Arts

Cult Movies: 'Dirty Johnny' role as maverick cop Brannigan suited John Wayne

John Wayne in Brannigan

Brannigan

THE story goes that, back in 1971, John Wayne put himself forward for the lead role in Dirty Harry. He lost that particular gig to the younger and more lustrous haired Clint Eastwood, of course, but you can't help but think that The Duke had the idea at the back on his mind when he took on the role of Brannigan several years later.

That performance, as a no-nonsense vigilante cop willing to break the law to get his man, certainly feels like a nod to Eastwood's Harry Callaghan character, albeit with added bus pass and fairly dodgy wig.

Released in 1975 and directed by Douglas Hickox (who'd gifted the world the wondrous Theatre Of Blood two years previously), Brannigan is an old school, bare knuckle style cop drama that allows Wayne to do his swaggering western turn and still throw in enough action movie moments to give it a kind of post French Connection charm along the way.

The Duke is Jim Brannigan, the toughest Chicago cop imaginable and a man obsessed with bringing in local crime overlord Ben Larkin (John Vernon) by hook or by crook. When Larkin slips away to London, Brannigan is dispatched to bring him back as quickly as possible.

To help him with this task he's got a young Scotland Yard assistant Jennifer (Judy Geeson) and a wily old school type boss Swann (Richard Attenborough), but it isn't long before Larkin is seemingly kidnapped and the double crosses are doubling up before his whiskey-addled eyes.

It's all very familiar stuff of course, but there's tons of fun to be had watching Wayne play the fish out of water hard man coming to terms with the British way of policing. It's fascinating to watch the beautifully captured scenes of 70s London in all its Wimpy bar and Wrigley's Chewing Gum sign glory, and there are any number of future faces of TV and film to look out for in minor roles from Tony 'Baldrick' Robinson as a motor scooter courier and a young Leslie Anne Down as a high class lady of the night.

Hickox films the action sequences with an impressive fluidity and the cast clearly have a ball filming a madly over-the-top bar brawl in a Piccadilly boozer that bizarrely boasts western style swing doors, presumably in deference to Wayne's filmic past. Watching the big man throw mad haymaker punches to passing sailors and hard men while casually discussing the plot with Attenborough and associated Scotland Yard flunkies suggests this could have made a fine comedy if Hickox had wanted to lay off the chase sequences.

It's the chases that really make this magical though. Vintage motors roar through the streets of 70s London throughout – admittedly at often crawling pace, but this is London traffic we're talking about here – and Dominic Frontiere's sub-Lalo Schifrin score soundtracks a nail-biting sequence on Tower Bridge that has to be seen to be believed.

Wayne only played cops on a couple of occasions in his illustrious career, but Brannigan suggests it's a badge he should have pinned on more often.

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