Zulu review, The New Yorker, 40:93 July 18, 1964, p. 93


Redcoats and Pith Helmets Forever

One of the very few regrettable results of the collapse of colonialism has been the gradual disappearance of that noble counterpart of the American Western the colonial Western.  At its best, in "Beau Geste" and "Four Feathers," the colonial Western, handsomely emblazoned with the British square and those ten-foot-long handwrought Arab rifles, had a straight-faced urbanity that made the American Western seem pompous and ramshackle.  "Zulu," a British-American effort, goes a long way toward shoring up this dwindling tradition.  Perhaps it even marks the beginning of a neo-colonial Western movement.  Stanley Baker and Cy Endfield, who are its producers and, respectively, its star and its director, have not only refurbished all the cliches of the genre but given them the sheen of high style.  Here again is the manly self-made officer who, by virtue of two months' seniority, seizes command of the garrison from the seemingly effete gentleman officer ("By the bye, my father came out a colonel at Waterloo, and my grandfather was with Wolfe in Quebec"); the renegade enlisted man who turns around and wins a Victoria Cross; the missionary's daughter who gets her bodice torn by a brutish soldier for her pains as an angel of mercy; the bull-voiced, gold-hearted sergeant who chastises one of his men in the heat of battle for an unbuttoned tunic; a couple of Welsh enlisted men who burst into "Men of Harlech" at the darkest hour; the late-arriving, monosyllabic ringer who is wise in the ways of the enemy; and the long garrison doctor, bathed in blood and cursing the butchery about him.  Best of all, though, are the battle scenes, which last roughly an hour and move in the wheeling slow motion of battles fought with spears and bayonets and single-shot rifles. Based on the battle of Rorke's Drift, between the Zulus and the British, which took place in natal in 1879, the picture makes the British garrison appear barely manned and puts a Zulu behind every glade of grass.  Moreover, the enemy mounts attacks on the hour for two days and one night, and though Zulus pour repeatedly over the barricades, each assault is relentlessly repelled.  But Baker and Endfield have added fresh touches--their garrison never runs out of ammunition, and it is not saved by the cavalry.  Sheer fortitude brings it through, and is rewarded by an admiring chanted salute from the Zulus themselves, who then retreat like departing tea guests into the hills that ring the encampment.  The Zulus' losses are heavy and the British losses light, and no fewer than eleven Victoria Crosses are handed out.  The members of the cast squint and jut their chins effortlessly (particularly fine are Jack Hawkins, James Booth,  Michael Caine, and Nigel Green), and the camera makes the most of the steep, ribbed, treeless terrain.  (The film was shot on the site of the battle, in Royal Natal national Park.)  It has already been pointed out that "Zulu" is in poor taste.  But so are such invaluable relics as G. A. Henty and Rider Haggard and Kipling.

                                                    --Whitney Balliett