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Sunday, 12 September 2010

JOHN WAYNE TRIBUTE WEEKEND: Hanging with the Duke: The Bish

Paul Bishop, or Bish as he's known to friends, is a long serving officer with the LAPD. He's also a writer of note and keeps an entertaining blog HERE. - 

His police career has over twenty years experience in the investigation of Special Assaults (sex crimes). For the past eight years, his various Special Assaults Units have consistently produced the highest number of detective initiated arrests and highest crime clearance rate in the city. Paul has twice been honored as Detective of the Year. As a writer, Paul's byline has appeared in numerous national publications, and his short stories have been published in many anthologies. His previous novels include Shroud of Vengeance, Citadel Run, Sand Against the Tide, and Chapel of the Ravens. Chalk Whispers is the fourth novel in his Fey Croaker series, which includes Kill Me Again, Twice Dead, and Tequila Mockingbird. He has written feature film scripts and numerous episodic scripts for television.

So who better to look at the Duke's cop movies than our very own law enforcer?


The Dirty Duke sounds more like a London pub than a possible John Wayne film role, but it could have happened . . . John Wayne as Dirty Harry?  Somehow, I don’t quite see it, and apparently neither could Wayne as he turned down the role.  However, after seeing the sensation Clint Eastwood caused as the title character, the Duke tried to rectify his misjudgment by making two tough cop films in a row – neither of which was a perfect fit.

First up was 1974’s McQ.  Wayne’s co-stars included Eddie Albert, Diana Muldaur, and Al Lettieri as the drug king Manny Santiago.

Shot in Seattle (the original setting for Dirty Harry before San Francisco stepped in), McQ further emulated it’s cinematic predecessors with a spectacular car chase reminiscent of Bullitt – only with Wayne in a green 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.  Steve McQueen would have been proud.

In the vein of, “Make my day,” Wayne’s one memorable line from the film comes after McQ’s car is crunched between two large trucks claiming, "I'm up to my butt in gas."  Somehow, it didn’t have the same cultural impact.

As Lieutenant Lon McQ (don’t ask), Wayne starts out on a Maltese Falcon note investigating the murder of his longtime friend and partner, Sgt. Stan Boyle. While the Seattle police brass think, Boyle was killed by counter-culture radicals, McQ targets crime kingpin Manny Santiago.  This difference of opinion leads to major flack from McQ’s superior, Captain Ed Kosterman (Eddie Albert).

So, what’s a tough cop to do?  Why resign, of course, and investigate privately, uncovering police corruption and collusion with drug czar Santiago along the way.  An actual unexpected twist is thrown in at this point with the confiscated drugs turning out to be nothing but sugar.

Ramping up the action, an attempt to assassinate McQ (because of his interference) brings on the car chase, the spectacular car wreck, more twisted discoveries of motive and corruption – including some nasty facts about McQ’s slain buddy – all bringing us to the climatic, cinematic, finale chase along a beach.

Through Wayne’s iconic presence, McQ tries to rises above standard police thriller status.  However, the aging and overweight Wayne – trying to move from cowboy to maverick detective – eventually does the film in.  By the denouncement, the man who has stood for all that is patriotic, can’t bring off the cynical turn of phrase to make his disgust with the venal institution of the police department a living entity.  In the end, we know we are watching Wayne – not McQ – struggle with an uncomfortable career direction.

Despite his appearance of being awkward in the maverick cop role, Wayne followed McQ with Brannigan.  Directed by Douglas Hickox, the British action film features Wayne as the title character – a touch Chicago detective sent to London to extradite American mobster Ben Larkin (John Vernon) – little more than a resetting of Eastwood’s Coogan’s Bluff.

Big Jim Brannigan takes on London – Chicago style!

In London, Brannigan is assisted by a local officer, Jennifer. However, before Brannigan can collect Larkin, the mobster is kidnapped, leaving Brannigan to spend the rest of the film running around London like a dog chasing his tail.  All of this bluster is, of course, accompanied by many fish-out-of water scenes as Big Jim Brannigan struggles with tiny tea cups and the restrained style of British policing.  Like a good episode of Dempsey & Makepeace, the Duke shows ‘em how it’s done American style.

With a contract out on his life, Brannigan brushes up hard against Scotland Yard’s Commander Swann (Richard Attenborough), who in his own way is not above getting his hands dirty – but is determined to keep up the running bit about not letting Brannigan carrying his big-ass American handgun.

The film’s action scenes are excellent, relatively cutting edge for their time, including a spectacular car chase through Battersea's Shaftesbury Estate, Wandsworth, and Central London, culminating in Brannigan jumping a yellow Ford Capri coupe across the half raised Tower Bridge.

The plotting in Brannigan is so overly complicated – involving double and triple reverses, a questionable kidnapping, and an assassin who keeps turning up like a wild card – the best thing to remember is everybody is after Brannigan, but they ain't gonna get him unless he goes down swinging. 

Instead of cracks about being up to his butt in gas, Wayne delivers a much better line in Brannigan when he captures a British hoodlum and asks,  "Now, would you like to apply for England's free dental program or will you answer my questions?"

Brannigan is much slicker than McQ, and Wayne comes out much better, but still not up to the level of his westerns.  Therein, however, is the crunch – at the time Wayne chose to star in McQ and Brannigan, the western was being eclipsed off the big screen and the choice was to change genres or stop working.

After his turns as a tough cop, Wayne would only make two more films – Rooster Cogburn and The Shootist.  It would have been nice if the sports jackets, fast cars, and very large handguns of McQ and Brannigan could have been exchanged for ten gallon hats, fast horses, and Winchesters.  The plots could have stayed the same, and both the viewers and Wayne would have been much happier with him up to his butt in horse manure.


bish8 said...

Great Dirty Duke poster!


Steven Moshlak said...

Actually, John Wayne passed on the role of Det. Harry Callahan, giving Clint Eastwood a big break.