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Hannibal Brooks [Blu-ray]
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From Michael Winner, the acclaimed director of The System, The Jokers, Lawman, The Nightcomers, The Mechanic, Death Wish and The Sentinel, comes this charming WWII adventure-comedy. Stephen “Hannibal” Brooks (Oliver Reed, Burnt Offerings, The Hunting Party) is a British prisoner of war assigned to care for an elephant named Lucy in a Munich zoo. When the zoo is bombed by the Americans, Brooks is ordered to transport Lucy by train to a safer zoo in Innsbruck. But when the train is commandeered by German troops, Brooks must escort the feisty pachyderm across the Austrian border on foot. Two of the film’s best features are the terrific color photography by Robert Paynter (Little Shop of Horrors) and original musical score by the great Francis Lai (Love Story). Co-starring Michael J. Pollard (Bonnie and Clyde) and Wolfgang Preiss (The Train), Hannibal Brooks was the fourth of six collaborations between star Reed and director Winner.
-Brand New 2K Master
-Dual-Layered BD50 Disc
-Optional English Subtitles
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infamous Charles Bronson revenge thriller "Death Wish," he made a most
unusual World War II movie. Imagine a British P.O.W., played by Oliver
Reed, escaping to Switzerland with an Indian elephant that he has been
ordered to evacuate from a German zoo and you've got the basic plot of
"Hannibal Brooks." In his autobiography "Winner Take All," Winner
remembers that Aida, the elephant, had to be accompanied by another
elephant, each of them tipping the scales at two and half tons! Between
the elephant, the rowdy Reed, and drug-addled Michael J. Pollard,
Winner wound up helming the usual firefights between the Germans and
the escaped prisoners-of-war that make up this slightly overlong war
movie. Winner stages a convoy ambush, a train derailment, avalanches of
logs and stones, and ultimately the destruction of a massive border
guard post with verve. Although it doesn't qualify as a really big
World War II epic like director J. Lee Thompson's "The Guns of
Navarone" or Brian G. Hutton's "Where Eagles Dare," "Hannibal Brooks"
is still above-average because it is so unlike all other World War II
Patriotism doesn't clap its heels together and storm to the front of
the action. Indeed, James Donald of "The Great Escape" where he
portrayed the Allied P.O.W. Commandant has the only role in "Hannibal
Brooks" that vocalizes patriotism. Meanwhile, the Germans--especially
the S.S.--aren't demonized. Appropriately enough, Winner relied on
Pollard--fresh from his Oscar nominated role in "Bonnie & Clyde"--to
serve as comic relief, and Pollard easily steals the show from Reed and
his gigantic co-star. French composer Francis Lai furnishes a majestic
orchestral score that sounds like something the 101 Strings would have
no problem immortalizing. Nevertheless, like the pachyderm, "Hannibal
Brooks" amounts to a slow-moving melodrama which makes it easy to pause
it and walk off for a while to attend to other necessities. There is no
burning urgency, but the film dutifully arrives at its grand finale.
The Germans captured Stephen 'Hannibal' Brooks (Oliver Reed of "The
Three Musketeers") in the beginning after he has repaired a vehicle and
they shoot it the tires out, taking him prisoner. Cue the Francis Lai
music and lenser Robert Paynter, who worked with Winner on most of his
pictures, regales us with scenic long shots of Germany as a period
train trundles through it. During the train ride, British enlisted man
Brooks meets American enlisted man Packy (Michael J. Pollard of "Bonnie
& Clyde") and persuades him to serve as their look-out while they try
to loosen some planks in the ceiling of a train. The escape attempt is
short-lived, but for the remainder of this 101-minute actioneer, Packy
and Brooks cross paths at the best and worst times. Once they have been
settled into Stalag 7-A, our heroes learn that the Germans are looking
for men to work for them in the nearby town of Munich. The vicar (James
Donald of "The Great Escape") suggests they pass up this opportunity
because they are still on the British Army payroll, but Brooks takes
the Germans up on their offer and finds himself tending an elephant
named Lucy (Aida in her only starring role) when he isn't in camp.
Packy manages to escape when the Allies drop bombs on the zoo. Brooks
refuses to abandon Lucy. A piece of shapnel lodges in her side, but our
hero nurses her back to health. The bombing killed the German elephant
so Lucy is entrusted entirely to Brooks. Indeed, the zoo curator
arranges for Brooks--under guard of course--to take Lucy to Innsbruck and
so the journey of hardship begins for both man and beast. Kurt, the
German soldier (Peter Carsten of "Dark of the Sun") who supervises
their trip, rubs Brooks raw and neither man has respect for the other.
Eventually, Brooks can longer abide Kurt, and they tangle in the middle
of the woods when Kurt makes a foolish move to shoot Lucy. The second
time that they trade blows, Kurt falls down a hillside and the woman,
Vronia (Karin Baal of "Dead Eyes of London"), who accompanies them
discovers that he is dead. Brooks decides to make a dash for
Switzerland. Vronia and a sympathetic German guard, Willy (Teutonic
actor Helmut Lohner), go their different ways. The closest character to
being a villain--other than the drunken Kurt--is German Colonel von
Haller. One of the most recognized German character actors to play
officers in World War II movies for 30 years--Wolfgang Priess--is
instantly credible and twice as villainous. Initially, he forces Lucy,
Brooks, and Kurt vacate a train freight car that was assigned to
accommdate them during their trip to a quiet part of Germany that
Allied bombers wouldn't devastate. Later, when they are crossing a
narrow bridge, our heroes encounter the unsavory von Haller again. This
time Brooks doesn't capitulate to von Haller. He explains to the
colonel while Kurt stands by impotently that you cannot turn an
elephant around on a narrow bridge and that Lucy cannot walk backwards.
"Hannibal Brooks" won't top anybody's list of memorable World War II
movies. This is war as an adventure with few opportunities to cast
combat in an unglamorous look. Nevertheless, Winner does make war seem
ironic. After they knock over an eight truck German convoy, Packy
discovers the Jerries were carrying cans of bully beef. This color
picture is still entertaining and most of all different compared to
most combat movies. Winner recounts in his autobiography that he
collaborated on the script treatment of "Hannibal Brooks" with a
Norwich house painter who tended an elephant in Munich during the war.
There's some good action and some excellent humour courtesy of Michael J Pollard, an escaped American POW leading a band of POW's and insurgents against the German military machine.
It's a great story and well performed, and something out of the ordinary for a War movie. Oliver Reed was great in anything he did and this is no exception. The only criticism is the soundtrack is a bit overwhelming at times and the cuts between scenes a bit amateurish. The special effects are are OK by today's standard, but would have been right on course for 1969. Still, the movie translates well to today, mainly because of the unique story and the "fish-out-of-water" characters played by Reed & Pollard.
I recommend picking this movie up, anywhere you can. Copies are out there. For the price you won't be disappointed, and it may even become a favorite.
Top international reviews
Great film for a duvet day or on a Sunday afternoon in front of the log fire. Part of the joy of these old films is seeing the film grain which is particularly apparent when projected on a big screen. It adds atmosphere.
Shame it is not in the Prime Video library which is the reason I had to buy the DVD.
I am really pleased with the service I received and look forward to your continued support.
Andrew Banks Shakesby