If I had seen this movie before 1970, I probably would have liked it. I mean look what it had going for it: 1) A vastly outnumbered (400 to 1) plucky British unit successfully held off the attacking native Zulus. 2) There is beautiful scenery. 3) Richard Burton does the opening and closing voice-over narration. 4) It is Michael Caine’s first major role. And 5) there is one torn bodice, not to mention the topless Zulu women taking part in a mass wedding. (I have to live up to my dirty old man reputation).
However, I didn’t watch the movie until Monday night. In 1970, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was published, and many US citizens started to become aware of what had really happened between our government and the native American population through the years. American Indians weren’t always the savage bad guys as they were so often depicted in movies and books. I started looking at what I had previously “known” with a jaundiced eye. Learning those things brought a new perspective to this film.
The movie could have been an early American western transplanted into southern Africa. It even had a cattle stampede. The Americans, excuse me, the British soldiers were surrounded by the savage enemy who was there to kill them. But time after time the heroic soldiers with their superior skills and bravery were able to fight off the natives.
I can’t say that I knew what was bothering me about the movie at first, but at one point the lead actor, Stanley Baker, says to a Boer, “…after all, it’s your country.” And I said out loud, “No. It’s the Zulus country.” That’s when all of the pretty scenery couldn’t let me enjoy the film.
I hope I haven’t ruined the movie for you. We all bring our own perspective to these things.