Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - BRANNIGAN and RADIO DAYS on Blu-ray ""

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Twilight Time - BRANNIGAN and RADIO DAYS on Blu-ray

BRANNIGAN (1975; Douglas Hickox)
BRANNIGAN opens with some glamour shot's of the main character's gun while the credits role. One can't help but recall the title sequence from the television show SLEDGE HAMMER from more than a decade later. This fetishistic approach to firearms seems to clearly delineate that the film you're about to see really wants to be DIRTY HARRY (or perhaps to comment on it a little bit , I can't be sure). I'm a pretty big fan of knockoffs as a general rule. Hollywood (& movie industries outside the U.S. For that matter) has always amused me with its penchant for imitation. Rarely can that lightning in a bottle that makes a hit film be captured again. And yet, on and on they go attempting to give people what they think people want to see (again). Not to sound cynical, because as I said, I find knockoffs to be pretty fun. JAWS knockoffs might be my favorite knockoffs. In BRANNIGAN, what we seem to have is a fairly straightforward DIRTY HARRY knockoff staring John Wayne instead of Clint Eastwood. Also, it takes place in Lindon as opposed to San Francisco. So in that respect it's kind of a fish-out-of-water cop film, which would make it like another Eastwood picture - COOGAN'S BLUFF. I've mentioned in a previous review that Quentin Tarantino has made it know that he is a fan of this film's director Douglas Hickox. In fact, he and Edgar Wright have a brief tangential conversation about both BRANNIGAN and MCQ - two John Wayne cop films from the 1970s. I myself, like Tarantino, have taken a liking to Wayne's films from all phases of his career. Though he is clearly a bit out if his depth playing this super hero police detective, he is nonetheless very entertaining (he makes his entrance into the film by kicking a door down off its hinges and making a quippy remark). BRANNIGAN really is a proto-Schwarzenegger action hero character. He's an exaggerated superman with much ass-kicking to dispense and many clever things to say along the way as he does so. It's this kind of hammy stuff that leads me to think that maybe they were trying to be a torch tongue in cheek at times. The fact that Hickox was the director and that he was the also man responsible for THEATRE OF BLOOD (which has quite a bit of humor to it) makes me think it's likely that BRANNIGAN was probably meant to poke fun at this type of film. So, back to the COOGAN'S BLUFF angle - BRANNIGAN is assigned to extradite a heavyweight american mobster (John Vernon) back to the U.S. from London. He is aided by a lovely Scotland Yard detective (Judy Geeson) and antagonized by her commander (Richard Attenborough) as well as a hitman hired the mobster fella. John Vernon is a sensational bad guy and he played the role quite often in the late 60s and 70s (see POINT BLANK and CHARLEY VARRICK for great examples). He just has the voice and physical stature of a an evil type. One of the great highlights overall from BRANNIGAN is the cast. Just watching actors like John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, John Vernon, Mel Ferrer, Judy Geeson and others onscreen together in a fun action movie is absolutely delightful to a movie fan like myself. Some may categorize this as perhaps more of a minor film in the long and varied career of John Wayne and many may not even bother to week it out because of that. In my mind, that would be a mistake, it's a hoot. 

The transfer on this new Blu-ray is quite lovely. The colorful London locations pop with color and detail. Very nice overall.
Special Features:
-An audio commentary with Nick Redman and actress Judy Geeson. This track is a very pleasant listen. Geeson has some lovely and entertaining anecdotes about the jovial John Wayne (including a funny one about how she was first cast) and the production in general. She is and was quite find of both John Wayne and Richard Attenborough and she absurdly paints them both in a kindly, generous light. I awaits love to hear things like that about virtuoso actors like these.

-Judy Geeson's "Behind the Scenes" Home Movie Footage (3 mins)
This is a nice little 'day on the set' kind of slice of life wherein we see John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, director Douglas Hickox and others preparing for a big scene. Though there is no sound (except for some snappy music played over image) it's still really fun to watch John Wayne work. He's mostly just gesturing and pointing, but it's fantastic nonetheless.

- An Isolated Score Track - Dominic Frontiere's music is some pretty fun stuff. Light and bubbly and brassy, very much of the period and very propulsive when it needs to be. It's a shame Frontiere didn't do more film work. His other credits include things like THE STUNT MAN, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD.

