Zulu (1964)

Genres - Epic, Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Historical Epic, British Empire Film  |   Run Time - 140 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mike Cummings

Americans remember the Alamo, and the British remember Rorke's Drift, a South African outpost where 120 Welsh soldiers fought a pitched battle against 4,000 Zulu warriors in 1879. This 1964 film re-creates the battle -- and the events leading up to it -- in spectacular style. At the beginning of the film, suspense builds when a pacifist minister warns the British that Zulus are on the march. Unless the soldiers abandon their garrison, they will all die, the minister says. Alarmed but unwilling to forsake their duty, the soldiers dig in. Director Cy Raker Endfield then invokes an audio effect to herald the coming of the Zulus: with their spears and shields, they pound out an unnerving cadence like that of a chugging locomotive. Then the Zulus attack. Along with the combat scenes, the acting and script are superb. Stanley Baker and Michael Caine portray feuding lieutenants who rally their meager forces to withstand one assault after the next, and Nigel Green plays a stiff-lipped sergeant who heartens the soldiers with his iron resolve and cool composure. But the battle is the real star. The Zulu extras enlisted by co-producer Baker creep and slink through grass, or run headlong at the British, in tactical maneuvers that eventually result in hand-to-hand combat. When Zulus breach the garrison chanting war cries, sick and injured soldiers shoot and stab their way to safety. Gripping from start to finish, Zulu has earned status among some critics as one of the finest war films ever made.