WolfmanOz at the Movies #47

Men of Harlech

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift between a small British army contingent and a huge army of Zulus in January 1879 was memorably presented in the splendid 1964 film Zulu which depicts how 150 British soldiers successfully held off an army of 4,000 Zulu warriors.

The battle followed on after the Battle of Isandlwana fought a few days earlier where a British army of 1,800 men was utterly defeated and routed by the Zulus.

Rorke’s Drift also saw the awarding of 11 Victorian Crosses the greatest number ever awarded for one single engagement. Also the basic premises of the film is largely true and accurate, but it is not a historical re-enactment of the actual events.

The heavily outnumbered British successfully defended Rorke’s Drift more or less as portrayed in the film. Director and co-writer, Cy Endfield, even consulted a Zulu tribal historian for information from Zulu oral tradition about the attack. There are, however, a number of historical inaccuracies in the film but in the overall scheme of things are relatively minor.

The film was largely instigated by actor/producer Stanley Baker and is also the film that first introduced Michael Caine in a major role, ironically playing a foppish British officer rather than the cockney role for which he would become world famous for.

Despite the overwhelming odds, the discipline and training of the British army enabled them to repel the first Zulu attack.

Where at the film’s climax the two armies compete against each other with their chants and songs. History tells us there was no stirring rendition of Men of Harlech but who cares, in this film it is magnificently staged as a prelude to the final slaughter.

Zulu also boasts a terrific supporting performance by the criminally under-rated Nigel Green as Colour Sergeant Bourne, a seasoned officer who plays a key role in organising and leading the British defence

Nearly 60 years after it first released, Zulu has remained a constant favourite of many a film goer in its numerous re-releases and then as a perennial television fixture. It’s been a favourite of mine ever since I saw it on one of it’s many re-releases.

In 2018 Chief Mangosuthy Buthelezi defended the film’s cultural and historical merits, stating that there’s “a deep respect that develops between the warring armies, and the nobility of King Cetshwayo’s warriors as they salute the enemy, demanded a different way of thinking from the average viewer at the time of the film’s release. Indeed, it remains a film that demands a thoughtful response.”

And as a final note, the film boasts an outstanding score by one of my favourite film composers in John Barry.

Enjoy.

36 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #47”

  1. not much of a movie fan, can’t recall the last time I watched any, but I had to go to watch Zulu on the big screen after having seen it on the tele.

    Not having a TV now, helps avoiding them too.

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  2. Thank Wolfman. One of my all-time favourites, almost know the script by heart.

    The first sequence sets the pace that doesn’t falter. Did you know the battle sequence inspired Jackson’s depiction of the Battle of Helm’s Deep?

    My grandmother used to sing Men of Harlech all the time. In my memory she and the song are forever entwined, along with the Welshman singing those first few bars in the movie.

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  3. Wolfman I have not seen this movie but it’s on my list — a couple of weeks ago I heard Andrew Klavan talk about this movie and in particular the Men of Harlech scene where the men were being driven nuts with the warrior song plaguing their ears — they were encouraged to sing — the way Andrew Klavan spoke of it was that rousing call to never give up even when you are only 150 against 3-4,000 fierce implacable warriors against you — just amazing. thank you – your critique was informative and just makes me more determined to see it.

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  4. They don’t make movies like this anymore.

    Indeed, they probably wouldn’t be permitted to.

    Can’t be long before it’s banned on UK TV, if it’s not already, such is the woke war against British culture & history.

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  5. And as a final note, the film boasts an outstanding score by one of my favourite film composers in John Barry.

    Un-fun fact: It would be charitable to describe the B side of the soundtrack LP as experimental.

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  6. An absolute epic and one of my favourite films of all time.

    Greene’s portrayal of Colour Sergeant Bourne left a lasting impression on me the first time I saw the film as a boy. A true hero and absolutely bulletproof.

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  7. Spine chilling.
    A great movie about great men on both sides of battle.
    So many memorable visual feasts depicting the incredible feats of bravery by soldiers and King Cetshwayo’s warriors.
    And the wonderful script, full of one-liners that stand the test of time, like:
    Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Sixty! We dropped at least 60, wouldn’t you say?
    Adendorff: That leaves only 3,940.

