The Consensus 100 Greatest War Movies

May 2011
New Iberia, La.
4. Patton (1970)

SYNOPSIS: This is the biopic of the famous (some would say infamous) American tank commander (George C. Scott) from WWII Europe. It covers his career from taking command in North Africa after Kasserine Pass to dismissal near the end of the war. Omar Bradley (Karl Malden) plays a leading role in the film.

BACK-STORY: “Patton” was based on the books Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and A Soldier’s Story by Omar Bradley (who served as a technical adviser). The screenwriters were Francis Ford Coppola and Edward North (who shared the Academy Award, but had never met). Coppola wrote the first draft, but was fired partly because the studio did not like the opening speech! The speech was a composite of remarks Patton made at various times. The use of words like bastard, ****, sons of bitches, and Hell were groundbreaking for a major feature. Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, and Burt Lancaster turned down the lead and the studio nixed John Wayne (thank goodness). George C. Scott was reluctant to take the role because he disliked Patton. He was upset about the positioning of the speech at the beginning feeling it was too powerful and the rest of the film would be a letdown. The movie was shot in Spain to take advantage of all its circa WWII equipment. The movie was a huge success and the Patton family loved it. It won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director (Franklin J. Schaffner), Actor (which Scott famously refused to accept), Original Screenplay, Editing, Sound, and Art Direction. It was nominated for Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Score. It is ranked #89 on AFI’s list of greatest movies and Patton is #29 on the list of heroes.

1. George C. Scott did not want the speech at the start of the movie because he felt it would be hard to top. He threatened to not make the film. Schaffner lied to him and told him the speech would be later in the film. Scott wore Patton’s actual famous ivory-handled revolvers for the scene.

2. Producer Frank McCarthy graduated from VMI and eventually rose to be George Marshall’s chief aide. He met Patton several times. He planned FDR’s funeral. The was Assistant Secretary of State under Truman. He suffered several nervous breakdowns due to overwork. He went to work for Hollywood mogul Darryl Zanuck. He was co-producer on “Decision Before Dawn”.

3. Columbia Pictures wanted to make the movie in 1950, but Beatrice Patton nixed the deal because the family hated the media for its role in Patton’s controversies. She died in 1953, but the children shared her opposition to any film about their father. In 1961, McCarthy got himself assigned as assistant to the chief of information, US Army and got the Army to approve the project for 20th Century Fox with requiring family approval. The family hired a lawyer to try to derail the project, which didn’t happen, but did result in a better script. The family ended up liking the finished film.

4. McCarthy’s first choice was Burt Lancaster. The studio wanted John Wayne. Zanuck suggested Scott. George C. Scott was reluctant to take the role because he disliked Patton.

5. The near bankruptcy of 20th Century due to “Cleopatra” set the project back several years.

6. When Ladislas Farago’s book Ordeal and Triumph came out, 20th Century bought the rights and Zanuck took up the project and assigned David Brown to produce. McCarthy was brought on board. Calder Willingham wrote a treatment that was not wedded to accuracy. McCarthy was disappointed and hired Francis Ford Coppola. The screenwriters were Francis Ford Coppola and Edward North (who shared the Academy Award, but had never met). Coppola wrote the first draft, but was fired partly because the studio did not like the opening speech! The speech was a composite of remarks Patton made at various times. Ed North revised the script. He did not collaborate with Coppola. He added historical accuracy and cut a scene involving Patton’s disastrous attempt to rescue his son-in-law from a German prison because he rightfully felt it cancelled the vibe from the Bastogne segment. McCarthy watched over North’s shoulder and they collaborated. The use of words like bastard, ****, sons of bitches, and Hell were groundbreaking for a major feature. **** in the speech was changed to “fornicating”.

7. Director Franklin Schaffner was coming off “Planet of the Apes”. He insisted the studio remove the subtitle “Blood and Guts”.

8. Shooting began in Spain 17 years, 3 months, and 11 days after McCarthy had first proposed the project.

9. 72 locations were used.

10. A total of eight days were lost to Scott’s drinking. It did not help that James Edwards (Meeks) was an alcoholic who instigated and facilitated Scott’s binges. McCarthy filmed Edwards’ scenes early and then fired him. He gave some of Edwards’ lines to others like Paul Stevens (Codham). Karl Malden took on the task of dining with Scott and keeping liquor away. Because of what he saw of the effects of alcohol on Scott, Malden gave up drinking.

11. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is iconic, but there is only 30 minutes of music in the movie.

12. Richard Nixon legendarily saw the movie dozens of times, but official White House records only confirm three.

13. Schaffner and North claimed that the movie was anti-war (i.e., it takes a personality like Patton to win wars), but McCarthy insisted it was pro-Army.

14. It was entitled “Patton: Lust for Glory” in Great Britain where it got good reviews in spite of the portrayal of Montgomery.

15. It seems likely that the two mules were actually euthanized before they were dumped over the bridge.

16. Outtakes of combat were used in the movie “Fireball Forward”.

17. Willie lived the rest of his life after his master’s death with the Patton family and died in 1955.

18. The WTF that appears on the front of Patton’s siren-wailing jeep early in the movie stands for Western Task Force.

Belle and Blade = 5.0
Brassey’s = 5.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 5.0
Military History = #17
Channel 4 = #44
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #34

OPINION: “Patton” is a significant movie in the canon of war films. Although it does not push the boundaries of combat violence, it is certainly more realistic in soldier language than Old School movies. In fact, the opening speech with its profanities was considered to be shocking to an audience weaned on movies like “The Desert Fox”. 1970 was a watershed year with other genre-changing films like MASH and Kelly’s Heroes. “Patton” was the one that scored 8 Academy Awards and brought tremendous prestige to the genre. It combined the hero and anti-hero in one person and thus acted as a bridge between Old School heroes and the modern anti-heroes.

The movie has only one weakness. Although some laud its combat scenes, they are actually pretty lame and brief. Since this is a biopic, combat depiction is not crucial. However, given the big budget nature of the film, the action should have been better. It is particularly distressing to see the silly deaths that are associated with inferior films.

The acting makes up for the lack of combat fireworks. In a sense, Patton supplies the fireworks. Scott’s performance is magnificent. Only Peter O’Toole’s performance in “Lawrence of Arabia” is comparable. Scott was one of the most deserving Best Actor winners ever, which is ironic because he refused to accept the Oscar. He totally dominates the movie from opening speech to ending line: “All glory is fleeting”. Karl Malden is very good as Bradley. Michael Bates does such a wonderful parody of Montgomery that his portrayal has become fixed in the American perception of him. The rest of the cast is fine.

The screenplay is almost perfect for a biography and character study. Coppola/North did their home work and managed to include Patton’s greatest hits with the exception of incidents like the Hammelburg Raid that just did not fit the narrative. They earned the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. The movie could have been either idolizing or scornful given the subject. The screenplay skirts the extremes so well that some people criticize the film as hero-worshipping and others insist it besmirches a great American. The themes are well-developed. One is that Patton was a man out of his time. Another is that it is possible to love war and treat it is as a profession. Patton would not have agreed with Sherman’s “war is Hell”. On a personal note, the movie made me wonder if war movie lovers are Pattonesque in their views. A minor subtheme is that Patton was religious (he read the Bible “every God-damned day”) and yet reveled in the killing of Germans.

In conclusion, “Patton” was the perfect movie for its time. 1970 was ripe for a movie that changed the game. “Patton” reinvigorated the war film because it brought in huge audiences and opened people’s minds to a more realistic depiction of warfare and command in warfare. The movie cannily tapped in to the country’s Vietnam War psyche. The hawks saw Patton as the kind of general we needed to win a just cause. Doves could sneer at the type of mentality that had gotten us into the mess. You saw what you wanted to see. Even today it is unclear whether Patton should be seen as a role model. I personally feel it is overrated at #4 because of the lame combat scenes.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

SYNOPSIS: This is the biopic about the famed T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole). Lawrence was a British officer in the Middle East during WWI. He took it upon himself to try to enlist the Bedouins into the British war effort against the Turks. He goes native and becomes determined to unify the Arabs and prevent the British from doing their usual colonial thing.

