[Originally published in Movietone News 41, May 1975]
There’s some terrific supporting material in that cast list, but everybody onscreen looks, and has excellent reason for feeling, pretty embarrassed about the whole thing. Brannigan is the sort of picture that gives John Wayne movies a bad name. Come to think of it, Brannigan is a bad name: it’s locked right in on the monolithic image of Wayne as 110-percent American tough guy with two fists and only one operational brain lobe, and whenever it takes four scriptwriters to come up with that kind of arithmetic, somebody’s in trouble.
Here Wayne’s a Chicago cop bound for England to extradite his favorite criminal; someone snatches the guy from under Scotland Yard’s surveilling nose, and further inanely complicated complications set in. Douglas Hickox’s direction flubs most of the action stuff but tries to make up for it by shooting Wayne from floor level whenever he knocks doors down on people and walks through the aperture with fun-loving grin in place, or heaves himself up against the London skyline for handy measurement alongside one of Britain’s more monumental bridges. To anyone who treasures a hundred movie memories like John T. Chance bending a carbine against a Burdett waddy’s head and continuing to spin so’s he can keep the fellow’s comrades in sight, or even Rooster Cogburn’s endearingly ponderous fling-cocking of a Winchester from horseback, this sort of unintentional parody is distinctly unwelcome. Similarly those instances when everyone from tease love-interest Judy Geeson to proper-British Scotland Yarder Richard Attenborough favors the big lug with adoring gazes are not only insipid but, more importantly, quite out of keeping with Wayne’s best vehicles in which his mythic forcefulness is matched by and mingled with an equally mythic insufferability that he and everyone else must learn to live with.
Wayne-as-institution has his moments even here, but this approach tends to imply that his coworkers, especially those behind the scenes, can sit back and coast, knowing his name on the marquee will bring in the bucks and his presence on the screen ensure a modicum of quality regardless of on- and offscreen circumstances. And so we are presented with a script, for instance, in which a certain hitman is referred to again and again as a “pro” even though this particular hitman, he so swift, he leave sticky guck all over the doorknob after he been rigging a bomb in Duke’s commode. Not only that, he fail to distinguish between blond slip-of-a-girl Judy Geeson and ambulatory barndoor Wayne he supposed to be shooting at. Real pro, this boy. And real waste of a national, nay, international resource, this movie … although, even at that, one must record some kind of milestone in large-spirited cultureshock: John Wayne starting a real Old Tucson slugfest in a London pub while the theme from Hair burbles wishfully on a jukebox.
Direction: Douglas Hickox. Screenplay: Christopher Trumbo and Michael Butler; additional material: William P. McGivern, William Norton. Cinematography: Gerry Fisher. Music: Dominic Frontiere. Production: Michael Wayne.
The Players: John Wayne, Judy Geeson, Richard Attenborough, Mel Ferrer, John Vernon, Daniel Pilon, James Booth, Ralph Meeker.
Copyright © 1975 Richard T. Jameson