Hannibal Brooks (1969) was inspired by the experiences of Tom Wright, a British house painter who had spent time working in the Munich Zoo while being held as a POW by the Nazis during World War II. Wright concocted a tale about a man who escapes from Nazi Germany through the Swiss Alps—while escorting an elephant (à lá Hannibal, the legendary Carthaginian military commander). Director Michael Winner, who was then primarily known for a pair of successful comedies (1967’s The Jokers and I'll Never Forget What’s’isname) prepared a film treatment and commissioned a screenplay from Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who had also teamed to write The Jokers).
The resulting war film proved to be a transitional work for Winner, a breezy comedy that also featured ample doses of the sort of realistic violence for which the director later became known in such films as Chato’s Land (1972) and the first three Death Wish installments (1974, 1982 and 1985). Oliver Reed—who had previously starred in Winner’s The System (1964) and the aforementioned 1967 comedies—portrays pacifist Stephen Brooks, a British POW who learns that some things are worth fighting for when tasked with caring for Lucy, an elephant at the Munich Zoo. The two form a bond, so when the zoo is bombed during an Allied air strike and Lucy’s keeper is killed, Brooks is instructed to escort Lucy to safety at Innsbruck, Austria. Sinister German Col. von Haller (Wolfgang Preiss) forbids the elephant from boarding a train, so Brooks and Lucy are accompanied on their subsequent walk to Innsbruck by Willi (Helmut Lohner), a kindly Austrian guard, Vronia (Karin Baal), a beautiful Polish prisoner and potential love interest, and Kurt (Peter Carsten), a brutish Nazi. En route to Innsbruck, Stephen accidentally kills Kurt when the drunk German becomes unruly and attempts to shoot the elephant; after disposing of Kurt’s body, Brooks temporarily parts ways with Willi and Vronia, resolving to take Lucy over the Alps and into neutral Switzerland—with a German patrol, under the supervision of von Haller, hot on their heels.
A parallel plot has Brooks repeatedly running into Packy (Michael J. Pollard), an escaped American POW intent on winning the war—and at odds with Brooks’s nonviolent leanings. Packy mobilizes a band of prisoners and stages a series of attacks on the Germans, each of which is blamed on Brooks and Lucy by their pursuers. Packy proves useful and rescues Brooks after he is betrayed by Willi, who turns Brooks over to the Nazis in order to save his own family. Once freed from von Haller’s dungeon, Brooks forgives Willi and they set out for Switzerland again, eventually reaching the Alps with Lucy. Willi finds true redemption when he is killed saving the elephant from a squad of attacking Nazis.
Von Haller and Vronia join Brooks and Lucy for the final stretch of their journey to the Swiss border—the colonel has opted to escape before the war comes to an end. Packy and his team also reunite with the group near a Nazi watchtower at the border, where the film’s closing action unfolds. Vronia proves herself loyal to Brooks with her dying act—she is gunned down in an attempt to warn Brooks and Packy that von Haller has set a trap for them. An ensuing shootout between the heroes and the Germans climaxes with Lucy tearing down the watchtower with von Haller inside, allowing the surviving Allied POWs safe passage into Switzerland.
The film’s production proved to be a challenge for Winner, who also served as producer and had little previous experience when it came to the dangerous stunt work and pyrotechnics required by the story. Rather than hiring a stunt coordinator, Winner himself supervised the action sequences, which included a log avalanche and the derailing of a train, in addition to the aforementioned destruction of a Nazi watchtower. Compounding the difficulty of the shoot was the on-location photography, which required that two temperamental elephants playing Lucy be transported throughout Germany and Austria—this in addition to Oliver Reed’s customary evening bouts of inebriation, which took their toll on the supporting cast. The Austrian locals were helpful and supportive of the shoot, albeit disturbingly reverential (according to Winner) upon seeing actors dressed as Nazis.