BACK-STORY: “Lawrence of Arabia” is considered one of the great classic movies. It is #7 on AFI’s latest list of the greatest movies. It is #1 on the Epics list. The film is considered to be the best of director David Lean’s awesome resume (which includes “Bridge on the River Kwai”). It is loosely based on T.E. Lawrence’s “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. The screenplay was first written by Michael Wilson, then Robert Bolt was brought in and changed virtually all the dialogue and characterizations. Wilson was uncredited partly because he was blacklisted for communist sympathies. His contribution was not credited until 1995. The movie’s desert scenes were filmed in Jordan and Morocco. King Hussein of Jordan provided a brigade of the Arab Legion as extras. The film was universally acclaimed. It won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Art Direction, Cinematography (Freddie Young), Score (Maurice Jarre), Editing, and Sound. It was nominated for Adapted Screenplay, Actor (O’Toole lost to Gregory Peck for “To Kill a Mockingbird”), and Supporting Actor (Sharif).


1. The screenplay was first written by Michael Wilson, then Robert Bolt was brought in. Wilson had focused on the political and historical issues of the Arab Revolt. The characters and scenes were mainly Wilson’s. Bolt made the movie into more of a character study. He changed virtually all the dialogue and characterizations. Wilson was uncredited partly because he was blacklisted for communist sympathies. His contribution was not credited until 1995.

2. The movie’s desert scenes were filmed in Jordan and Morocco. King Hussein of Jordan provided a brigade of the Arab Legion as extras. The famous train scene was shot in Spain. Two and a half miles of track had to be laid down.

3. ”. Peter O’Toole was not the first choice for Lawrence. Marlon Brando turned the role down. Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were considered. Albert Finney went through extensive and costly screentests before he turned down the role because he did not want to sign a seven-year contract. O’Toole got an “introducing” screen credit even though it was not his first role.

4. Jose Ferrer agreed to appear in it only after being guaranteed pay that ended up being more than what was paid to O’Toole and Sharif combined! He received $25,000 and a new Porsche.

5. ”. The movie took over two years from start to finish. In one scene the O’Toole that finishes at the bottom of a staircase is two years older than he was at the top of the staircase.

6. The desert shoots were difficult. There was the 130 degree temperatures and the sandstorms and the critters. O’Toole lost 28 pounds during the filming. Unlike Lawrence, he hated the desert. He was often drunk and obnoxious during his spare time.

7. At one point, O’Toole was thrown from his camel and only was saved from being trampled by the camel standing protectively over him. He was drunk and lashed to his camel for the big Aqaba charge.

8. Because his first attempts at sitting on a camel resulted in a bloody ass, O’Toole had to sit on a sponge pad to survive all the riding (the Arab extras called him “Lord of the Sponge”).

9. Sharif was given his iconic mustache to contrast to O’Toole’s clean-shaven look. Previous to this movie he had never worn facial hair.

10. Edmond O’Brien was playing Bentley until he suffered a heart attack early on. Kirk Douglas had been originally approached, but he insisted on second-billing and a large salary.

11. To simulate a journey, Lean made sure almost all movement was left to right.

12. No woman speaks in the movie. It is probably the longest movie to achieve that.

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey’s = 5.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 5.0
Military History = #6
Channel 4 = #40
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #9

OPINION: “Lawrence of Arabia” is a guy epic. All the elements you associate with a movie of massive scope are there except the mushy romance. The scenery is awesome. Lean was influenced by John Ford’s use of Monuments Valley and one-ups him here. I’m not much into scenery, but the desert vistas are incredible. If ever a movie was made to be watched on as big a screen as possible, this is it. The cinematography is equal to the locales. Lean contrasts the sere desert scenes with the cool marble of the British interiors. The outdoor shots could best be described as sweeping. The movie includes one of the iconic cinematographic scenes in which Ali appears mirage-like at the watering hole. Add to this the score which matches the scenes perfectly. No one has ever deserved the Oscar more than Jarre.

The perfection carries over to the casting. It is hard to imagine any major role that could have been played better by another actor. Has any actor ever had a more auspicious start than O’Toole? You have to give the man credit for preparation as he read “Seven Pillars” almost to the point of memorization and interviewed as many people who knew Lawrence as he could find. He also learned to ride a camel (Guinness and Quinn only ride horses in the film.) And keep in mind that this was Sharif’s first English speaking role. All of the actors acquit themselves well. There is not an average performance. Anthony Quinn is great as Auda and went to great lengthes to look like him. Guinness delivers Feisal’s political bon mots with aplomb. Quayle does a fine job as the officer who evolves into an admirer of Lawrence and a person who takes umbrage at the scheming that daggers the Arabs in the end.

