Stanley Baker owned John Chard's Victoria Cross (and other medals) from 1972 until his death in 1976. Originally thought to be what is known as a "cast copy", the Victoria Cross was later proven, after a series of tests, to be the original. Unfortunately, Baker died, never knowing he had the real V.C.
Colour Sergeant Bourne was twenty-four during the defense of Rorke's Drift (Nigel Green, who played him, was forty). He was the last defender of the post to die as an honorary Lieutenant Colonel, on V.E. Day, May 8, 1945, age ninety-one.
Stanley Baker had no difficulty obtaining financing, because Joseph E. Levine said he would back any project Baker wanted to do. Baker said there was a project he was planning. Levine asked what it was called, and Baker replied, "'Zulu'". Levine said, "'Zulu'! I like that title. I will back you." Baker told this in a radio interview in England, and this account is confirmed by his widow in one of the extras on the DVD.
Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who came from a long line of Zulu warriors and royalty, played the part of his ancestor, King Cetywayo in this movie: "I played my great-grandfather. The director had actually identified a radio announcer (to play the part), but when he saw me he said that he saw a family resemblance and persuaded me to take part as an extra."
One of this movie's Technical Advisors was a Princess of the Zulu tribe, and also the tribe's historian. She knew perfectly the strategy of the battle, so she drew it on the sand, and Director Cy Endfield shot it exactly how she drew it.
Jack Hawkins was upset at the way his character (Reverend Otto Witt) was shown on film. He admitted he did not like the way his scenes had been edited in his 1973 autobiography "Anything for a Quiet Life", although he denied reports that he had left the premiere.
Because of South Africa's strict Apartheid laws, the Zulu extras could not be paid the same amount as their white counterparts. To get around that, Director Cy Endfield gave all of the animals bought for this movie, particularly cows, to the tribes.
During the performance of his one-man show, Sir Michael Caine related that he auditioned for the Lieutenant Bromhead part in this movie, but was rejected. A few months later, he was attending a cocktail party, at which Executive Producer Joseph E. Levine was also attending. Levine asked Caine if he still wanted the part, and Caine reminded him that his audition was considered "terrible". Levine replied that the original actor took very ill, and the crew was leaving for South Africa from London's Heathrow Airport the next morning. Caine shook Levine's hand, left the party, and went home to pack his bags.
Stanley Baker, an active Socialist off-screen, tried to make this movie as anti-racist and pro-Zulu as he could. He had to be talked out of addressing a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally in case this affected this movie's performance at the U.S. box office.
Director Cy Endfield wanted a camera crane that was lightweight when disassembled, so that it could be packed and transported through the African bush. Ken Eddy designed the first Filmair Giraffe camera crane for the job, and in so doing started the world's best known camera crane company. This key piece of film gear is used in the film industry to this day.
Commissary Dalton was in no way the upper-class twit he comes across in this movie. In fact, he was the most experienced soldier there. Dalton played a major part in the defense and battle plans of the garrison. Chard and Bromhard turned to him for advice on many issues.
There is very little interaction between the characters in the hospital and those outside, and the patients are never seen taking part in the defense once the building is destroyed. This is because the hospital scenes were filmed at Twickenham studios in the U.K., using locally cast Afro-Caribbean actors, and the cast members involved never went to South Africa.
In real-life, Private Henry Hook was nothing like the hard-drinking, insubordinate, malingering malcontent portrayed in this movie. His fellow soldiers knew him as a good soldier, and didn't drink alcohol. His daughters, who were quite elderly when this movie was released, walked out of the premiere in disgust.
The actual Battle of Rorke's Drift took place on January 22 and 23, 1879. British casualties were reported at thirty-two, including dead and wounded. Zulu casualties were roughly eight hundred fifty-one, including dead and wounded.
In real-life, Chard and Bromhead were regarded as less than remarkable officers by their superiors, and were in fact considered to be too old (Chard was thirty-two and Bromhead thirty-three) for their rather junior ranks of Lieutenant. The defense of Rorke's Drift galvanized their careers, Chard was a Colonel at the time of his death (of cancer at forty-nine) and Bromhead reached the rank of Major before succumbing to typhoid at the age of forty-six.
According to a recent book, Stanley Baker intended the role of Private Hitch to be played by "the actor from That Was the Week That Was (1964) whose surname begins with a K". He was alluding to Roy Kinnear, without realizing that the series also starred David Kernan. When Kernan turned up on the set, Baker realized his mistake, but hired him anyway.
During the first combat scenes, the powder charge was significant. In the later battle scenes, the rifles bucked less because the powder charge was less. This was because at close range, even blanks were still dangerous.
There is a story that Colour Sergeant Bourne declined the award of a V.C. in favor of an immediate commission. This is untrue. According to the transcript of a radio interview given by Bourne in 1936, he was offered a commission in addition to the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but felt obliged to turn it down, as he was the youngest of eight sons of a poor family, and could not have afforded to live as an officer was expected to. He was finally commissioned in 1890, eleven years after Rorke's Drift.
Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande is played by his real-life great-grandson Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who became a prominent South African politician. Buthelezi has been the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party since 1975, and served as the South African Minister for Home Affairs, from 1994 to 2004.
