Brannigan (1975): John Wayne’s Crime Thriller, Set in London

In the 1970s, aging star John Wayne made some forgettable and unfortunate projects, reflecting his attempt (the last) to expand his range in two crime thrillers: McQ and Brannigan.
Prior to that, he had never played a cop or a private eye, a genre that became extremely popular in the 1960s, with the Sean Connery’s James Bond movies, and in the 1970s with Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry pictures.
Our Grade: D+ (* out of *****)
“I felt like a bit of change myself,” Wayne said, “but I had to stick to action movies, of course, and the tough cop thriller is where a lot of action is these days.”
The switch to crime pictures was not by choice, however.  Both Westerns and combat war movies declined in appeal, so the action-adventure was really Wayne’s only viable alternative to maintain an active screen career.
Unfortunately, both movies failed, critically and commercially. Comparisons with Steve McQueen (“Bullitt” and others) and Clint Eastwood’s vehicles were inevitable, and they were not to Wayne’s advantage.

British director Douglas Hickox’s Brannigan is a variation on Clint Eastwood’s Coogan’s Bluff, centering on a tough cop sent into a strange environment.

Wayne plays the title role, James Brannigan, who in the first scene is flying from Chicago to Heathrow to extradite a drug trafficker (John Vernon), whom the Scotland Yard is keeping under surveillance.

However, the criminal is kidnapped before Wayne’s arrival, which forces him and the Scotland Yard Commander Swann (Richard Attenborough, later better known as director of “Gandhi”) to crack a ransom plot to get him back. In addition, Wayne has to content with hit man Gorman (Daniel Pilon), who tries to execute the contract he has with the drug trafficker.

The plot sounds more complicated and interesting than it is, but it’s uninvolving and by–the-book. Wayne is not particularly convincing; he’s too old for the part.

Once again, he looks better in the outdoor scenes, shot around famous London spots, such as Piccadilly Circus and the Tower Bridge. British critics complained that the film is careless in depicting the time and distance that it takes to get from one site to another.

The humor is routine, too, with some obvious references to the cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S.  Upon capturing a British hoodlum, Wayne says: “Now would you like to apply for England’s free dental program or willl you answer my questions”

To accommodate Wayne’s increasing age and declining looks, the film arranges for him to have a young, beautiful female chauffeur (Judy Greeson), who treats him as a benevolent grandfather, and hugs him because he’s “just so damn solid.”

Greeson is mimicking Jennifer O’Neill’s line in Howard Hawks’ 1970 Western, Rio Lobo: “You’re just so comfortable.”

Also reflecting Wayne’s recent status is a scene showing him drink by himself in a Kensington apartment.

Wayne would make just two more pictures after this commercial flop, the disappointing Rooster Cogburn (1976) with Katharine Hepburn, and the eloquent swan song, The Shootist (also 1976), opposite Lauren Bacall.


John Wayne as Lieutenant James Brannigan

Richard Attenborough as Commander Sir Charles Swann Bart

Mel Ferrer as Mel Fields

Judy Greeson as Detective Sergeant Jennifer Thatcher

John Vernon as Ben Larkin

Daniel Pilon as Gorman

Ralph Meeker as Captain Moretti

Lesley Anne Down as Luana

Barry Dennen as Julian

John Stride as Detective Inpector Michael Traven

James Booth as Charlie-the-Handle

Arthur Batanides as Angell

Pauline Delaney as Mrs. Cooper

Del Henney as Drexel

Brian Glover as Jimmy-the-Bet

Don Henderson as Geef

Tony Robinson as Motorcycle Courier


Directed by Douglas Hickox
Produced by Arthur Gardner, Jules Levy
Screenplay by Christopher Trumbo, Michael Butler, William P. McGivern, William W. Norton, based on story by Christopher Trumbo and Michael Butler
Music by Dominic Frontiere
Cinematography Gerry Fisher
Edited by Malcolm Cooke
Production company: Wellborn
Levy-Gardner-Laven (uncredited)
Distributed by United Artists
Release date: March 26, 1975