As promised, here’s another John Wayne film. Just to let you know:
It’s Brannigan, and it came out in 1975. Did I see this when it first came out? Do not recall. But it’s been on TV a lot, and I purchased a DVD some years back. Here are some images from the DVD. I’m getting details from Wikipedia and IMDB.
John Wayne is Chicago Police Detective James Brannigan, and we see him busting down the door of a counterfeiter’s (Arthur Batanides) workshop somewhere out in the Chicago flatlands. Brannigan is looking for gangster Ben Larkin (John Vernon), who is wanted for all kinds of nefarious activities. Brannigan tries to intimidate the counterfeiter with an unloaded pistol. All he gets is that Larkin has left town, which the police have already figured out.
Larkin is in London with his attorney, Mel Fields (Mel Ferrer). They are hatching a scheme to spirit Larkin to South America along with enough cash to live comfortably until the next ice age.
And that’s what this movie is all about. It’s a Chicago cop in London, a clash of cultures and a clash of police procedure. At Heathrow Airport pert and pretty Detective Sergeant Jennifer Thatcher (Judy Geeson) picks Brannigan up and chaperons him for the remainder of the film.
Meanwhile Larkin’s scheme is set to work as two hoods, not just any hoods, but British hoods, kidnap Larkin from his massage in an upscale London club. That’s Larkin’s unconscious body inside the steam cabinet the two hoods are lugging out of the club.
Brannigan gets introduced to Scotland Yard Commander Sir Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) in the Commander’s private club. Brannigan is also introduced to London life, as he is required to wear a tie in the club, and Commander Swann insists he get rid of the Colt Diamondback .38 he is wearing beneath his jacket. Brannigan retains possession.
Meanwhile, attorney Fields has arranged to pay an assassin $25,000 to put Brannigan six feet under. The assassin from New Orleans is known only as Gorman (Daniel Pilon), and he comes to collect the first installment from a London middleman.
The middleman has something in addition for Gorman. She’s Luana (Lesley Anne Down), and she’s closest thing this movie gets to R rated.
So Gorman sets to work making life dangerous for Brannigan and interesting for viewers. His first try is a booby trap rigged in Brannigan’s bathroom. Brannigan is ahead of the game, and the shotgun blast only manages to take out the bathroom door. Likewise, the gelignite charged rigged in the toilet tank only succeeds in removing an outside wall.
Larkin and his crooked attorney continue to work their scheme to extract money from Larkin’s crooked empire. A ransom demand, coupled with one of Larkin’s fingers (as PoL) elicits a cash payoff in multiple mail packets deposited into a curbside collection box. That turns out to be a huge ruse, as the crooks have arranged to extract the packets from a sewer beneath the box and to substitute them for envelops filled with newsprint. An additional payoff is demanded, which attorney Fields is eager to provide.
In the meantime the producers have decided the plot needs additional excitement, so a car chase is inserted into the story line. Brannigan commandeers a citizen’s new yellow automobile and follows a hit man through the streets of London. We see the famous towers of Tower Bridge, and we know what’s coming. Sure enough, the hit man clears the gap just as the spans start up. Brannigan is a trifle later, and his leap is right out of pulp fiction. He just bought himself a new limey motorcar.
The kidnapping was all a ruse for Fields to extract money from Larkin’s criminal gang. He takes the valise with the cash to the waterfront hideout of the kidnappers and there is a big celebration. You see, the kidnappers thought this was a real kidnapping and that the plan was to kill Larkin after they got all the money. Instead, Fields murders the two hired hoods, and he and Larkin throw wads of cash around as two dead bodies litter the scene.
Then an electronic tracking device rolls out of one of the packets, and the crooks realize the jig is up. It truly is, as both are quickly trucked away by the bobbies, leaving Brannigan to catch a ride with Sergeant Thatcher.
But Gorman is not done yet. He’s waiting in his XKE Jaguar, which he has driven all through the movie. On the mudflats by the Thames he makes several runs at Brannigan and Thatcher until one of the .38 rounds takes out his gun hand. His attempt to use the E Jag as a weapon ends as Brannigan puts several into him through the windshield, and we are treated to the sight of a British sports car catapulting into the river.
What’s wrong with this movie? It has a great story line. It’s a police drama—bad guy is on the run, makes it to London, where an American cop goes to handle the extradition. There’s the culture clash, and there’s the intrigue of the assassin, the phony kidnapping, the cat and mouse game with the ransom payoff, a staged brawl in a London pub, another assassin takes out a criminal accomplice before he can talk, followed by a harrowing car chase with an impossible leap between the spans of the drawbridge. Finally there’s the double-double-cross as the henchmen are murdered. Then the cops arrest everybody, and Brannigan kills the assassin.
A lot of it comes across as contrived.
1. Brannigan threatens Angell with an unloaded pistol. Really? Then he puts the gun down to make a phone call, and Angell picks up the gun. Really? You’re in trouble for printing counterfeit money, and you pull a gun on a cop? Who is that stupid? It’s not believable.
2. Brannigan is allowed to continue to carry his .38 around in London. I’m thinking that would have been impossible 40 years ago.
3. Gorman is hired to kill Brannigan. Why is not important. How does he do it? He infiltrates Brannigan’s apartment and rigs two elaborate booby traps. It makes for a lot of movie excitement but not for a lot of sense. The first booby trap is a shotgun. Very elaborate, but much to cumbersome. The killer has to first obtain a shotgun, in London. Then he has to rig the clamps to hold it and arrange the string and pulley arrangement to pull the trigger when the door is opened. And there are any number of ways this could fail.
4. Same with the exploding toilet tank. A foreigner in London needs to seek out and obtain a quantity of a controlled explosive. He already has a machine pistol, which he uses multiple times in the plot. All this other stuff is fantasy.
5. The kidnapping plot makes no sense. Larkin is in on the kidnapping. Fields is in on the kidnapping. Why hire two thugs, who will later have to be murdered? The two infiltrate the private club where Larkin is enjoying a luxurious bath and massage. They cold-cock (maybe kill) the masseur. They knock Larkin out with chloroform. They stuff him into a steam cabinet they have just brought into the club, and they cart him away. There are so many ways this could go wrong. The chloroform is criminally dangerous. Not handled properly this can kill the victim. If Larkin is in on it, why now just have the two say, “Mr. Larkin, please get inside the steam cabinet, and we will have you out of here in two shakes.” Who writes this stuff?
6. The bridge stunt is monstrously gratuitous. I watched through the episode several time, and it appears not to be faked. Somebody actually did jump a Ford Capri over a gap between the Tower Bridge spans. This had to be an expensive stunt. The spans had to be opened specially for the stunt, and they had to be opened just so. If opened in the usual manner, both spans opening in sync, the car would have crashed into the structure beneath the roadway of the second span.
End of the line—this movie is fun to watch, but it is a bad movie. It sank at the box office.
Here’s a better explanation of the Tower Bridge jump stunt. It is possible to make the jump while the spans are raised equally, you just have to give the car a lot more speed. However, with the span raised at the angle shown it is not likely a car can make the transition to the inclined span. It’s going to be like hitting a wall.