Friday, October 19, 2012

#795. Zulu (1964) - Spotlight on England

Directed By: Cy Endfield

Starring: Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson

Tag line: "The epic story of courage, honour and pride"

Trivia: Stanley Baker purchased John Chard's Victoria Cross in 1972, but thought it was probably a replica. After Baker's death it was sold to a collector at a low price. It turned out to be the actual medal

Zulu centers on one of the most brutal battles in British military history, a fight between some 100-odd Welsh foot soldiers and over 4,000 Zulu warriors that went down in Natal, Africa, on January 22, 1879. 

It is also a thrilling motion picture.

Stanley Baker stars as Lt. John Chard, an engineer who was sent to the tiny outpost of Rorke’s Drift to build a bridge, only to wind up serving as the regiment’s commanding officer. His second-in-command is Bromhead (a very young Michael Caine), a smug Lieutenant who spends his free time hunting Africa’s exotic wildlife. 

Warned of an impending attack by Rev. Witt (Jack Hawkins), a missionary who is on friendly terms with the natives, Chard, Bromhead and the others, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, decide to make a stand. The fighting is intense, with both sides taking heavy casualties, and a number of British soldiers distinguish themselves in battle, including Pvt. Henry Hook (James Booth), who just before the melee had been lying in a hospital bed. He would become one of eleven in the regiment to be awarded the Victorian Cross for valor.

The battle that rages through much of Zulu is not constant. The Zulus come in waves, throwing as many men as they can against their heavily-armed foes, then retreating once the British artillery has drastically reduced their numbers. There are periods of silence between the attacks, giving Lt. Chard and his subordinates time to survey the damage. Then the Zulus advance again… and again… and again, chanting as they bang their spears against their shields, getting closer and closer with each successive assault. As for the British, they've accepted that they are probably going to die, and fight back with the determination of men who have nothing to lose.

Zulu is a tense, electrifying reenactment of this bloody day in history, yet what I found most interesting was how the filmmakers refused to demonize the Zulu warriors. In fact, the movie, at times, salutes their bravery as well as that of the Welsh soldiers. In one of the film’s final shots, we’re shown the battlefield, littered with hundreds upon hundreds of bodies, revealing that, though the British went through hell, it was the Zulus who paid the ultimate price.


Unknown said...

Zulu is one of my all time favourite war films. I grew up with it and I still bite my nails every time the Zulu's chant! To call this movie intense would be a major understatement!

hurdygurdygurlCANADA said...

Adding ZULU to my IMDb watchlist now.

Unknown said...

First rank... FIRE! They don't make em like this anymore

James Robert Smith said...

ZULU, for all of its hyper-inflated British propaganda, is an excellent movie. It's very well written, well-acted, well-directed, and the cinemaphotography is almost spotless. Of course Michael Caine steals the show, and it's hard to believe that this was only his second film role. He played that part to perfection.