The movie’s themes are efficiently developed. Lawrence is worn down from naïve optimism to disillusionment. His character arc is fascinating and something of a roller coaster ride, but with the inevitable realization that one man can not change the Middle East. Early in the film, Lawrence proclaims to Ali that “nothing is written”, but by the end of the movie it is apparent to him and the viewer that European domination of the region was written (literally in the Sykes-Picot agreement). The movie controversially implies that the Arabs were incapable of governing themselves. Although one theme is clearly that the Arabs were shafted by the British, the movie also gives the impression that the Arabs were too factional and incompetent to rule themselves. This is reinforced by Lawrence going from believing that the Arabs can rise above being a “little people” to being frustrated with having to deal with them. It is interesting to note that Ali and Lawrence go on opposite arcs as Ali ends up the more optimistic and empathetic individual.

The movie does have some weaknesses. It is a bit long with two lengthy desert passages. In fact, “Lawrence of Arabia” clocked in as the longest Best Picture winner (one minute longer than “Gone with the Wind”). In spite of the length, the combat scenes are too brief. The movie could have used a few maps and the time frame is hard to follow. This vagueness was a product of the decision to concentrate on Lawrence as opposed to the Arab Revolt. Still, the cinematography, acting, plot, and music stomp out any quibbles.

In conclusion, “Lawrence of Arabia” is one of the truly great motion pictures. Everything about it is grandiose. It is a film that holds up to multiple viewings and it stands up well when compared to the more modern war films. It is interesting to compare it to a film like “Patton” and see that it is in the same league. I would have to say that “Patton” is the better war movie, but the lesser movie. The same could be said when comparing it to Lean’s other war epic – “Bridge on the River Kwai”. Thus the conundrum of the list of the Greatest 100. “Lawrence of Arabia” is firmly ensconced as one of the Top Ten movies of all time, but is definitely not one of the ten greatest war movies of all time. My opinion is partially based on my belief that it is not primarily in the war movie genre. I would place it first in the biography genre and then in the epic adventure category.
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Mar 2019
John Wayne as general Patton.........I could only imagine what a stinker that would have turned into lol
May 2018
Houston, TX
Lawrence of Arabia -

Lawrence's trick with holding a lighted match under his hand ("The trick is not to mind") and then the camera focuses on the little flame which becomes the brilliant desert in the next frame. That was sheer movie making magic for me.
May 2011
New Iberia, La.
2. Schindler’s List (1993)

SYNOPSIS: "Schindler's List" is the true story of a German businessman named Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). Schindler used his war plant to employ Jews who would have otherwise ended up in concentration camps. He starts off as simply greedy and ends up a humanitarian. The film, by Steven Spielberg, is the gold standard for Holocaust films and covers many of the horrific aspects of the Jewish experience including the cleansing of a ghetto, the train trip to the camp, the selection process, and the showers. All of this within the framework of a flawed man's attempt to save as many Jews as he can.

BACK-STORY: “Schindler’s List” was released in 1993 and immediately took a position among the great movies of any genre. It was produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. Modestly, he tried to convince Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, and Billy Wilder to direct the pic, but for various reasons they turned him down. The movie is based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally. Keneally was inspired to write the book by one of the Schindlerjuden (“Schlinder Jews”). The movie was shot on location in Krakow, Poland. The film won numerous awards. It was awarded Oscars for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Editing, and Original Score. Liam Neeson was nominated for Best Actor and Ralph Fiennes for Best Supporting Actor. It was the most expensive black and white film made up to then (topping “The Longest Day”). It had been 33 years since a black and white movie had won Best Picture (“The Apartment”). It is #8 on AFIs latest list of greatest American motion pictures.


1. In 1980, author Thomas Keneally stopped at a leather goods store in Los Angeles and the owner Leopold Page told him the story of Schindler and gave him some documents and a copy of the list. This inspired him to write Schindler’s Ark. Page was a consultant for the film.