    The implied superiority in
    Lieutenant John Chard: You didn’t say a thing to help, Bromhead.
    Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead: Well, when you take command, old boy, you’re on your own. One of the first things that the general – my grandfather – ever taught me.

    And the one I jokingly use when family members stumble over words Spit, spit!!
    Or during analysis of opposition rugby teams “but no top tenors that’s for sure”.
    The explanation of why the Jones’ used numbers instead of names still cracks me up today.

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  8. Watched it when I was a recruit at Kapooka and have watched it more than a few times afterwards.
    I found out afterwards that the Officer Cadets watched Twelve O’Clock High for a leadership movie.
    Another movie that I like.

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  9. Tintarella di Luna says:
    December 1, 2022 at 8:48 am

    Wolfman I have not seen this movie but it’s on my list

    Do it!
    Not much modern day message in it as far as that goes, other than courage, determination and doing your duty.

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  10. I first saw it doing my corporals course, and have seen it hundreds of times since.

    Beery is correct … on my FA1 course it was 12 o’clock high, which was absolutely nothing like the TV series I remembered growing up with.

    2
  11. lotocoti says:
    December 1, 2022 at 8:51 am
    And as a final note, the film boasts an outstanding score by one of my favourite film composers in John Barry.
    Un-fun fact: It would be charitable to describe the B side of the soundtrack LP as experimental.

    LOLs

    I had the LP many years ago – played the B side only once and that was enough.

    The A side – simply magnificent !

    3
  12. TrevorG says:
    December 1, 2022 at 10:04 am
    Tintarella di Luna says:
    December 1, 2022 at 8:48 am

    Wolfman I have not seen this movie but it’s on my list
    Do it!
    Not much modern day message in it as far as that goes, other than courage, determination and doing your duty.

    Values which today are seen as old-fashioned – more the pity, as we we need those values today like never before.

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  13. Tremendous movie. Couldn’t say how many times I’ve seen it but do have it on DVD.

    And agree with Rabz – Greene’s portrayal of Colour Sergeant Bourne left a lasting impression on me as well.

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  14. peedbox says:
    December 1, 2022 at 10:40 am

    Tremendous movie. Couldn’t say how many times I’ve seen it but do have it on DVD.

    And agree with Rabz – Greene’s portrayal of Colour Sergeant Bourne left a lasting impression on me as well.

    He was good, much overlooked in the credits.
    Pity about his short life.

    2
  15. Bookend Zulu with “The Siege of Jadotville”, about an Irish unit deployed as a UN contingent in the Congo in 60’s. Brilliant historical movie, and huge political undertones that have echoed through the decades since.

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  16. First watched it as a boy at the Murray Barracks Sergeants Mess in Port Moresby. It was my favourite movie then and still is. The scene where they first hear the Zulus, then they appear on top of the hill, is spine chilling.

    To be pedantic though Wolfie, Colour Sergeant Bourne is a non-commissioned officer, not an officer. The story I heard is that he was also nominated for a VC but refused it because he had fallen asleep during a lull in the battle. The falling asleep scene is in the movie.

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  17. jupes says:
    December 1, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    What I read about it is, that he choose a commission as an officer instead.

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  18. Re, “Colour Sergeant Bourne” On the other hand having looked into it further, I was wrong, not the first time either.

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  19. One theory about the number of VCs awarded was that it was to distract from the earlier crushing defeat at Isandlwana.

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  20. Nigel Green is one of my favourite character actors.

    Perfectly cast in this role but he did a wonderful job too. As other above have said, his character left an indelible impression on the consciousness of many a boy who saw the film.

    He backed up Michael Caine again the The Ipcress File a year or two later.

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  21. tommbell says:
    December 1, 2022 at 1:07 pm
    One theory about the number of VCs awarded was that it was to distract from the earlier crushing defeat at Isandlwana.

    Yes I’ve read that too.

    However, given the overwhelming numbers in favour of the Zulus where the British were outnumbered 25-1, I’m always inclined to favour the bravery and discipline of the defenders.

