You know what, I was in the mood for brash, bewigged and silly. A hint of 1970s cop thriller and a big dose of the Duke…and, a distant pleasure I was thoroughly lectured for by the late Mrs Jack, Richard Attenborough in full caricature and Judy Geeson in Age of Aquarius mainstream… Yup, it was the year of more Watergate, more Vietnam, and the squirming of old cowboys in the urban landscapes… John Wayne came to Britain – and we loved him – as Brannigan.
Now, objectively, this is not the best of Duke’s films. It even lands as something of a clunker in his final decade of old-man-charges-onwards stuff. But, what the hell, it is never less than entertaining. He is a Chicago cop chasing a mobster to London in a plot where said mobster, John Vernon giving good sweaty-sleaze-and-evil (a trademark that means, much like the Duke, he has no business being dead), is instantly kidnapped and – one finger down – is hunted in a panic by the jolly British bobbies and a giant American toting a gun round town.
Okay, its nonsense. But, you know, a secret beer on your belly, that Xmas iPad linked to your birthday speakers (via FuckingHellItWon’tConnectBastardThingOhNowItWorks-tooth), and this tour of George Dixon’s London by another icon of yesteryear is a kitsch delight. The Duke faces off like a thunder god to Attenborough’s comedy-fey, RPed Commander Swann, snarking at him, fighting alongside him, a cheery bonhomie building between them that just makes life seem good. They have a tentative deal to get on, the bad guy gets kidnapped (in a sweat cabinet at a Turkish bath in scenes involving grim flab slapping and, well, fat man flesh. Ugh), and the Duke ups the American.
The story beats help him, of course. There’s a gun trap in his flat, trigger tied to door with added toilet bomb. Nice flat they gave him, the view from the destroyed wall being a London classic. And, if you find London of the past a gentle fascination, Brannigan delivers. Random trips around landmarks abound, the best being the Duke and a local (Stewart Bevan, said local, was gifted the Duke’s belt, apparently) driving over Tower Bridge as it is rising… that crazy yank flies over the Thames…
Judy Geeson is Jennifer, a police officer with ’70s style, assigned to look after Brannigan for no readily apparent reason. Their scenes are twee and stonkingly sexless. She is very much an “oh, you and your crazy ways” admirer, rolling eyes and taking boyfriend advice just sincerely enough for Duke’s eventual moment of heroics in her life to have a pleasing resonance. He also casually alludes to her heart-breaking prettiness, out of reach I understand but still there in front of me and I cannot stop myself from commenting but hey we’re cool yeah, in exactly the way this sentence is doing. Still, she’s fun and their dynamic is lovely. Though it is like watching a tiny bird jumping up and down a rhino’s back.
Oh, give in and watch Brannigan. You get random car chases, pre-shopping-mall-isation of the docks, Tony Robinson (of Play Away, kids…Young Steve was delighted back in the day) getting dumped in the river, Del Henney, Don Henderson, Lesley-Ann Down, ultra-offhand Main Chance himself, John Stride – and the most terrific bust-up in a pub. For one glorious scene, Attenborough, Wayne and a bunch of Londoners are impervious to punches and dance through a rambunctiously choreographed fisticuff fight on the edge of The City. It’s gorgeous.
You will not be needing your brain for Brannigan. But this is the film where the Duke came to London and we made him feel at home. Welcome him back again. There are laughs amongst the clunky spectacle. And no small show of fondness for that beautiful man.