KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “Brannigan”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 


John Wayne was in his final decade in the 1970s. He finished off the 60s with a much deserved Academy Award, and then made 10 films in the 1970s. As a child of the sixties, I had seen Wayne in dozens of cowboy films and war stories. He’d been the biggest star in Hollywood for almost forty years, and in spite of several health related setbacks, he continued to work well into his 60s. Apparently, he was at one time offered the role of “Dirty Harry” and turned it down. After seeing the success that it became, he signed up for two contemporary cop stories with the same lone wolf cop plot line. The first was “McQ” which came out the year before and was a modest success, “Brannigan” followed and it was not.

This is a standard 70s cop action film, where the righteous, break all the rules cop, goes after the bad guys and mayhem ensues. Wayne plays Jim Brannigan, a Chicago police detective, who has been pursuing crime boss Larkin, familiar actor John Vernon (he played the Mayor in Dirty Harry). Brannigan has had a contract put out on him by the crime lord. Larkin has relocated to London and Brannigan is sent to bring him back under extradition. So in addition to it being a cop film, it will be a fish out of water story as the American detective crosses paths with the British Criminal justice system. There is plenty of culture clash and the usual rogue cop shenanigan’s, and that adds to the fun of a fairly standard action flick.

Wisely, the sixty-seven year old Wayne is not given a love interest, but there is a paternal angle as he is accompanied on his British escapade by a young policewoman that he becomes something a mentor to as she babysits him for Scotland Yard. Judy Geeson was charming in the role and I kept thinking I’d seen her in something recent, in fact I had. Geeson is the British neighbor across the hall from Paul and Jamie Buchman in the TV series “Mad About You” which I had been rewatching during the pandemic. Her character is lucky it is a John Wayne film rather than an Eastwood picture, if you have seen the other Dirty Harry films, you will know why, partners don’t fare well with Harry. Her boss and Wayne’s counterpart at Scotland Yard is  Cmdr. Swann  played by Richard Attenborough. He is a by the book British Official, who will be shown up by and then influenced by the Yank. 

There is a lot of gunplay in the film, and Brannigan is of course violating British Police policies by carrying a weapon. Swann frequently tries to get him to surrender his Colt but Brannigan simply smiles and offers a quip instead of his sidearm. The cop film replaced the cowboy film as the primary action format in the 1970s. This film very much feels like a western set in the modern era. Instead of horseback pursuits, there are car chases. We still get a bar fight, but it is in a British pub and it is played for laughs, much the same way as a dozen other Wayne cowboy bar fights might have been. The good guy and the bad guys face off at the end, but the last duel is not a gunfight in the dirt street of a western down, but a showdown with a sports car in a dockyard in London.

Sure John Wayne is playing a version of the same character he has portrayed before, but he seems to be having a good time doing so and there are enough twists and character points to make it fun. I especially enjoyed him throwing those haymakers in the pub, and the cautious approach to a toilet in his booby-trapped boarding house room. Sometimes the procedural of following kidnappers directions for a ransom payoff becomes a little tiresome, but the last bit with the double homing devices was fun. 

I originally saw this at the El Rey Theater on Main Street in my hometown of Alhambra California, That location is long gone but it was very typically the theater in the Edwards Theater chain that played these kinds of action films. I watched this yesterday on Pluto, it was free but I did have to sit through a lot of commercials.