vehicle for the aging legend.
Wayne plays Lt. James Brannigan, a Chicago police detective hot on the trail of mobster Ben Larkin. When Larkin is located in London, England, Wayne is dispatched to pick him up and extradite him home to face criminal charges (extortion, prostitution, bribery, murder). Upon arrival in London, he meets his pretty young escort Jenny (she's on loan from vice squad.), who takes him to meet Scotland Yard chief Sir Charles Swann ("Gandhi" director Richard Attenborough, in a terrific performance). In the meantime, Larkin, who is under surveillance, is kidnapped, thwarting Brannigan's plans for a quick extradition and embarassing Swann, who has just berated Brannigan for losing Larkin in the first place and assuring him: "It can't happen here." To Swann's obvious displeasure, Brannigan decides to stick around and help Scotland Yard find Larkin, even though he and Swann have a prickly relationship at best and disapprove of each other's police methods--i.e. Brannigan is a conservative who carries a gun and believes in the use of force and Swann a liberal who doesn't believe in either. Brannigan also spends a great deal of the film dodging a hit man whom Larkin hired prior to his kidnapping.
What follows is an amusing, and low-key, caper that is culminated by a well-choreographed chase through the streets of London, a hilarious bar brawl, and several attacks by the hit man, including one in which Jenny is almost killed. Wayne is in fine form here, well-served by the change of locales and by his character who, unlike McQ, is closer to his own age and not as much of a Dirty Harry-clone. The film is also marked by a much lighter tone than his previous outing, and unlike his uncomfortable pairing with "McQ"'s Eddie Albert, he and Attenborough make a memorable team and have several terrific scenes together. A warning, however--compaired with today's myriad of over-the-top action films like "XXX" and every "Lethal Weapon" wannabe of the past fifteen years, "Brannigan" is pretty subdued and the action scenes will seem tame to today's thrill-seeking action audience. Unlike today's action dreck, the name-of-the-game in "Brannigan" is characterization and plot, as it was with most genre films of the '70's.
Also unlike today's action films, "Brannigan" has a memorable supporting cast, all of whom play characters who actually resemble real people. As I said earlier, Attenborough is terrific as Wayne's sparring partner, and Judy Geeson is a worthy partner for Wayne, although as was also standard for the era, she's mostly around to scream "Jim!" every time Brannigan is in danger and to be protected by her new friend. John Vernon (the dean in "Animal House") is a fine villain as Larkin, and Mel Ferrer scores points as Larkin's sleazy (and crooked) lawyer, who obviously knows more than he lets on. Daniel Pilon adds menace as the mostly silent hit man Gorman. And look fast for Lesley-Anne Down as a hoodlum's girlfriend.
John Wayne only made two more films after "Brannigan"--"Rooster Cogburn" and "The Shootist." And while "Brannigan" will probably be regarded as one of the lesser efforts of his legendary career, it was, and remains, an amusing and entertaining two hours, and a rare chance to see Wayne in a contemporary setting. It's a worthy effort. *** (out of *****)