HANNIBAL BROOKS—-weird, self-satisfied mishmash eluded critics and audiences in 1969, has since developed a mini-cult among its stoned-upon-a-time fans, tasking a new generation of reviewers to exercise patience sifting its jumbled notes for merit. The cheeky script, written by the team of Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, blends Vietnam Era military mocking on top of the action in a WW2 adventure story, based on the true- reminisces of Tom Wright.*
British P.O.W. Brooks (Oliver Reed), assigned the captivity chore of handling an elephant at the Munich Zoo, is ordered to transport ‘Lucy’ to safety in Austria, accompanied by two German soldiers and a Polish female cook. En route through Bavaria and the Alps, Brooks and the team deals cross purposes with an escaped American prisoner–a wackjob who heads a partisan unit (Michael J. Pollard), as well as an SS colonel (Wolfgang Preiss) trying to get out before the Allies win.
The summer location shooting in Germany and Austria is attractive, and the elephant naturally has sympathy built in. Those credits, the welcome presence of supporting player Preiss, and that the story nugget dangles from some odd facts give the 101 minutes their modicum of interest.
Downside is considerable. Apart from the landscapes and off-rack Nazi uniforms, the lack of any semblance of authenticity and period is highlighted by the scrambling of tone, spelled out in the films advertising “It’s a suspense story. It’s a comedy story. It’s a war story. It’s a warm story. It’s a wild story. It’s a love story. It’s a moving story. It’s an elephant story. It’s a super story.”
The mugging by Reed is straight from swinging London (as were the writers and director Michael Winner). Then there is whatever-the-hell-it-is that Pollard does for a performance. After being successfully strange in Bonnie And Clyde, Pollard had a brief stay as one of the most ill-suited leads in movie history. His part elf/part deranged persona gave line readings stranger than anyone outside of Timothy Carey, and here he’s as far from 1944 (or recognizable Earth) as we are from honest government. The drugs and booze playing through his system at the time make his acting as hard to watch as it seemingly was for him to do. Meantime, Reeds legendary drunken antics while not filming left large areas of Austria traumatized in his passage.
With Karin Baal, Helmuth Lohner, Peter Carsten, John Alderton and James Donald.
* Tom Wright, captured by the Germans in 1944, was given custody of the real Lucy and as the Reich fell apart, his care kept her alive from Munich to Innsbruck. After the war he wrote poetry, plays and works for TV. The elephant passing for Lucy in this movie was played by ‘Aida’, a Thai import who had survived 18 of Rotterdam’s bombing raids from 1940-44, and lived to be 46. Another pachyderm-at-war-comedy (now there’s a subgenre for you) came in 1995, with Operation Dumbo Drop—different war, place, elephant, but also based somewhat on fact.