    Unlike at Isandlwana the defenders did have the mission as a pivot for their defence but as Boxcar noted with The Siege of Jadotville there are times when the true story is more incredible than if it was made up.

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  22. Roger says:
    December 1, 2022 at 1:11 pm
    Nigel Green is one of my favourite character actors.
    Perfectly cast in this role but he did a wonderful job too. As other above have said, his character left an indelible impression on the consciousness of many a boy who saw the film.

    He backed up Michael Caine again the The Ipcress File a year or two later.

    Yes he did – one of the best spy dramas of the 1960s.

    In the clip I posted his acting is sublime – note the ever so tiny grimace when a soldier doesn’t answer his name – telling the audience that his character is internally suffering pain and loss but still he is displaying an outward calm and control in going through the roll call and being a leader to his men. Subtle and superb acting.

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  23. The true story of color sergeant Bourne is remarkable. He joined the army from the farm. Saw action in various places and rose in the ranks. He was a foot shorter than Nigel green at five foot 4. He refused the vc to take up a commission. Again went to various wars. He ran the British gunnery school for a while. Re enlisted during WW1, but wasn’t allowed near the front line. He trained men for the war and again ran the gunnery school. By this time a colonel. He retired again. Saw through WW2 and died in 1945. A truly great soldier.

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  24. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare says:
    November 28, 2022 at 12:09 pm
    Thank you Woolfman for the effort you put into your movie analysis and reviews.

    You should publish them. I am sure there would be a market for a money-spinner from you there.

    Perhaps you could include some of the Cat comments in summary to indicate how other felt too. A sort of mini-survey for other to enjoy. Not everything has to be online. Talk to a publisher maybe?

    Just seen this from Lizzie from last weeks’ post.

    Thank you for your kind words but I’m not really interested in taking it any further re publishing.

    I did think of setting up my own film blog a year or 2 ago but with my weekly contribution to this blog and the comments/support that I get I find it is very rewarding and fulfilling for me. It sort of acts as a therapy for me in regards to the insanity of the world today.

    Also I do have my YouTube channel which is growing like a snowball day by day and week by week which keeps me occupied enough re movies.

    I may consider including these weekly film posts in my YouTube channel . . . if I can find the time !

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  25. jupes

    To be pedantic though Wolfie, Colour Sergeant Bourne is a non-commissioned officer, not an officer. The story I heard is that he was also nominated for a VC but refused it because he had fallen asleep during a lull in the battle. The falling asleep scene is in the movie.

    Bourne was also much younger than portrayed in the film – aged 24 at the time, compared to the “grizzled veteran” portrayed.

    2
  26. Zyc! Sent that Lego version to the Beloved, who also loves the film. And…I’m going to send it to the older grandsons.

    About time they saw the movie for themselves. I want them to be Dangerous Boys, not milquetoasts.

    2
  27. Bourne was also much younger than portrayed in the film – aged 24 at the time, compared to the “grizzled veteran” portrayed.

    And despite his portrayal, Henry Hook was by all accounts a model soldier. His family stormed out of the premiere and arranged boycotts of the movie.

    1
  28. Bourne was also much younger than portrayed in the film – aged 24 at the time, compared to the “grizzled veteran” portrayed.

    I guess that Nigel Green much more fitted the stereotype of the British sergeant-major, same with Harry Andrews in a film I watched the other day.

    1
  29. WolfmanOz and thank you so much for posting this.

    The music score is so amazing let alone everything else as well as the Zulu war chants. A fantastic film and hats off to Stanley Baker for his efforts in not only staring in the film but making the film come to fruition. Michael Caine has never been so foppish. A great start to his career though.

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  30. Boxcar says:
    December 1, 2022 at 11:28 am
    Bookend Zulu with “The Siege of Jadotville”, about an Irish unit deployed as a UN contingent in the Congo in 60’s. Brilliant historical movie, and huge political undertones that have echoed through the decades since.

    And add in Cast a Giant Shadow regarding heroics. Kirk Douglas as Col. David “Mickey” Marcus and the fight for the creation of the State of Israel.
    Thanks, Wolfie, one of the best.

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