While Oliver Reed’s anchoring performance in the lead role proved a winning contrast to his turn as the villainous Bill Sikes in Oliver! (1968), the film was largely panned by critics upon its release, with its uncomfortable blend of humor and violence cited in many reviews. Michael J. Pollard’s supporting turn was poorly received as well, his impish, affected characterization of Packy considered a disappointment after his Oscar-nominated work in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Positive notices were reserved for the film’s pastoral cinematography by Robert Paynter (in the first of his 10 collaborations with Winner).
Composer Francis Lai had worked previously with Michael Winner on I'll Never Forget What’s’isname and would score one more film for the director, The Games (1970). Lai’s score largely ignores the film’s explosive wartime backdrop, instead focusing on lush melodic material. The composer spoke fondly of his experience on Hannibal Brooks in a 1995 Soundtrack! interview, crediting the director for this approach:
What amused me in this film was its use of the counterpoint. Michael Winner was largely responsible for that; he had very precise ideas in this case and it was up to me to follow him [wherever he wanted to go]. He wanted a score that dominated the action, and delighted in having romantic themes in scenes that were violent and dramatic, thus giving them an extra emotional dimension. In other scenes he used pop music to stress even further this dichotomy. He was taking great risks, but in the end it paid off handsomely.
Lai enhances the chemistry between Brooks and Lucy with a warm, pop-flavored main title “march” (which is not really a march at all) that emphasizes strings and soothing male chorus. The theme is reprised during dialogue-free traveling sequences throughout the picture, its melody unfolding at a lax tempo that suits an elephant’s deliberate pace. Brooks’s own theme (identified in the album's track titles as “Love Theme From Hannibal Brooks” even though it is does not really function as a love theme in the film) is true to the character’s trademark pacifism, never straying far from its jazz lullaby origins, while Lucy’s playful material emphasizes high-hat cymbal, and low, heavy colors like trombone and bass saxophone.
The film does feature a handful of light suspense cues, but the album eschews these pieces (with the exception of “Across the River”) in favor of the score’s more overtly thematic ideas for the film's protagonists. For clarity, the album tracks are discussed in film order below (with music numbers from the cue sheet provided for reference) followed by the tracks prepared especially for the LP.
- 1. Hannibal Brooks March (M1)
- After an unscored opening scene in which Brooks is captured by Nazi soldiers in Italy, the main titles play out as he and a group of POWs (including Packy) are marched to a train that transports them to Germany. The sequence is scored with a sweeping rendition of the “march” that contrasts with shots of weary captives—instead evoking the Italian scenery and suggesting the unlikely friendship to come.
- 12. Lucy’s Theme (M3)
- A montage in which Brooks bonds with the elephant at the Munich Zoo is accompanied by the score’s first presentation of Lucy’s Theme. The rascally music captures the humor of the sequence as well as the burgeoning friendship between Brooks and Lucy, underscoring a series of chores that include feeding the elephant, collecting her feces, filing her nails and training her to push a log.
- 7. Walk in the Woods (M4)
- This cue (which should properly be titled “Journey to Innsbruck”) underscores a sequence in which Stephen and his companions first set out toward Innsbruck with Lucy. A soothing version of Brooks’s theme plays over a montage of their scenic journey through the Bavarian countryside, with playful xylophone denoting Lucy cleaning herself in a pond.
- 3. Peace and Understanding (Wild Organ for Church)
- Brooks, Willi and Vronia visit a Bavarian church and bond while discussing their disparate nationalities. After the abrasive Kurt interrupts and barks at them in German, the travelers privately share their disdain for him. This composition for pipe organ plays quietly through the scene as source music.
- 9. Tyrolean Folk Dance
- Brooks and his fellow travelers stop at a Tyrolean village where a carnival is underway. The cheerful townsfolk play various games, and as Brooks allows children to ride Lucy he comments that one would hardly be able to tell that a war is going on. This decidedly contemporary cue was replaced in the film in favor of more authentic source music (the brassy “Fair Music” by Herbert Handl).