2. Spielberg learned of the book in 1982 when it was published and later the studio bought the rights, ahead of Billy Wilder who wanted it to be his last film. Spielberg met Page and promised him he would make the movie is the next ten years, but the project sat for over a decade because Spielberg was not ready for such a serious film.

3. Universal was cold toward the movie because it was skeptical of the box office potential. It agreed Speilberg could make the film if he made “Jurassic Park” first.

4. Originally, Warren Beatty was to play Schindler, but Spielberg decided he wanted someone with less clout.

5. Spielberg refused his salary, referring to it as “blood money”. His profits went to establishing the USC Shoah Foundation in 1994. It collects memories and audio-visuals of interviews of Holocaust survivors.

6. Originally, Spielberg wanted Polish and German with subtitles, but then he decided it would take eyes away from the images.

7. The studio did not want black and white, but Spielberg wanted a more serious look and a documentary feel. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski was inspired by German expressionism and Italian neorealism.

8. Audrey Hepburn told Spielberg about an incident she witnessed as a child in Europe of a little girl with distinctive clothing getting loaded onto a train. Coincidentally, there was a little girl in a red coat that was well-known in the Krakow Ghetto. Roma Ligocka survived, however. She wrote a biography entitled The Girl in the Red Coat. The little girl in the movie was three-year old Olivia Dambrowska. She promised Spielberg not to watch the movie until she turned 18, but she snuck a watch at age 11 and was traumatized. Spielberg meant the girl to represent the U.S. government’s lack of concern for the Holocaust.

9. Spielberg got permission to film in Auschwitz, but decided to just do outside filming out of respect. Most of the film was shot in Poland with the camp being built in an abandoned rock quarry. The filming took 72 days, four days less than scheduled.

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey’s = 5.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = N/A
Military History = #31
Channel 4 = #4
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #21

CRITIQUE: Is it possible to make a film about the Holocaust that shows its horrors and yet is inspirational and has a happy ending? This would seem undoable without hitting a hornet’s nest worth of derision. Amazingly, Spielberg has pulled it off. The achievement is awe-inspiring. This is especially impressive because Spielberg stepped out of his comfort zone to make a movie that was not aimed at 14 year-old boys. It is really his first adult movie and he deserved to be rewarded for it.

The movie is technically top notch. The choice to go black and white was a daring gamble that pays off big time. It is now hard to imagine the movie in color. The cinematography was an easy choice for the Oscar. The lighting enhances the lensing. The look of the film is not ostentatious, however. You do not marvel at what you are seeing, you just register its proficiency. John Williams (who at first thought he was not up to the seriousness of the film) is nicely understated in his score and does not push emotional buttons like you hear in many epic movies (including some of Spielberg’s more recent films). His Oscar was deserved. It was his last victory.

The acting is fantastic. Neeson gives his best performance. He nails the complex personality of Schindler. Schindler’s redemption arc must not have been easy to play. The character is refreshingly multi-dimensional . Neeson even handles the final speech without marring the rest of his restrained work. Ralph Fiennes matches him. Fiennes gained almost thirty pounds by drinking a lot of beer to get ready for the role. He is the embodiment of malevolence. AFI placed Goeth at #15 on its list of Top 50 Villains (Goeth is the highest nonfiction character). Kingsley has a less flashy role, but his portrayal of the wary and wily Stern is perfect. The supporting cast is solid. Special note goes to Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsh who lives in constant fear of Goeth’s mood swings. The scene where he soliloquys to a petrified, very vulnerable Helen and goes from positing that Jews are not subhuman vermin to ruthlessly beating her is a strong scene with great acting. There are several scenes in the movie that showcase the talents of the cast.

The plot is linear and traditional. There are surprises within the structure, but the general flow is toward your typical Spielberg positive ending. Thankfully, the ending is relatively true so it does not come off as contrived. Although there is no evidence for it, you would think Spielberg looked hard for a Holocaust script that had a happy ending. Those are pretty rare. (“Escape from Sobibor” had already been filmed.) The themes are fairly clear. Obviously, redemption is one of them. Some others are that evil exists and can’t be cured. One man can make a difference is another. Lastly, the movie emphasizes the role of conscience in human behavior. Goeth’s lack of conscience makes him, not Helen, subhuman. The film is thought-provoking. You can’t watch the movie without wondering what you would have done in the situations presented in it.

