This colorful, pulse-pounding war epic recreates a famous battle from 1879 in Natal, where four thousand Zulu warriors descended on a small outpost, Rorke's Drift, housing just 140 British soldiers. Facing certain slaughter, senior officer Lt. John Chard (Baker) and his second-in-command, Lt. Gonville Bomstead (Caine) still decide to make a stand. Through sheer guts and cunning, they withstand brutal attacks from an enemy with vastly superior numbers. But just how long can they hold out?
Endfield's breathless depiction of a rag-tag English force battling an implacable enemy remains one of the very best war films. Baker (who co-produced) was never better, and got his mystified Zulu extras to cooperate only after showing them an old Gene Autry Western, which helped them understand the nature of acting. In one of his final film appearances, Jack Hawkins registers as a fanatical priest, and you can almost see the word "star" emblazoned on Caine's forehead. Like the heroes it portrays, the stellar "Zulu" richly earns a chestful of medals.