Zulu & Zulu Dawn – This Means War! week

Okay October is over so I’ll try to watch some non-horror movies.

Zulu and Zulu Dawn are currently available on instant Netflix.

Zulu

 

Zulu (1964) – Not rated

Based on a real-life battle, this action epic follows a group of British soldiers stationed in South Africa who must defend their tiny outpost against an attack by an overwhelming force of Zulu warriors.

Zulu is an absolute classic. It is the best film ever made about a besieged force, the more so because most of it is basically true (personalities were changed and a few facts). While this was directed by Cy Endfield, Zulu was a labor of love for Stanley Baker.

The Zulus in the film had never seen a motion picture, much less been in one. After filming, the natives were given the animals used in the film as apartheid prevented them from being paid as much as white men. Cast and crew were under strict orders not to fraternize with the natives as relations carried a penalty of seven years hard labor. The role of Cetshwayo is played by his great grandson, Chief Buthelezi.

Zulu, along with Alfie, helped propel Michael Caine to stardom. Here Caine plays Lt. Bromhead, second in command to Stanley Baker’s Lt. Chard. Both leads here are impressive as officers stretched to their limits. Even so, Nigel Green shows them up in every scene as Colour-Sgt. Bourne. Other standouts are Patrick Magee as a beleaguered surgeon and Jack Hawkins as a missionary.

The first act introduces us to the Zulu forces and the small garrison at Rorke’s Drift. I liked that they didn’t try to dramatize the battle at Isandhlwana but rather had word show up from some of the cavalry retreating past Rorke’s Drift.

People Listen: Yes, that is Richard Burton’s wonderful voice doing the narration.

Zulu Dawn

 

Zulu Dawn (1979) – Rated PG

Douglas Hickox helms this authentically staged epic dramatizing the clash between thousands of Zulu warriors and a considerably smaller number of British soldiers stationed in Natal, South Africa, in 1879.”

It was a very good idea to follow up Zulu with a prequel to set the stage as it were, especially since the events following Zulu are rather a foregone conclusion as a modern army moves into action to subdue a native people. Zulu Dawn details some of the pre-war negotiations between Lord Chelmsford and King Cetshwayo and builds up to the encounter at Isandhlwana which takes up the third act.

Zulu Dawn stars Peter O’Toole as Lord Chelmsford (the British General Custer as it were) and Burt Lancaster as Col. Durnford. The movie has a fine supporting cast including Sir John Mills, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Davenport, Simon Ward, and Freddie Jones. A young Bob Hoskins steals all of his scenes as C.S.M. Williams.

Unfortunately the storytelling in Zulu Dawn is rather flat. I can really only recommend this to people interested in the subject matter. For a military movie, there is essentially no action until the third act. The battle at Isandhlwana is well-filmed but just doesn’t have the intensity of Zulu.

If both of these movies fascinated you, I highly recommend the book, The Washing of the Spears, which details the rise and fall of the Zulu nation.

 

The Professionals – South of the Border week

This is South of the Border week. We will be featuring movies taking place in Mexico. The Professionals is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Professionals (1966) – Rated PG-13 for adult content, adult language, nudity and violence.

“A largely forgotten action-adventure gem, The Professionals teams Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster with more star wattage than most Westerns have ever marshaled. Hired to retrieve kidnapped Claudia Cardinale from bandito Jack Palance, these pros shoot, rope and ride all over northern Mexico. Gorgeous cinematography from Conrad L. Hall (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) makes The Professionals ideal summertime entertainment.”

“Your hair was darker then” – “My heart was lighter then.”

“Maybe there is only one revolution, since the beginning, the good guys against the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?”

Richard Brooks does double duty here. He not only directed The Professional but also adapted it from the book, “A Mule for the Marquesa” by Frank ORourke. He was nominated for an Academy Award for both of those roles.

Conrad L. Hall was also nominated for an Oscar for color cinematography. Unfortunately The Professionals ran into the juggernaut that was A Man for All Seasons. A Man for All Seasons took 6 Oscars including the three that The Professionals was nominated for.

While the cinematography is gorgeous (nearly a requirement for a good western) and the story takes place in Mexico, the filming was not done there. The Professionals was filmed in Death Valley and the Valley of Fire.

Being a western of the 60s, this film has characters that are a little more complex than earlier decades. They are somewhat introspective. The heroes are not all good and the villains are not pure evil.

Lee Marvin plays the same role he always does and is fun to watch. Burt Lancaster does a good job of letting Lee do the leading. Burt spends his time playing the cynic. Robert Ryan comes the closest to being an old-fashioned western hero and the script does a good job of pointing out that he is somewhat naive in his outlook.

Our fourth hero is played by Woody Strode. I really like that they address the possible prejudice against a person of color without making him the lackey of the group. The other members accept him as an equal.

Owing to his complexion and angular features, Jack Palance was pretty consistently doomed to play the villain. Here he plays Jesus Raza. He actually is not in much of the film but he gets a pretty sweet speech.

Our kidnap victim/love interest is played by the lovely Claudia Cardinale. True story – my wife saw her in person at the Cannes film festival. She had no idea who Claudia Cardinale was and Poppa and I who would have loved to have seen Claudia were off on a park bench at the time.

In spite of the three Oscar noms, this is not a classic film. The action suffers a bit from lack of realism – there would be three more years before we would have the grittiness of The Wild Bunch (1969) and it lacks the polish of The Magnificent Seven (1960).

Mostly due to the cast and cinematography, it is quite enjoyable if you like westerns and I do recommend it on that basis. While the first two acts are fairly standard western tropes, the third act actually has several good payoffs culminating in a very satisfactory finale.

People Watch: Our intrepid group is hired by Joe Grant played by Ralph Bellamy. While he starred in literally hundreds of movies from the 30s on, Ralph Bellamy is currently best known for two roles. He played Randolph Duke in Trading Places opposite Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. He also played FDR in The Winds of War and War and Remembrance miniseries.