Operation Market Garden, September 1944: The Allies attempt to capture several strategically important bridges in the Netherlands in the hope of breaking the German lines. However, mismanagement and poor planning result in its failure.
Two Lieutenants, Chard of Engineers and Bromhead find that their 140 man contingent in Natal has been isolated by the destruction of the main British Army column and that 4,000 Zulu warriors will descend on them in hours. Each has a different military background in tactics and they are immediatly in conflict on how to prepare for the attack. Nearly a third of the men are in the infirmary, as the welsh company tries to somehow survive with no help in sight. Based on a true story.
There is very little interaction between the characters in the hospital and those outside and the patients are never seen taking part in the defence once the building is destroyed. This is because the hospital scenes were filmed at Twickenham studios in the UK using locally cast Afro-Caribbean actors and the cast members involved never went to South Africa. See more »
Camera shadow on helmet as Chard walks along bag wall. See more »
At the end of the opening credits 'and Introducing Michael Caine' is shown, this would suggest that this was his first film. In fact MC had previously had five credited film roles, numerous TV appearances and several uncredited film roles before appearing in Zulu. See more »
A magnificent recreation of one of the most incredible battles in history, Zulu depicts how less than 100 British soldiers held off an army of 4000 Zulu warriors. The battle follows a previous one, less than a day before, in which about 1200 British soldiers lost. This film really gives new meaning to the saying 'keep a stiff upper lip' - or 'never say die.' The British soldiers here, led by Lieutenants played by Baker & Caine, know full well the force coming against them; they know what has already occurred. By rights, they should beat a hasty retreat before the approaching army arrives. The film never delves into the reasons, psychological or other, of why the commanding officer is determined to remain, beyond just the statement that he holds the "queen's commission." It's a question that baffles the missionary (Hawkins, usually the stiff English officer in other films) who begs them all to leave. The film seems to say, when the moment comes, no man really knows what he will do until it is upon him. Here, the soldiers find out very quickly what they're made of.
Cy Endfield, the director, manages to build some heady suspense before even the awesome battle scenes. The soldiers hear a strange sound in the distance, "like a train" notes Caine. Now we no longer need wonder what 8000 feet on soil sound like. And it's not just the suspense; the drama here is very effective. There are numerous sequences where Endfield manages to drive home a point that sticks in your mind for days - maybe years. Who can forget that simple act of turning over a wagon? The photography is superb, capturing the vastness of the area, and should be seen in widescreen glory. I've seen this film many times as a kid and, of course, these were standard TV showings; I didn't know better, it was one of my favorite films of all time, regardless, but it's twice as glorious in proper aspect ratio. I even had the privilege of seeing this on a theater screen once about 20 years ago and I was suitably blown away, even knowing the story beforehand (nowadays, a DVD on a big screen TV is your best bet). The musical score is perfect, as well. I can't imagine the film with anything different.
When the fighting begins, it's really breathless; by that I mean, there is one central action set piece when many of the Zulu warriors break through the ranks and threaten the inner compound, including the officer in command. I always have to hold my breath during this sequence, even though I've seen it 20 times, it's that good. Every time a Brit soldier falls, I think, my God, that's a good portion of the entire defending force! They can never make it! Yet, they do, several times. It's a relentless depiction of war battles, never equaled (as in "The Alamo",1960, another historical depiction of a small group against a much larger force - it's good, but not even close). Somehow, Endfield and whomever helped choreograph the action scenes managed to weld together the perfect combination of huge crowd battles and singular confrontations where it becomes a little personal.
All the actors are first rate. Caine is terrific in his first major role. Baker is very solid - has to be - as the one in command. Booth - I know his character may not be historically accurate - but he's the most colorful, and when he explodes into full-fledged heroism, it's something to see. And Nigel Green as the sergeant - THAT's why the British ruled the world for a time! In fact, all the supporting and minor roles are filled out excellently; this was when script writing had to be extra professional. The much later prequel had no hope of comparing to this masterpiece, but even that film was well done. Yes, I'll say it one more time - this is a masterpiece.
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