Saturday 26 April 2008

Brannigan (1975)

In 2006 Sylvester Stallone made Rocky Balboa and people wondered if he could still do the job at 60 years of age. In 2008 he made Rambo and the same question got asked, with only the age being different. The question will be back again very shortly with Harrison Ford who will be 66 when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes out, but it isn't a new question. I'm sure people asked the same question when John Wayne made Brannigan in 1975. He was 67, in bad health and wearing a toupee but he enters the film by kicking down a door and playing hardball with a forger.

But he's still John Wayne and he's still the tough guy, even though the people behind the film are second generation: the executive producer is his eldest son, Michael Wayne, and the writer is Christopher Trumbo, son of Dalton Trumbo. The Duke only had two films left after this one, Rooster Cogburn and The Shootist, and he looked even older in both. As always he has a gun and a badge, but unlike those films he isn't in the old west, he's a Chicago cop in London.

He's there to pick up a mobster being extradited back to the States, one he's been chasing for a long time and who has put a contract on him. He's in the hands of Scotland Yard but after he's kidnapped, it's up to Brannigan and his English compatriots to find him again. Beyond the Duke, there are a number of other major names here to ensure that things are done right. Larkin the mobster is played by John Vernon, always excellent as a powerful but amoral thug, and Fields, his sleazy lawyer, is Mel Ferrer. Scotland Yard provide Richard Attenborough as Cmdr Sir Charles Swann and the always delightful Judy Geeson as Brannigan's caretaker.

In smaller roles are a number of people I recognise, most of whom I can immediately translate from faces into names: Lesley-Anne Down is the most obvious, but also Brian Glover, Don Henderson and Tony Robinson. I'm not convinced that I didn't see Patrick Malahide in a small cameo. It took me a while to place the kidnappers though, because I know faces but not names. One is Del Henney, who is probably best known from Straw Dogs but who I probably saw first on TV in Juliet Bravo or Doctor Who. Another is James Booth and I still can't work out where I know him, but it was probably from Minder.

The film itself is a solid one. I was expecting another variation on the theme of Dirty Harry, but this is something else. It's a solid attempt to tailor the tough '70s thriller with a decent attempt at highlighting the differences between English and American policework. Mostly that sort of thing comes off as insulting to one side of the other but this one does get away with it. My biggest problem had to do with the final action scene which is unfortunately way too Hollywood style over substance. The previous action scenes are solid and surprisingly effective.

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