Brannigan (1975) Blu-ray Review: Dirty Duke (Done Dirt Cheap?)

For those of you who have ever wondered what would have happened had John Wayne played Harry Callahan.
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Of all the many fascinating little tidbits shuffled away within the footnotes of film history, there is nothing quite as frightening as what very well could have happened had Don Siegel's now-legendary film Dirty Harry been cast with one of the original actors the film's producers approached to play the role of Harry Callahan. Among that distinguished list of honorees were Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, and The Duke himself, John Wayne. Most of the actors approached fully realized that they were perhaps just a little bit too old for the part, while others were appalled by the story and subject matter (believe it or not, somebody in the film industry had a sense of morals at one point in time).

Well, after Dirty Harry became one of the biggest moving picture controversies of the year and proceeded to do a better job of killing at the box office than even Scorpio himself could have, some of the actors who passed on the part regretted their decision. Mostly John Wayne. And, as such, The Duke added "Maverick Cop" to his résumé, directly below "Cowboy with Unlimited Ammunition" and "Indestructible War Hero", and right above "Least-Convincing Genghis Khan Ever". So, the less-than-versatile Wayne signed on to make two police thrillers, beginning with Warner Brothers' 1974 critically panned feature McQ, and ending the following year with the even less well-received United Artists feature, Brannigan.

Essentially a British take on Dirty Harry with an American actor, Brannigan even features Dirty Harry's Canadian co-star John Vernon, which I suppose makes it an official international production, right? Opening in Chicago with an introduction to rogue police lieutenant Brannigan (Wayne, whose first words, while meant to be funny, in-turn become utterly hilarious due to his wonderfully awful delivery, thus making even Arnold Schwarzenegger's campiest quip seem like BAFTA Award-winning material by comparison) and a brief outline of the story thus far before quickly jumping ship and crossing The Pond to London, wherein we go for the familiar fish out of water routine.

Sent to bring mobster John Vernon back to the States, Wayne (who is even dressed akin to Eastwood's first take on Dirty Harry, though with a sports jacket that takes all the fun out of sports jackets) instead discovers that his man has been kidnapped by some local gangsters. Paired with local lady police officer Judy Geeson - who is basically nothing more than his driver and gopher - Wayne wanders about London quite a bit while dodging bullets and explosives courtesy of hitman Daniel Pilon who knows not the meaning of stealth or inconspicuousness, and who chooses to rev up his mighty nice English sports car throughout all hours of the day and night as if to say "Hey look, I'm a hitman driving on the wrong side of the road!" Meanwhile, Wayne develops an unlikely friendship with Scotland Yard commander Swann (Richard Attenborough, who probably delivers the best performance here).

Douglas Hickox (who helmed the much-better Vincent Price campfest Theater of Blood two years earlier) directs this tale that took four American (mostly television) writers to put together. Wayne's son Michael worked as his father's co-producer for the tenth and final time here. Mel Ferrer (who had already started his infamous descent into Italian horror films when this one was released) plays Vernon's equally-crooked lawyer, Ralph Meeker has a bit part at the beginning as Wayne's Chicago chief, and Lesley-Anne Down and Barry Dennen share a moment with Pilon that really makes you wonder what the whole point of the scene being in the film truly was. But of course, everything takes a back seat to Dominic Frontiere's amazing jazzy music score here.

Bad? Yes, pretty much. But Brannigan is also very enjoyable. While it's positively frightening to see what really would have happened had Wayne taken on the part of Dirty Harry here, it is nevertheless fascinating in an almost morbid sort of fashion. The action scenes are rather well done (especially the car chase) and, had they cast someone like Clint Eastwood in the part, this probably would have been a hit. But my hat goes off to the folks at Twilight Time nonetheless for bringing this MGM title to Blu-ray just the same. The High-Def transfer is a decidedly decent one overall, with the film being presented in a 2.34:1 aspect ratio with a more-than-adequate DTS-HD MA Mono soundtrack and English (SDH) subtitles (that could have been proofed a bit better) accompaying.

Frontiere's soundtrack is also available in an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, and Twilight Time has gone the extra mile by including a new audio commentary track with actress Judy Geeson, hosted by Nick Redman. Ms. Geeson's personal 8mm home movies are also on-board here, which, if nothing else, will give you an insight as to how much control The Duke had over his scenes and exactly what kind of face Mel Ferrer made when he picked his nose. The original theatrical trailer is also here, though please be advised it was manufactured by MGM back when they were forgetting to include title cards with their remastered video items. Fortunately, the lack of any onscreen words there are made up for in the liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

This Blu-ray release of Brannigan is limited to only 3000 pressings from Twilight Time, and is available exclusively from Screen Archives.

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