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Some Thoughts on Zulu (Cy Endfield, 1964)

October 15, 2021

In honor of Dad’s 80th birthday, I watched his favorite movie, Zulu. My mom passed his DVD onto me (she kept his VHS (Charter Entertainment) because she didn’t have a DVD player at the time) when I was in town for his memorial, but yesterday (October 13–the date of this post says October 15, but it’s still the 14th in my time zone) is the first time I watched it.

Cy Endfield was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but was put on the Hollywood blacklist for supposedly being a communist and moved to England. Writing and directing Zulu, the Zulus themselves are mostly uncredited extras with negligible characterization. Apart from the mass Zulu wedding that opens the film (the men getting married immediately before leaving for battle, which the chaplain and his daughter find repugnant), the focus is on the British mission for over an hour before the attack begins. While the British look like arrogant fools, the Zulus are a largely faceless “other.” I’m pretty sure we saw some Zulu extras get killed only to be seen again in subsequent battle scenes. Many of their faces in the battle scenes are recognizable in the wedding scenes. There’s one Zulu in particular whose face was definitely seen fairly close in the wedding scene, is killed in battle, then is stepped on by another Zulu to facilitate getting over a barricade. And I think we see the same actor alive later in the battle. I didn’t get the impression that Endfield was being particularly subversive towards British colonialism, although with Joseph E. Levine and Stanley Baker producing, he might not have had much room to do that. My dad seemed to like the fact that the Zulus won the battle. Most of the main characters survived including those played by Stanley Baker and Michael Caine, even though the buildings were destroyed and there were heavy casualties. Obviously, they couldn’t kill off characters who survived historically, though. Richard Burton’s narration at the end of the film tells us that eighteen of the men

One thing I noted immediately is the similarity of John Barry’s main theme to Ennio Morricone’s Guns for San Sebastian, which adds a choir to the texture, but that came four years later. I suspect it was a case of Morricone being asked to copy a temp track taken from Zulu. When I was in college, Meijer had a lot of MCA Classic Soundtracks cassettes for sale on a bargain rack, and I had a cassette player in my car. I bought a lot of them, many like Guns being by composers with whose work I was familiar but titles that I hadn’t heard of. Unfortunately, some of them, including Guns got sun damaged in the car and wouldn’t play right. Many weren’t issued on CD until a number of years later. Chapter III Records released quite a few of them. Among the others I bought were Bronislau Kaper’s Mutiny on the Bounty, John Williams’s Fitzwilly, John Addison’s The Honey Pot (which was a take-off on Ben Jonson’s Volpone), Jeff Alexander’s Dirty Dingus Magee, John Dankworth’s Salt & Pepper, Miklós Rózsa’s The V.I.P.s, Laurence Rosenthal’s The Comedians, Elmer Bernstein’s Cast a Giant Shadow and several others. I got the Indianapolis Public Library to order several of the films on VHS so I could see them.

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