Stars – John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, James Booth, Judy Geeson, Mel Ferrer, John Vernon, Ralph Meeker,
Director – Douglas Hickox
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available at screen archives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
The film opens with an extreme close up of a pistol. We see a Colt .38 Special in exquisite detail. It’s a Diamondback with a four inch barrel. It may look cool and we may even realize that this piece will figure strongly in the following movie But it is not a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world. That gun belongs to Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry. John Wayne has made many great films however one gets the feeling he picked up the wrong gun for this one. Clint Eastwood moved easily from his Western Man with No Name success into the urban landscape with only one step between the genres in his friend Don Siegel’s Coogan’s Bluff (1968 ) . Wayne is mostly known as a cowboy. He made westerns and rode horses in almost everything he appeared in. There was one great exception – A Quiet Man (1952 ). One that was a lot of fun with Lee Marvin – Donovan’s Reef (1963). And then there is Hatari (1962 ) which gave us Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk theme. Well that’s not entirely true. He also made a lot of successful war pictures. He was able to make his stoic hero persona work in those films. The attempts to bring him into a contemporary detective milieu like 1974’s McQ just did not work. I do not think there are any complex reasons there. Had he tried before with a good script and a good director on his game he may have made it work. Apparently he chose not to. His last film was the fittingly elegiac The Shootist (1976). Director Don Siegel let him go out with tremendous style.
Brannigan is a rough Irish detective in Chicago. We first see him bursting in on a counterfeiter. He tricks him into giving up the location of a wanted crook with an empty pistol pointed at his head and then throws off a one liner. The seemingly off hand remark that is tossed of so effortlessly has become a staple of action pictures. These lines have to have a zing or at least elicit a knowing grin from the audience. The script by four writers has not a good one between them. The bad guy that Wayne is after has skipped the country. In short order Brannigan is a on plane bound for England. His quarry is John Vernon (Animal House). Once the plane touches down he is greeted by Judy Geeson (To Sir With Love) . The flirtatious lines between them in the script do not work at all. Later in the film she gives him a peck on the cheek because he is so solid. What does catch your eye during their dialogue are the wonderful location shots in London. The city looks great in this film. We can read the show marquees and see great detail in the the various shops and eateries.
His main contact there is Commander Swann played wonderfully by Richard Attenborough. Their various exchanges work well. They eat and drink a lot together and establish a good camaraderie. Attenborough chides him about the pistol he is carrying. We know he will use it to good effect by the end of the film. There is some questioning of people but the investigation lacks any depth or real urgency. It’s just one guy trying to get another guy before he leaves the country. The plot takes a twist when Vernon is kidnapped. His attorney Mel Ferrer gathers the money quickly for the pay off. This set up and staged ransom appears phony right from the get go so there is little suspense or interest contributed to the narrative. It just goes on like an episode of a TV show rushing to the commercial break.
There are a couple of very pedestrian car chases that are poorly photographed. We spend too much time inside the cars. By 1975 films like The French Connection (1971) and Bullitt (1968) had upped the ante for more realistic car chases well beyond what this film offers. Director Hickox doesn’t build any tension or excitement. The car jump between the opening of a bridge feels lackluster, too. There is not much made of the big yank and his attitudes having to made a go of it across the big pond. You can almost hear the writers reaching for the kind rapport that Dennis Weaver’s transplanted New Mexican Marshal had with his New York City counterparts on the TV series McCloud which was a big hit on TV when this film came out. The other factor that deflates most of the exposition is Dominic Frontiere’s score. He is well known for his Star Trek and Outer Limits TV themes however everything here is so overplayed and jaunty. The strings and horns are bright and peppy. The sound cues that were chosen undermine what little action there is. That’s not to say that he doesn’t do good work. It’s just not a good fit here. His best work in films has a lightness to it which suited movies like Bruce Brown’s fun documentary On Any Sunday (1971) and Richard Rush’s deliciously deceptive The Stuntman (1980) very well.
Brannigan is a misfire. At that point in his life Wayne could not help but bring his iconic status with him into every role he played. He was perfectly cast in True Grit (1969) as the grizzled man with a reputation. Even the later day westerns set him up to play off that storied history. Plainly put this was not a good script. His other modern day detective film McQ (1974) was poorly received at the theaters. Director Hickox’s best film may have been Theatre of Blood (1973) a dark comedy with Vincent Price. This wasn’t a fair gunfight. Brannigan was down even before its gun was out of his holster. The Duke had become a legend who deserved much better than this. However we’d do well to remember though that John Wayne was an actor who was used to working a lot. He’s entitled to a few duds. There are more than plenty of good to great John Wayne pictures to make up for this one.
Video – 2.35:1
This film looks okay. Some of the shots have a softness to them that appears inherent in the way it was shot. It has a light overlit quality that feels very much in keeping with the way hour long TV cop and detective shows were shot then. It plays fine on a TV screen.
Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD master with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear although there are some scenes that sound like they were dubbed afterwards that have a odd quality to them. They do not feel as though they are properly a part of the film. That’s down to way it was originally recorded and mixed. The score, even though it does not appear to be a good fit for the film to me sounds fine. There was even a short guitar arpeggio used early on that felt very reminiscent of one of the piano riffs found in a spaghetti western.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track, Commentary with Actress Judy Geeson and Film Historian Nick Redman, Judy Geeson’s “Behind the Scenes” Home Movie Footage Trailer, Liner notes by Julie Kirgo
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Good
Movie – Fair