Monday, May 10, 2010

Zulu? Yes, I do

Last night's film was 1964's "Zulu", featuring a young Michael Caine and no one else I could recognize. This movie is a war classic, telling the true story of the Battle of Roark's drift in South Africa's Natal Province in 1879. There, a few hundred British soldiers at a remote outpost were surrounded and attacked by thousands of Zulu warriors over a couple days. There was no hope of reinforcement, and ammunition and supplies were limited. All the British really had going for them was their stiff upper lips and brilliantly scarlet uniforms. Oh, and a lot of rifles.

Now, we all know that in the same situation I would have been the first to suggest getting into cow costumes and trying to sneak out of the fort, but the British commander in this case would simply not accept the overwhelming odds facing him--the troops stuck to their disciplined drills, fighting off each attack by the Zulus even as their numbers dwindled and the outpost caught fire.

The film does a good job ramping up the tension between battle scenes and delivering with bursts of violence. But what made this a more respectable film than most war films was that the Zulus were not portrayed as mindless savages but as clever adversaries, using feints and probing assaults to measure and strike their enemy. For their part, it appeared that each side respected the fighting prowess of the other, and while I won't spoil the ending I'll say it was a worthy climax that confirms this.

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