Zulu review, The New Republic, 150:26, JE 20'64
...On the other hand, Zulu is really about savagery and violence and, in Technicolor and Technirama, makes the most of them. It runs 2 hours and 18 minutes. If those 18 minutes had been cut--out of the film's first third--it would be, sheerly as entertainment, first-class. It was filmed in Royal Natal National Park in South Africa (one breathtaking view after another) and tells the story of the Battle of Rorke's Drift on January 23, 1978, a battle in which 141 officers and men of the South Wales Borderers defended a mission station against attack by 4,000 Zulus under Chief Cetewayo. In the 100 years since the Victoria Cross was established, only 1,344 have been awarded. Eleven of them were given for action that day, so--for the film-makers--there was plenty of derring to be done. Cy Enfield, the director and co-author of the script, has done it.
Stanley Baker, the Welsh actor who co-produced with Endfield, is staunch in the leading role, though unprepossessing. Jack Hawkins, a good actor, has a tedious part--an alcoholic clergyman whose maunderings in the early sequences only detain us. Ulla Jacobsson, his daughter, also palls with her Florence Nightengale chirpings. After father and daughter a re packed off, the film is secure. We expect battle and recovery, interweavings of other stories, then more battles on later days--the usual pattern of the cavalry Western--but we are pleasantly surprised. Once we get to Rorke's Drift, after a tigerish battle-dance sequences in the Zulu camp, the film has Aristotelian unity. One battle (in several attacks), one day. Endfield's use of the long, long lines of Zulus rolling like copper tide down the mountains, the warriors filtering through the grass like fog, his relatively fresh figures-on-the-horizon shots, all deserve high praise. The picture is not free of action-film cliches: one bullet equals one corpse--nobody ever misses or merely wounds an opponent; and there is trite byplay in the barracks. But, barring the adagio opening, Endfield--aided by John Jympson's crisp editing and Stephen Dade's photography that is filled with mountain light and air--has handled matters so well that we concede the familiarities. In fact we welcome them as proof of how well the picture is being done: as if a good poem were being made out of very familiar vocabulary.
Endfield evidently knows the Westerns of John Ford, but anyone who makes such a film would be cretinous not to know them. Zulu lacks the style, the sense of one man's vision that, at his best, Ford gives us, but it is full of excitements. And it does what the best action films have always worked toward and what they can now achieve with the latest technologies of color and scope: it combines large-scale violence with pictorial beauty. "Combines" is the operative word.