Zulu (1964)

Fifty years ago, this re-creation of a small British garrison’s heroic stand against 4,000 Zulu warriors in the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift opened in the U.S. during a period of racial unrest. As a result, critics were disconcerted by its one-sided depiction of the conflict between white colonists and African natives. Yet they could not deny its epic scope. Contemporary audiences have been more appreciative of the humanized treatment of the African warriors, a significant improvement over their more stereotyped depiction in most Hollywood films. The staging of battle scenes was based on the original attacks, using battle plans passed down through oral traditions by tribal historians. All of the cast excels, but today the film has a special appeal because of the appearance of Michael Caine, fifth-billed in his first important film role. His character had been written as a one-dimensional upper-class twit, but he convinced director Cy Endfield to let him unbend during the film’s action. His memorable performance led to his first starring role a year later in The Ipcress File (1965).

Dir. Cy Endfield

In attendance: Alex Trebek