Zulu review, Newsweek July 13, 1964, p. 85
Thin Red Line
The battle of Rorke's Drift in Natal in 1879 was an uneven affair. Against 105 British troops, 4000 Zulus charged repeatedly and were butchered. The British Martini-Henry rifles mowed down row after row of advancing Zulus. The Zulu shields, even though of the toughest bull hide leather were irrelevant. The Zulu spears were ineffectual. This battle is the subject of Zulu.
Beginning with a narration by Richard Burton, and ending with a list of the eleven men who won the Victoria Cross for their participation in the slaughter, the film seems to be praising the heroism of the British fighting men. But co-producers Stanley Baker and Cy Endfield have been faithful enough to the details of the engagement that the repellent nature of the fighting is inescapable. It was bloody, but like an abattoir. The victory was as inglorious as the Italian planes strafing the Ethiopians on their camels.
Symbol: The long-range effects of the battle are evident even in the current picture, where the Zulu actors, playing the parts of their warrior forebears, carry only rubber-tipped spears, the Zulus having been "demilitarized" by the government of South Africa, where the film was made. True, Stanley Baker and his garrison are only firing blanks, but somewhere there is live ammunition in race-tense South Africa. Without wishing to be so, the film becomes a symbol of the current situation.
The production itself is impressive. Sheer numbers do, at the very least, suggest sheer numbers, although it does take rather a long time to kill off enough Zulus to convince them to retreat and give up. At the end, they all line up to beat on their shields in praise, somebody says, of British valor. It is a quixotic gesture. They would have done better with a telegram to the small-arms division of Remington Arms, Bridgeport, Conn.