- 2. Journey to Innsbruck (M6)
- After Brooks accidentally kills Kurt and parts ways with Willi and Vronia, a montage shows him accompanying the elephant through the woods toward the Alps; this is scored with a bittersweet rendition of the “march” for guitar and strings. (This is the cue that should actually be titled “Walk in the Woods.”)
- 6. Respite (M8)
- Brooks and Lucy rest by a tree. A forlorn rendition of her theme for solo trombone plays as Brooks examines her throat and determines that she is ill. A warm reading on strings and trumpet of the B section of Lucy’s theme underscores Brooks’s visit to a nearby town, where he recruits the help of Dr. Mendel (Ralf Wotler).
- 11. Sickness in the Family (M8A)
- Brooks and Dr. Mendel travel by horsedrawn buggy to examine the ailing Lucy. The score plays through the trip and Lucy’s subsequent examination with a concerned, urgent version of the B section of Brooks’s theme. The lethargic rendition of Lucy’s theme from “Respite” is reprised when the doctor determines that she has the mumps. The scene transitions to a nearby stable, where Brooks brings Lucy a pot of soup, and the cue winds down with a soothing suggestion of the “march” melody.
- 10. Across the River (M11C)
- After Brooks and Willi retrieve Lucy from Dr. Mendel, they evade a squad of Nazis by hiding the elephant behind a waterfall. Brooks’s theme is defiantly relaxed for the heroes, while the pursuing Germans are underscored with aggressive brass figures over accented string accompaniment. When the Nazis arrive at the waterfall but fail to see Lucy, they give up their search; a jubilant, mallet-dressed variation of Brooks’s theme plays as Stephen and Willi celebrate.
- 15. Love Theme from Hannibal Brooks (Reprise) (M12)
- After Willi is killed by the Nazis, a gentle setting of Brooks’s theme plays as he leads Lucy higher into the mountains. The material takes an apprehensive turn when Brooks leaves the elephant behind in order to investigate noise coming from a nearby building. In the film, the cue ends with brass stingers at 0:46 as he encounters von Haller and Vronia dining together; the album instead reverts to a laid-back rendition of Brooks’s theme, unused in the film.
- 14. Approaching the Frontier (M12A)
- Von Haller (wearing civilian clothes in place of his SS uniform) explains his plans to cross the Swiss border now that the war is winding down. Brooks agrees to accompany the German and Vronia—with Lucy, of course. The “march” is gently reprised as the newly formed group proceeds toward the border; Stephen gently accosts Vronia and asks why she has aligned herself with the enemy, but she shows no remorse. Von Haller spots a watchtower in the distance, to an exclamation of a brassy German anthem; this material continues briefly as the travelers are monitored from afar by Packy and his men. The “march” resumes until Brooks’s group is surprised by Packy.
- The climatic action (for Vronia's death and the destruction of the watchtower) is largely unscored, with only a brief suspense cue (not featured on the album) for Brooks tying a rope around one of the tower’s support columns so that Lucy can pull it down and topple the structure. The score’s final cue (also not on the album), features the lyrics “And they lived happily ever after” set to the main theme, as Brooks, Lucy, Packy and his squad cross the border.
- 4. Love Theme from Hannibal Brooks
- This string-driven arrangement of Brooks’s theme was composed specifically for the album.
- 5. Elephant Shake (Lucy’s Theme)
- This extended treatment of Lucy’s theme was also composed for the album.
- 8. Hannibal’s Rest
- This melancholic rendition of Brooks’s theme, with its B section voiced on aching strings over rippling piano accompaniment, does not appear in the film. It was either dropped due to deleted footage or was arranged specifically for the album.
- 13. Peace and Understanding (Reprise)
- This pipe organ composition (which, despite the track title, is not melodically related to “Peace and Understanding,” track 3) does not appear in the film. — Alexander Kaplan