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  Hannibal Brooks The Elephant And Hassle
Year: 1969
Director: Michael Winner
Stars: Oliver Reed, Michael J. Pollard, Wolfgang Preiss, John Alderton, Helmut Lohner, Peter Carsten, Karin Baal, James Donald, Ralf Wolter, Jürgen Draeger, Maria Brockerhoff, Til Kiwe, Ernst Fritz Fürbringer, Fred Haltiner, John Porter-Davison, Terence Sewards
Genre: War, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: British soldier Stephen Brooks (Oliver Reed) is having trouble with his armoured car behind enemy lines in Second World War Germany, and just as he gets it started, he encounters even more trouble when he comes under a hail of bullets from a German patrol who capture him, telling Brooks that for him, the war is over. Brooks, never the most committed of soldiers, is delighted and looks forward to spending the rest of the conflict in a prisoner of war camp, although he does assist American soldier Packy (Michael J. Pollard) in his escape attempt from the train taking them to the camp, an attempt that fails almost immediately. However, something will soon plod into Brooks's life while he is jailed that will change him forever...

Michael Winner didn't always direct numbingly sadistic thrillers, you know, nope, in the nineteen-sixties his career looked very promising indeed and while you can't accuse him of being a failure financially, there are those who wish he had continued on the quirkier path he went down during the first period of his, uh, canon. Here, as producer as well, he came up with the story with Tom Wright, and had the script written by burgeoning British talent Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais; the consequences were a war movie that is eccentric, silly, but somehow very enjoyable despite its inherent unbelievability.

As you may have guessed from that title, that something which plods into Brooks's life is an elephant, because he volunteers for menial work at the Berlin Zoo and ends up looking after Lucy, a loveable pachyderm. Finally, Brooks has something to care about - the war doesn't move him much further than exasperating him, but under Reed's recognisable style of sarcastic but just-about-composed acting, as if he were ready to blow at any minute, we believe that this man has formed an attachment. The elephant acts as if it didn't know it was in a film at all, and has little star quality; although animal lovers will warm to her, the script doesn't offer her much in the way of character.

Nevertheless Brooks has finally found the woman of his dreams, as in a funny way (funny peculiar, that is) this is a love story between man and towering, bulky animal. When the zoo is bombed, one of many scenes that make little sense other than putting Lucy in peril, Brooks is beside himself with worry, and visibly relieved when he is told to escort the elephant to Innsbruck to give her a new home. Yet when they get Lucy on the train, an S.S. officer (Wolfgang Preiss) shows up to tell them that the carriages are being commandeered and the only solution that Brooks and the Nazi soldier (Peter Carsten) find is to walk Lucy all the way to their destination. A truck not available, then?

The boorish soldier makes no secret of his dislike for the creature, but is kept from shooting it with his rifle by the other soldier, Austrian Willi (Helmut Lohner), and the young Polish woman (Karin Baal) who accompany them. Events contrive to see Brooks getting into a brawl with the Nazi, who ends up dead, something which gives Brooks little satisfaction even though he hated the man. Now they must escape to Switzerland, elephant and all, every so often encountering Packy (Pollard at his most typical) and his schemes to derail the Nazi war machine in some daft sequences that put Lucy into danger once more. Brooks finally reaches an agreement with Packy in that he may not like the killing, but recognises that it's part of war, even being on the right side. There are a handful of excellent stunts to liven things up, and Brooks is slightly more complex than you might expect, all adding up to a novel and picturesque take on the traditional escape-based war movie. Excellent music by Frances Lai.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Michael Winner  (1935 - 2013)

Opinionated British producer-director whose early comedies - You Must Be Joking, The Jokers, I'll Never Forget Whatsisname - were promising enough, but come the seventies he had settled into a pattern of overblown thrillers.

Of these, Death Wish was a huge hit, and Winner directed two similar sequels. Other films included horrors (The Nightcomers, The Sentinel), Westerns (Lawman, Chato's Land), thrillers (Scorpio, Dirty Weekend) and disastrous comedies (Bullseye!). Also a restaurant critic.

 
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