CONCLUSION: “Schindler’s List” is the best Holocaust movie. You can argue that it is not relentlessly bleak enough to truly replicate the horror, but that would have defeated the purpose of reaching a mass audience. As a retired high school history teacher I have no problem with this compromise. The movie has enough horror to teach fools that the Holocaust was horrific. There is nothing wrong with having positive role models in a Holocaust film. I personally would not have it as high as #2, but it clearly belongs in the top ten.
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May 2011
New Iberia, La.
1. Zulu (1964)

SYNOPSIS: "Zulu" is a British movie about the Battle of Rorke's Drift. The battle took place during the Anglo-Zulu War and was an Alamo-like last stand by a small British unit. The unit withstands numerous assaults by the much larger enemy force.

BACK-STORY: "Zulu" was released in 1964 and was so successful that it not only resurrected the Battle of Rorke's Drift, but molded the modern image of it. Myth became reality in a way similar to John Wayne's "Alamo". The film was a labor of love for Stanley Baker. The movie was directed by the blacklisted Cy Endfield. After the House Unamerican Activities Committee branded him a communist, he moved to England to continue his career. The movie was filmed on location in South Africa. 700 blacks were used as extras. Many of them were descendants of the Zulu who participated in the battle. So many had never seen a movie that Endfield screened an old Gene Autrey film for them. Because of apartheid, they could not be paid so Endfield let them keep the cattle.


1. In 1958, historical writer John Prebble wrote an article about the Battle of Rorke's Drift entitled "Slaughter in the Sun". An advertising executive Douglas Rankin read the article and commissioned Prebble to write a screenplay. Cy Endfield was living in England and interested in moving up from B movies and commercials. He approached Stanley Baker, who he had made four movies with. Baker had started his own production company to get independence from the studio system. Baker was thrilled with the heroic depiction of Welsh soldiers in the battle. The focus on the Welsh was exaggerated in the movie. Of the 122 defenders, only 32 were Welsh.

2. The soldier extras were portrayed by members of the South African National Defense Force.

3. The Zulu king Certshwayo (credited as Cetewayo in the film) was played by Prince Mangosuthu Butelezi, his great grandson.

4. Most of the Zulu actors had never seen a movie, so a screen was set up and they were shown a Gene Autry western. This was appropriate because "Zulu" was akin to a western. The warriors laughed when they saw Autry singing while riding on his horse. According to legend the Zulu actors were paid in cattle, but actually they were paid a wage. The cattle may have been thrown in.

5. James Booth (who played Hook) never went to South Africa. His scenes were all in the hospital which was at a studio in England.

6. Jack Hawkins was paid the most in the cast. He was upset with his characters portrayal and with the fact that a lot of his work was cut.

7. Richard Burton did the narration for free. He had been considered for Chard, but his career was in a trough.

8. Michael Caine was passed over for Hook, but he got the role in spite of a terrible screen test. Endfield chose him because he did not have time to find anyone else.

9. The cast and crew were surprised by the success and quality of the film. Most of them were not aware how good the movie was until they saw it at the premiere.

10. The dancers in the dance scene were professional dancers for Johannesburg nightclubs.

11. Hooks elderly daughters walked out of the premiere because of the extremely inaccurate portrayal of him.

12. Because of apartheid, the Zulu actors could not attend the premiere. The movie was banned for black audiences due to the fear of the sight of white soldiers slaughtering Zulus might incite violence.

13. It influenced Peter Jackson's Battle of Helm's Deep in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers".

Belle and Blade = N/A
Brassey's = 5.0
Video Hound = 5.0
War Movies = 5.0
Military History = #22
Channel 4 = #8
Film Site = yes
101 War Movies = yes
Rotten Tomatoes = #49

OPINION: "Zulu" has many strong elements. The set is authentic and the scenery is amazing. The movie was filmed in a national park which, although hillier than the real locale, certainly added to the visuals. The music by John Barry is used sparingly, but effectively. Some scenes have little or no background music. A good example is the opening attack which is allowed to build without music. The cinematography is outstanding. It's old school without the modern pizazz, but you are in the thick of the fighting. The acting is excellent. Jack Hawkins chews the scenery a bit, but everyone else controls himself like a proper British soldier would. Baker, Caine, Booth, and Green are standouts. The most remarkable performances are by the Zulu extras. They are naturals. That Gene Autry movie must have really done the trick.

