RORKES DRIFT

Heavily Victorian in slant, appealing more to male viewers who enjoy adventures as experiences in terror, Cy Enfield’s Zulu is among the best movies made in Africa during the 60s. (Cornel Wilde’s The Naked Prey another.) Based on an actual incident at Rorke’s Drift in 1879, which followed only hours after the slaughter of close to 1200 British soldiers at Isandhlwana by the Zulus (meaning “people of Heaven”), the movie takes a while before it gets going, but once it does, once the waves of warrior attacks commence, it becomes a WASP test of courage. It’s thrilling in a boy’s hyped fantasy-of-heroics kind of way—purportedly only 17 of a mere force of 80 British died during the seige, while as many as 1200 Zulus may have perished. It’s also exhausting: Enfield, who was blacklisted by Hollywood as a suspected communist during the no-brain McCarthy era, seems almost intentionally relentless if not ironic in wanting to fight until there’s no fight left. Star Stanley Baker co-produced, and “introduced” is foppy blond-haired Michael Caine (though it’s his 11th movie and the one to bring him to the attention of the producers of The Ipcress File and Alfie). With Jack Hawkins, and Ulla Jacobsson looking and sounding like Leslie Caron. Beautifully photographed and edited by Stephen Dade and John Jympson respectively; score by John Barry. Historians don’t accept the mythicized climax of Zulu—a concocted salute to the bravery of the British, as well as a great relief for the audience—but there’s no question the Zulus were to feel the wrath of the Empire on July 4, 1879, when the tribe was defeated. (Done in by the rifle—the death from which was intially too mysteriously clean—the Zulu had more respect for the bayonet.) Enfield never again made a movie with the thrusting force of Zulu, though he wrote the screenplay for the 1979 pre-quel Zulu Dawn. He did, however, dabble in gadgetry: long before computer notebooks and pdas, he invented a computerized pocket-sized typewriter.

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