This movie was shot in the Royal Natal National Park, which is about ninety miles (one hundred forty-five kilometers) southwest of Rorke's Drift (the amphitheater mountain forms a dramatic backdrop in the movie). The area surrounding the actual Rorke's Drift is nowhere near as mountainous as in this movie.
The rifles in this movie are Martini-Henry single-shots in .450/.577 caliber. The weapons seen in this movie are period-correct short lever versions (the design was modified in the 1880s, with a longer lever to aid extraction).
There is a great misconception due to this movie that the troops at Rourke's Drift were all Welsh. In fact, they were mainly from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshires). Of the one hundred twenty-two men of the regiment that fought at Rourke's Drift, only thirty-two were Welsh.
During shooting, Paramount Pictures executives sent a telegram to the producers in South Africa to immediately fire Sir Michael Caine, because they had seen the rushes and decided that he was giving a terrible performance. Caine read that telegram before the producers did, because their secretary gave it to him first. Afterwards, he was very nervous waiting to be fired, but couldn't mention this to the producers because he would get that secretary into trouble. After a few days, he mentioned it to one of the producers, making up a story of how he read the telegram. The producer told him he wasn't fired, but warned Caine to keep away from his mail.
A new set of lyrics for the Welsh Anthem "Men of Harlech" was written just for this movie. People still mistake this version of "Men of Harlech" for the "original". The "Zulu Film Lyrics" are: Men of Harlech, stop your dreaming: Can't you see the spearpoints gleaming See the warrior pennants streaming O'er the battle field Men of Harlech, stand ye steady It can not be ever said ye For the battle were not ready -- Welshmen never yield! From the hills rebounding Let this war cry sounding Summon all at Cambria's call The mighty foe surrounding -- Men of Harlech, on to glory This will ever be your story: Keep these burning words before ye -- Welshmen will not yield!
Still Photographer Bob Martin and Nigel Green visited the Zulu war museum in Ladismith and found a Queen Victoria commemorative silk handkerchief on which was printed, "Bugle calls to be used in battle". Green got permission to copy these "notes" after practicing for weeks ("I had not blown a bugle since my Navy days years before") and, armed with the prop bugle, Claude Hitchcock and the sound crew recorded the calls in a gorge (for echo effect) they were used in the final soundtrack of this movie.
In real-life, Lieutenant Bromhead (Sir Michael Caine) as an arrogant "upper-class twit", was extremely deaf. It was much more for this reason, rather than the few months' precedence in gaining his commission, which Chard (Stanley Baker) claims in the movie, that Bromhead agreed to relinquish command. His precedence, historically, was closer to three years than to the much more dramatic matter of a few months.
In 1936, Colour Sergeant Bourne, believed to be the longest-living survivor of Rorke's Drift, made a BBC radio broadcast describing the 1879 siege and battle. Sadly, the only tapes of that broadcast were later destroyed by the BBC.
On one of the DVD extras, Stanley Baker's widow, Ellen Martin, says she remembers so well how on the set they played Sir Tom Jones' hit record "It's Not Unusual" to the Zulu extras, and they were all dancing The Twist to it. This could not have happened, as "It's Not Unusual" was not released until 1965, and this movie was filmed in 1963.
The Union Jack Club is a hotel located directly opposite Waterloo Railway station in London. The foyer features several tall dark wooden panels; they are a Roll of Honour for all V.C. recipients. It adds realism to the events to read the names of the soldiers portrayed in this movie.
Goof, not a point of trivia. It's obvious that many of the close-combat scenes were done with more regard to safety than realism. Bayonets and spears are seen wobbling, indicating they are made of rubber or some other soft material besides metal. The walking stick carried by Private Schiess (Dickie Owen) was also made of soft material when he was fighting the Zulu.
The attack on Rorke's Drift was conducted by the Zulu reserve consisting of elements of the iNdluyengwe, uThulwana, iNdlondlo and uDloko amabutho ("regiments") under the command of Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande. In theory, the four amabutho mustered about six thousand men, but in practice, not all men had turned up for the muster, and some had stayed to defend Zulu homes, or had left during the skirmishes around Isandhlwana, so perhaps three thousand five hundred men actually attacked the outpost. These were older men in their late thirties and forties, most of them carrying white shields to distinguish them in battle.
Sir Michael Caine is first seen on a horse crossing a river, but it was a local horse which got frightened when the sun glinted on the camera and threw Michael into the river. With him having to get dried and changed, to save time, one of the prop men donned his cloak and helmet and it's him in the opening shot.
The Psalm quoted by Colour Sergeant Bourne (Nigel Green) and Reverend Otto Witt (Jack Hawkins) prior to the battle was Psalm 46. Between them they quote from verses 9 through 11, though neither quote in full, nor completely accurately.
Stanley Baker and Sir Michael Caine had worked together before in Hell in Korea (1956), another war movie about a besieged group of British soldiers facing overwhelming odds. Although filmed in Portugal, it was noted for its authenticity, not least as Sir Michael Caine was a Korean War veteran who could advise on accuracy.
Before the Zulu assault scene was shot, the crew - producers, director and screenwriters - showed a Roy Rogers film on a 16mm print to the natives extras, in order to show them how to proceed for the scene.
Many Zulu extras laughed at Michael Caine because of his long blond hair. They gave him the nick name of "Lady" in their language. But the Zulu woman as translator and princess tribe understood the subject of the laugh and told the extras to stop right away. They did.