The movie gets the small things right. The soldier behavior is true to British 19th Century soldiers. Their dialogue is not forced or cringe-worthy. The camaraderie is evident. There are several friendships that are highlighted. The soldiers' bond is apparent. There is not a lot of humor, but then there is not a lot to laugh about. There is also very little whining. Hook is the only soldier who appears to be avoiding combat. A bit unrealistic. The movie does not play up the chasm between the upper class officers and the lower class enlisted which is often a theme in movies about the British army of that time period.

The character development is well done. The movie does a good job of fleshing out all of the VC winners and several more roles. Each man is distinct (although name tags would have been nice). The evolution of Chard from engineer building a bridge to combat leader is instructive. There is a quiet moment when he goes from trembling hand while reloading his revolver to steadiness. Of course, the most fascinating arc is that of Hook. It's a bit cliché, but it works. He could have been a tedious character, but Booth does a good job making him a likeable rogue. His swigging on the broken liquor bottle before fleeing the burning hospital is another nice touch.

As a movie about a battle, "Zulu" is one of the best. This is partly because it has few frills. It concentrates almost totally on the battle and the men who fought it. The tactics are realistic although some of them have a textbook feel to them. In reality, it is doubtful the British used the variety the movie depicts. That's acceptable for entertainment purposes. The action is intense and edge of your seat. The deaths are swift and not melodramatic. There are no death speeches.

The movie is not without flaws. I have already expounded on the historical inaccuracies. One problem is the lack of background about what brought on the war. The audience is treated to a fair treatment of the Zulu. They are not demonized as the Indians were in most Westerns and they are shown as brave warriors, but it is not made clear that they were in the right. We are manipulated to root for the Europeans instead of the natives fighting for their lands and liberty. A related flaw is the lack of a Zulu perspective. This is perplexing given that the movie opens in their village with an interesting take on their culture.

In conclusion, the ranking of "Zulu" at #1 is a bit of a surprise. It is not a great war movie (as some claim), but it is certainly very good and accomplishes its mission effectively. I am little uncomfortable with this. As a war movie lover, I really enjoyed the movie. But as a military history buff, I can see how the movie used a different medium to do in the 1960s what the British government used the newspapers to do in the 1870s. Think about it - 11 Victoria Cross winners! Assuming a Victoria Cross is equivalent to the Medal of Honor, it should take extreme bravery to be awarded one. Not taking away from the defenders, but it would appear the British government was looking for a civilian morale booster to soften the Isandlwana disaster. The movie does a similar job in glamorizing the imperial days of England. Unlike its most obvious equivalent (Wayne's "The Alamo"), the film does not recreate the myths, but instead actually creates the myths.
Apr 2016
Raleigh, NC
Thanks for this series. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Somewhat to my surprise, because I'd have said I don't much like war movies, but since so many of them are just good movies I've seen at least three quarters of them. Admittedly, for the most part I liked better the ones that just happened to take place while a war was going on rather than the combat films -- I'd have put "Paths of Glory" higher. However, I have to say, "Zulu" is a wonderful film.
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Forum Staff
Feb 2009
Eastern PA
Just a first class effort WMB, first class.

BTW, I am a huge fan of "Zulu". I saw the film in the theater when I was 12 and the awe and admiration has not diminished an iota over a dozen or more additional viewings.

OTH, "Schindler's List" is an admirable movie but not one that compels me to watch it repeatedly. It is currently on Netflix and I started to watch it, but............
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Feb 2019
Outstandingly well done WMB, thank-you for all the work that went in to that one. I predict that this thread will resound through the ages (or something like that :D).

Regarding your top five, I must keep reminding myself that you are ranking these as WAR movies not as MOVIES that might happen to have less than six degrees of separation to WAR.

Anyway two thumbs up!
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