We continue our survey of the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1960s.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1950s, click here.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1940s, click here.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1930s click here.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1920s click here.
10. Zulu, 1964
The true—well, sorta—story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, 1879, South Africa, where ninety British soldiers fought against several thousand Zulu warriors.
At one point a young bugler, lips trembling, asks the tough Sergeant: “Why? Why?” And the Sergeant, stiff-upper lip, as the British used to be, replies, “Because we’re here, lad.”
A young, incredibly gifted actor named Michael Caine makes his very first major film appearance as a foppish young officer who becomes a man in the crucible of battle.
Zulu’s score by the great John Barry, is one of the most memorable I have ever heard. During the Yom Kippur War I used to hum it to myself to keep up my spirits and remind myself that numbers don’t matter, that in the end discipline, courage and fortitude triumph.
The Zulu warriors are treated with great respect. We, along with the British soldiers, are in awe of their distinctive battle formations, designed as a feint to draw in the enemy and then the flanks close up like a tidal wave — for the killing end. Zulu ritual pre-battle songs and dance are mesmerizing, and we can’t help but feel compassion for these brave premodern warriors who are about to meet the end of their history. The razor sharp Assagai spear is no match for the Martini-Henry repeating rifle.
This is a war movie that hits all the sweet spots a war movies should hit. We have a seemingly futile last stand of the few against the many. A cross-section of British soldiers that includes the drunken lout who rises to the peak of heroism, and the befuddled ranker who makes sure to button his tunic as the battle rages because he fears his Sergeant as much as he fears the Zulu. And of course we have Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, rivals for command with no battlefield experience. But they must lead because, well, that’s what leaders do.
Zulu is one of the great war movies of all time with superb performances by a dozen character actors, and a fine supporting performance of only a few minutes by Ulla Jacobsson as a preacher’s daughter who has, like so many Westerners, romanticized the natives, only to come face to face with the unflinching cruelty that is at the heart of a warrior culture.
The final battle, where the Zulu and the British fight to the death across a few yards, is one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed.
The screenplay by John Prebble and director Cy Endfield, is a model of restraint allowing the action to carry the story. Dialogue is clipped and to the point. Soldiers fight. They do not make speeches.
Here’s a clip of the final battle.