Dwarfing The Mightiest! Towering Over The Greatest!


Jurassic Mark

SCORE: 3 Stars

Zulu exhibits an action sequence that lasts well over an hour. On that merit alone, I'm surprised I've never seen it before. Zulu commanded my attention throughout. The direction is often panoramic. Cy Endfield opens the film with a great tracking shot of the remnants of a burning British military post. The movie has a "big" feel.

Once again, I'm both grateful and annoyed by American Movie Classics. I was surfing my DSS recently and came across this title. I watched it (commercial free). But, dammit, what is it with AMC's censorship policy? Zulu features frontal nudity of African women. And these weren't just old, saggy breasted women with no sex appeal. Yet, I've seen "modern" pictures on AMC like Family Plot where I believe they bleeped the word "asshole," (I can only speculate as an amateur lip reader). Likewise, AMC shredded The Two Jakes. What gives? If it's a "classic" then LEAVE IT THE FUCK ALONE.

On to the film. The mighty Zulu tribe doesn't like the English invading their land. As the movie opens, they've already destroyed one British fort. Missionary Witt (Jack Hawkins) gets wind of the next Zulu attack. He rides to a camp commanded by Lieutenant Chard (Stanley Baker). Baker looks like a combination of a John Cleese Monty Python officer and Dudley Dooright. His first officer is Lieutenant Bromhead (Michael Caine in an early role). Caine looks like he just saw Lawrence of Arabia and decided to play Bromhead as some kind of whinny, Peter O'Toole, gay clone. Nevertheless, Bromhead is a capable killer.

There is a fair bit of character development in the early going. Then Zulu becomes an action extravaganza. I was impressed. We have the awesome sound of the warriors getting ready for the attack. We have a grand shot of the enormous Zulu tribe cresting a mountain. We get lots of detailed military strategy.

Based on a true story, Zulu would have us believe that approximately 4,000 African warriors (sans rifles) attacked less than 200 British soldiers on January 22, 1879. I'm not sure if the movie is completely accurate. There are times that Zulu oddly resembles Starship Troopers with an overwhelming force bearing down on a pathetically undermanned fortress. But, the British do have superior weapons. Their rifles cut down the Zulu with disturbing effectiveness. I think a lot of good action directors have seen Zulu more than once.

The film is careful with it's politics. Early in the picture, many of the "heroes" seem less than honorable. If Zulu were trying to say something about 19th Century English Colonialism, the filmmakers missed their mark. Under attack, the Brits become fearless, while, at the same time, regain their valor. Again, this seems less than authentic, but arguably makes a valid point about men with their backs to the wall.

Zulu may be hard to find on video, but it can be seen on American Movie Classics (apparently uncensored).

* Zulu should not be confused with "Zulu Dawn" or "Shaka Zulu."