Brannigan (1975)

From the time I saw Brannigan in the theaters as a kid, through a number of chances to watch it again over the years, it has been one of my favorite movies. I grew up with the crime dramas of the 1970s, had little patience for Westerns, and am sorry John Wayne had so little time left to make detective movies. His other police drama, McQ, was trying so hard to imitate other “gritty” characters and films, was so formulaic, artificial, confusing, dreary, stiff, heavy-handed, and cliché, that these elements crowded out Wayne. Not so Brannigan.

Wayne shined. He was natural and utterly comfortable and convincing in the role. He was likable, frank, good-natured, decent, down-to-earth, and tough — “so damn solid,” as Geeson’s character put it (to which he replied, “Fat, you mean”) in a nice, genuine scene where Brannigan talked about wanting to catch the hood responsible for killing his rookie partner because it was his duty to protect the kid even though, no matter how “nice a story” it would make if the kid had been like a son to him, he had not even liked the “smart-aleck” kid. Wayne had terrific, commanding screen presence. He looked as fit and acted as vigorous as called for by the role. Suggestions in other reviews that he was “too old” or “too fat” are nonsense. The mature cast is a pleasant contrast to today’s rampant superficiality.

All of the supporting actors — Attenborough, Geeson, Ferrer, Vernon, Pilon — were real professionals who similarly brought substance to their roles and played them smoothly and effectively. The characters were nicely sketched. For example, Attenborough’s titled Scotland Yard official was not a caricatured fop or dandy; he was polished but also appreciated rough, direct action to get the job done, which created a nice grudging rapport between him and Brannigan. One review’s dismissal of Pilon’s hit-man as “Inspector Clouseau” is absurd; both the policeman and the hit-man were portrayed effectively in this movie, with the policeman actually outsmarting and outmaneuvering the hit-man in believable ways. The story had action, energy, purpose, and humor. The dialogue was smart, and the plot interesting, with some clever touches. The photography and music made it all the more enjoyable.

This is a fun, smart, well-paced, well-produced detective story with a good plot, well-drawn and well-cast characters, and good locations. The movie is excellent entertainment. As such, I could not recommend it more highly. Reviewers who apparently failed to watch the film on its own merits and have nothing to offer but pseudo-sophisticated, overly general, cheap-shot criticisms do not do it justice.