Making its very first appearance on blu-ray in the UK this week, Douglas Hickox’s culture-clash cop vehicle is something of a time-capsule of past attitudes. Hickox was hot from his lavish Grand Guginol production of Theatre of Blood, a direct ancestor of today’s Paddington 2, and was called on to work a similar magic with London locations, a complex crime story and a man-sized if vintage star in John Wayne. Wayne had experienced a late career bloom since winning an Oscar for True Grit; his last few features, including this, McQ and Don Siegel’s sombre The Shootist gave him the right kind of send-off after a career of over two hundred film roles. If Wayne was no longer quite the box-office draw he once was, Brannigan is a robustly constructed vehicle for Wayne with his son Michael amongst the producers; Christopher Trumbo is amongst the writers of a wry script that doubles down amusingly on the idea of British/American rivalry.
Jim Brannigan is, not surprisingly, a tough Chicago cop on the trail of gangster Ben Larkin (John Vernon); Brannigan is sent over the pond on a mission to Merrie England (ie mid-70’s London) on an extradition mission, where his route-one American ways leave the locals in awe of his sheer machismo. So there’s a blast of Rule Britannia when Brannigan arrives in town, after a two minute promo for British Airways, complete with stewardesses for Wayne to exhibit some casual sexism to. ‘You’ll make someone a nice little wife,’ is the kind of out-dated quip that Brannigan makes, so don’t be looking for anything too woke around here. In fact, Jim Brannigan is here to extinguish any such modern notion; he’s horrified to discover that he’ll be driven around town by an ACTUAL WOMAN, although Brannigan’s anxieties prove unfounded when she turns out to be smiley Mrs Thatcher (Judy Geeson) with whom he strikes up a platonic mutual admiration. But Brannigan’s main partner in solving crimes is top cop Commander Charles Swann, played by Sir Richard Attenborough in a feisty, anything-goes turn. Car-chases, barroom brawls, exploding toilets and all sort of mayhem ensue; ‘Call the police’ says one startled local, followed by the re-joiner ‘He IS the police.’
Hickox knew his London, and all kind of brands are showcased here, some as familiar as polo mints, the Garrick club or the Dorchester hotel, others like Dutch Farm Butter, less so. Brannigan hasn’t seen the UK ‘since the war’ and finds the swinging sixities have changed the vibe somewhat; ‘The last time I was here people were getting bombed in a different way ,’ Brannigan quips as he surveys a public house full of British hedonists which becomes a melee with Let The Sunshine In from Hair playing on the juke-box. Apologising for being such a ‘Yankee slave driver’, Brannigan navigates flirtatious landladies, Brian Glover calling him a ‘flatfoot’, typical British inefficiency and more, leading to a splendid car chase in which Brannigan manages to jump a Ford Capri over Tower Bridge; the cowering Brit unfortunate enough to share the stunt with him is left a gibbering wreck while Brannigan exits with style as they land unceremoniously in a skip.
Hickox has the ideal unpretentious style for this kind of romp, packing the narrative with police work incident and relentlessly sight-seeing on what looks like a baking hot summer in the capital, capturing everything from St Pancras railway station to the yellow sodium lights at night. The product placement, from Ford Cortinas to shoe-horned in ad-lines like ‘I’m only here for the beer’ reflect a bonanza of tie-ins; clearly having the Duke in town was something half of London was keen to support. Wayne complains of acting like ‘a bear with a toothache’, but it’s easy to sympathise when he starts railing against ‘the old school tie’. Looking great on blu-ray, Brannigan is a lap-of-honour for Wayne and Hickox, a smash-and grab copshow that demonstrates that the US/UK alliance was in full flow back in 1975; they really don’t make them like Brannigan any more.
Brannigan is out now (Aug 2023) for the first time on blu-ray in the UK.