Sunday, June 12, 2016

Retro Review: MCQ (1974) and BRANNIGAN (1975)

(US - 1974)

Directed by John Sturges. Written by Lawrence Roman. Cast: John Wayne, Eddie Albert, Diana Muldaur, Colleen Dewhurst, Clu Gulager, David Huddleston, Al Lettieri, Jim Watkins (Julian Christopher), Roger E. Mosley, William Bryant. (PG, 111 mins)

67-year-old John Wayne tried to belatedly hop on the post-BULLITT/DIRTY HARRY bandwagon with this cop thriller from MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and GREAT ESCAPE director John Sturges, the first of two such contemporary departures for the screen icon. The Duke moves a little slow and his rug is terrible, but he's a lot of fun as Lon McQ, a plays-by-his-own-rules Seattle detective out to nail drug kingpin Santiago (Al Lettieri, best known as the treacherous Sollozzo in THE GODFATHER) after his partner (William Bryant) gets ambushed and later dies. What follows is a pretty standard cop movie material, with corrupt cops, McQ getting info from a Huggy Bear-like informant named Rosey (Roger E. Mosley), and eventually quitting the force in disgust when he's busted down to desk duty by his boss (Eddie Albert).

A couple of great car chases (with one spectacular wreck performed by future Burt Reynolds BFF Hal Needham), and a lively performance by a machine-gunning Duke help get you by the more mechanical elements of the story and a midsection that drags a bit.  And it's the only time you'll see the Duke about to close the deal on his second lay of the movie only to be cockblocked by Clu Gulager. Also with Diana Muldaur, Colleen Dewhurst, Julie Adams, Julian Christopher (billed as "Jim Watkins"), and David "The Big Lebowski" Huddleston. MCQ was only a moderate success for Wayne, who had the similar BRANNIGAN in theaters a year later.

(UK - 1975)

Directed by Douglas Hickox. Written by Christopher Trumbo, Michael Butler, William P. McGivern and William Norton. Cast: John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson, Mel Ferrer, John Vernon, Ralph Meeker, Daniel Pilon, Lesley-Anne Down, John Stride, James Booth, Barry Dennen, Arthur Batenides, Brian Glover. (PG, 111 mins)

A year after MCQ, John Wayne starred in another contemporary cop actioner, the British-made BRANNIGAN, directed by Douglas Hickox (SITTING TARGET, THEATRE OF BLOOD) and written by an eclectic committee of screenwriters including Dalton Trumbo's son Christopher, Michael Butler (THE GAUNTLET, CODE OF SILENCE, PALE RIDER), William P. McGivern (THE BIG HEAT, I SAW WHAT YOU DID), and William Norton (BIG BAD MAMA, NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER). Brannigan isn't all that different from Lon McQ, other than he's in Chicago instead of Seattle. Sent to London to extradite mobster Larkin (John Vernon), who's hired a deadly assassin (Daniel Pilon as a second-string Helmut Berger) to off him, Brannigan has some good-natured culture-clashing with Scotland Yard's affable but uptight Cmdr. Swann (Richard Attenborough). But the pair have to work together--if they don't kill each other first!--when Larkin is kidnapped and his shady attorney (Mel Ferrer, cast radically against type as a smirking, duplicitous prick) arranges a ransom.

BRANNIGAN is much more lighthearted than MCQ, with a mid-film pub brawl that's played completely as a comedy set piece. Wayne, sporting a toupee that's somehow worse than the one he had in MCQ, is once again enjoying himself and has a terrific camaraderie with Attenborough and with Judy Geeson as a young female officer charged with driving Brannigan around and keeping him out of trouble. BRANNIGAN was a box-office disappointment as the Duke's fans made it clear they didn't like seeing him doing this geriatric DIRTY HARRY routine, even with a requisite smartass catchphrase ("Knock knock!"). Wayne returned later in 1975 with the western ROOSTER COGBURN, where he reprised his Oscar-winning TRUE GRIT character, and finished his career with 1976's THE SHOOTIST before retiring from the screen. He died in 1979.  A few decades removed from the shock of seeing an aged, slow-moving Wayne try to be Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood, MCQ and BRANNIGAN aren't Duke classics by any means, but they're entertaining departures that are well worth seeing, particularly BRANNIGAN, which is much better than its reputation.

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