Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Zulu (1964) **½

UR, 138 min.
Director: Cy Enfield
Writers: John Prebble (also article), Cy Enfield
Starring: Stanley Baker, Michael Caine, James Booth, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobson, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee

I know I’ve been throwing a lot of 2½ star reviews out there lately, but I’ve just been seeing a lot of movies that almost have it right. The 1964 British depiction of their war in Africa “Zulu” is one of those movies that came just this close to being good. Where it falls short the most is it’s one-sided depiction of the conflict. “Zulu” is told completely from the British point of view. Why the title “Zulu”, if you aren’t going to depict the Zulu’s point of view at all?

As a military procedural, it is a thorough examination of the remarkable stand taken by the British soldiers at Rorke’s Drift. 140 men held off over 4,000 Zulu warriors under the leadership of a bridge engineer. Another lieutenant was in command of the outpost, but the engineer outranked him by a few months of seniority. Michael Caine made a remarkable film debut as the lieutenant who was forced to give up the command of the outpost.

There is little drama to be found in the lead up to the Zulu attack. Most of it has to do with a priest, played by that classic British bullhead Jack Hawkins, who tries to get the British troops to give up their fight against the Zulus, whom he has lived with as a missionary. Also the two lieutenants work out their arrangement in the first half of the film. What’s missing is the reason for this war. There was a massacre of another British unit at the hands of the Zulus, which happens before the action of this movie begins. But little information is given as to why the Zulus are at odds with the British. In fact, no insight into the Zulu thinking is ever presented.

The second half of the film finds its stride as the Zulus test the British defenses and the British cleverly find ways to repel the attacks. The military strategies provide most of the film’s fascination. The lieutenants stop fighting each other and start working together, which is more satisfying to witness. Suddenly, the movie becomes a depiction of an historical event that I’d like to know more about. 

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