RADIO DAYS (1987 Woody Allen)
In a career as prolific as Woody Allen's, it's easy to see how some of his movies might slip through the cracks a bit. Even some of the very good ones. RADIO DAYS is among those very-good-but-lesser-remembered movies in his lengthy  filmography. I have always thought of it in terms or Neil Simon and his BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS (the film version of which was a family staple around my house as a kid). It would seem reasonable that this play which premiered in 1983 (and was made into the subsequent movie in 1986) could have had some impact on Woody Allen. There's something of a theatrical nature to RADIO DAYS as well which is another reason I can't help but think of Simon when I return to it. He's not one to tout his influences too much though so who knows. Outside of Neil Simon this movie reminds me a bit of A CHRISTMAS STORY as well. The chief similarity for this comparison has to do with the little boy protagonists and their overwhelming obsession with acquiring that special item that will make their lives complete. In the case of A CHRISTMAS STORY, as we all remember, Peter Billigsley's character is seeking a Red Ryder BB gun as though it were a literal holy grail. In RADIO DAYS, the protagonist youngster (played wonderfully by Seth Green) wants to get a Masked Avenger (his favorite radio program) Secret Compartment Ring. Unlike A CHRISTMAS STORY though , RADIO DAYS is more of an ensemble piece. While Woody Allen (who is recalling his childhood days in Rockaway Beach, New York) narrates the whole episodic narrative, we get glimpses of not only the little boy's life, but of the lives of his family members and some radio stars as well. It's very much like Woody Allen's AMERICAN GRAFFITI. While it isn't wall-to-wall music like GRAFFITI, it gives a healthy dose of some delightful music from the period (the 1940s). Both films are steeped to the eyeballs in nostalgia, which I am always a fan of. Nostalgia, good music and some cute, anectdotal storytelling is often a sucker play for me. Throw in your standard Woody Allen all-star cast (this one includes Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker and Josh Mostel) and you've absolutely got my attention. Even the supporting players are a crackerjack bunch. Kenneth Mars, Jeff Daniels, Wallace Shawn, Danny Aiello, Larry David and even Diane Keaton all have small parts as well. I even saw William H. Macy onscreen for about 10 seconds at one point. As I said, this is certainly an underappreciated Woody Allen movie, at this point more worthy of discovery as I think many have never seen it.

Twilight Time Blu-rays can be purchased via Screen Archives here:


AndyHunt said...

Brannigan is a guilty pleasure of mine and has been since my first viewing as a teenager. Not a great Wayne fan, but find both McQ, and this film highly entertaining. Brannigan comes out on top, due in part to its less serious, almost slapstick, nature (in parts). Also much of it was filmed in the area of East London where I grew up. the finale in the industrial site was filmed in the derelict Beckton gasworks, which continued to stand in the same condition for a further two decades. it has also been used in a couple of Bond films, and was the main location for much of Kubricks 'Full Metal Jacket'
There is a local legend concerning Wayne on the set of Brannigan. My Father and a number of other demolition workers were in the gasworks dismantling parts of it when the film was made. They were working on the gear casing and workings of the cranes and conveyors that are seen in the background of the film. for a number of days they had to stop work to allow filming to proceed. They were not happy as it was a dirty hard job, and every day lost cost them money. Eventually the filming was almost over and as kind of thank you, they were told they could briefly meet Wayne. One by one they were introduced to a slightly sozzled and grizzly Duke. He greeted them with a cursory "hi fella, ya, ya, blah, blah' and rapidly moved on. The last he met was the demolition teams boss, a well known local character at that time by the name of Dickie Austen. Wayne extended his hand, which Dickie grabbed in both of his sizable mitts, vigorously shook, then wrapped his arms around Wayne in a mighty bear hug, slapping his back and professing his lifelong admiration. It wasn't until Dickie had made a rapid departure that Wayne realized he was now covered in putrid stinking crank case oil. Not a happy man.
The movie is a great snapshot of a changing London. The Pub (bar I believe you yanks call them) used in this film was real, and there were thousand similar at that time, and in the East End of London the Pub brawl shown would have been a regular event in some of them.

Rupert Pupkin said...

what an amazing story Andy, thanks for sharing!

Jerry E said...

I am a big Wayne fan. His two late-career cop films are generally not highly-rated but I enjoyed them both. I think Wayne was more comfortable in the American setting of McQ but "Brannigan" was meant to be fun and it is.

I worked for 3 dozen years in the City Of London (ie the square mile) and my offices were quite close to the beautiful Victorian covered market known as Leadenhall Market. Bang in the centre is an old pub called The Lamb which my colleagues and I used to frequent. It is here, in the main ground-floor bar, that Wayne and Attenborough took on some lugs in a free-for-all brawl. Great fun!

Leadenhall Market also appears BTW in the first Harry Potter film "The Philosopher's Stone" when HP goes to collect his wand.

The Lamb Inn is still there BTW and looks very much unchanged still.