Police Detective Jim Brannigan (John Wayne) is sent from Chicago to London to extradite a wanted American criminal, Ben Larkin (John Vernon). However, Larkin is kidnapped before Brannigan can apprehend him, igniting a manhunt throughout the city. Jennifer (Judy Geeson), a British police officer, is appointed to help Brannigan, who is frequently bewildered by English customs. Brannigan's harsh policing techniques also lead to constant clashes with Cmdr. Swann (Richard Attenborough).
"This isn't Chicago!"
"You're right, you can't get a decent burger anywhere in this town."
Where would the world be without the tough as nails cops who work to preserve law and order by frequently breaking all the rules? That's a bit of a loaded question, I know, but I'm speaking cinematically. We wouldn't have Dirty Harry. We wouldn't have 90% of Burt Reynolds' movies. And we'd likely miss out on one of John Wayne's better late-in-life performances. I can't really sugar coat it, 1975's Brannigan isn't the greatest of action films, but for John Wayne in one of his final performances, the salty Chicago police Lieutenant Brannigan gave The Duke a new spring in his step.
Chicago police Lieutenant Brannigan is the toughest guy on the force. He defends the law but works outside its established rules to get the job done and put criminals behind bars or six feet underground. For years he's been trying to put criminal overlord Ben Larkin (John Vernon) behind bars and he's about to get his chance. After fleeing to London, Larkin has been tabbed by Scotland Yard Commodore Swann (Richard Attenborough), so now all Brannigan has to do is fly to England and bring his prisoner back to the United States. But Larkin has other plans. After orchestrating an escape, Larkin is free once again and Brannigan is the only cop in London capable of bringing the man to justice - one way or another.
Brannigan follows the familiar fish-out-of-water detective structure. If you've seen Coogan's Bluff, Black Rain, or the terrific episode of MST3k Final Justice - you're already ahead of the game. You have a salty and surly American cop who is in a foreign land to capture his criminal rival and he's going to show these local cops how to dispense justice American style. Even if this film follows all of the familiar tropes that had already been well established, Brannigan proves itself to be a hell of a lot of fun - even if it isn't the greatest actioner to come out of the rough and tough 1970s.
Part of what makes Brannigan work is the simple fact that it hinges entirely on John Wayne's larger-than-life tough guy persona. Like any of the other similar films that I just mentioned, the lead has to be a heavy - someone who knows how to carry a gun but doesn't actually need to since they're just going to use their fists anyway. Wayne brings that to this film in a big way. As his third to last film before becoming too ill to work, Wayne is spry and still holds his own against anyone in the room including a dramatic heavyweight like Attenborough. The Duke has a charming way of making an esteemed performer like Attenborough just look silly.
As much fun as Brannigan is, remove John Wayne from the equation and there really isn't much here. It's a paint-by-numbers action movie whose mechanics don't really make much sense. I don't know if there really is a law that says Scotland Yard can't hold a prisoner for extradition and can only observe him, but it sounds very silly if true. That plot bit only works to ensure that John Vernon's Larkin is afforded the chance to escape on the day Brannigan was to take him to the airport. There are other bits of plot twist and happenings that only work because they're convenient rather than being the hallmarks of a well-crafted action thriller.
Watching Brannigan, one can't help but wonder what Dirty Harry would have been if Wayne had accepted the role as he was rumored to have been offered the part before Eastwood. Would Brannigan have ended up being Coogan's Bluff 2? It's a fun game of wonder play to speculate. But as things rest, Brannigan features a first-rate John Wayne in a middling film. If you're a John Wayne fan, it's terrific to see the big guy prove to a bunch of polite English policemen why we call him "The Duke." The man still had it at this point in his career. The film may not be the best, but it's pretty great to see Wayne in action and that his swagger was just as strong as the day he hitched a ride on an ill-fated stagecoach bound for Lordsberg.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Brannigan arrives on Blu-ray for the second time courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case and comes with a booklet containing cover art for other Studio Classics releases. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
For those hoping for a remaster after the previously issued and now sold-out Twilight Time release, I have to report that this 2.35:1 1080p transfer is the same middling presentation as that disc. Which isn't to say that it's unwatchable or anything like that, it's just unremarkable. While there is some fine film grain apparent, the image remains soft. The only time real details come to life is in middle and close up shots. Establishing shots can be particularly murky looking. Colors are also of that 70s era drab quality with heavy olive greens and browns. Flesh tones are even, perhaps a tad pink at times, but nothing too serious. Black levels are solid, but again, there is a flatness to the image that restrains a natural sense of depth. All around it's a decent looking movie and this transfer isn't the best nor is it the worst thing out there.
This release of Brannigan arrives with a slightly improved audio mix. Replacing the English DTS-HD MA 1.0 track, we're given a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix this time around. Essentially, it's the same mono track but this time played through the stereo channels. The differences are minimal, but the mix does feature a stronger presence with improved clarity in dialogue and sound effects with a little more spacing - but not by much. The previous mono mix was already damn good as it was. All this 2.0 mix does is give all of the elements like dialogue, scoring, and sound effects a little more push.
Here's where things get a bit tricky. The Twilight Time release had a couple of decent bonus features along with an isolated score track. Unfortunately, none of those bonus features were ported over for this release. Instead, we're given a new audio commentary track from King Cohen producer and director Steve Mitchell and film historian Nathaniel Thompson. All around it's a great track, I just wish the Nick Redman and Judy Geeson commentary had been retained as that one was also a very good listen.
Audio Commentary featuring Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:22)
The Laughing Policeman Trailer (HD 3:35)
The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three Trailer (HD 2:32)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot Trailer (SD 2:00)
Legend of the Lost Trailer (SD 3:43)
If you have a love for John Wayne movies, it's difficult to call any collection of his films "complete" without adding this film to the shelf. Sure, it's not his best movie, but he's great in it and proves that even in his waning days that he was still a powerful force to contend with. Kino Lober Studio Classics brings the film to Blu-ray in a decent package with a video transfer that is identical to the previous Twilight Time release and a slightly improved audio mix. The real difference here is the bonus features package didn't port over any of the previous release features and only offers up a new audio commentary. That alone may not be enough for fans to double dip on. However, if you missed the chance to purchase the Twilight Time release, this Kino Lorber Studio Classics release is no slouch and should please your needs for more John Wayne in your Blu-ray collection. Worth a look.