DATELINE: Big Stars, Little Pictures
Grandstand Stars in Peanut Gallery!
How can you pass up one of the last epic movies of Peter O’Toole?
Zulu Dawn was made back in 1979 to commemorate the British disaster of arrogance in the Old Empire in 1879 when spear-carrying Zulu natives beat the pants off of the robust British army in their pretty uniforms,
Not satisfied with riding 600 men to their deaths in Balaclava, and not to be outdone by the Americans with the Alamo and Custer’s Last Stand, the British class society puts its considerable stupidity on the line.
Great disaster events always seem to inspire epic movies.
We have to laugh again at Peter O’Toole’s sense of the uncanny, in asking “can he do it again?” O’Toole was Irish, which certainly was a drawback that endeared him to Welsh best pal Richard Burton, but what they really had in common was playing British heroes with feats of clay.
In this epic that runs only two hours, O’Toole’s job is to display all the tenacious idiocy of the British aristocracy. He is wooden in this role, but the film itself is like a totem pole on race relations.
The other aspect of the movie to make us scratch our heads was the top-billing given to an American star in a British epic of folly. It turns the screw on all those English stars playing Americans.
Yep, that’s Burt Lancaster, never too shy to stretch his accents. We love nearly every attempt of Lancaster in movies from Hemingway’s The Killers to Vera Cruz to Sweet Smell of Success. This time, the epic star of From Here to Eternity and Elmer Gantry wants to go up against Lawrence of Arabia and the The Lion in Winter’s better cousin Becket.
The movie also throws in Simon Ward, who tried his hand at epics like Winston and came up too short.
Well, forget it. This movie is workmanlike, like someone followed the recipe book and never added a pinch of salt.
Lancaster here plays the role of an Irish officer, which surely had to amuse O’Toole. Their epical petticoats were showing all too deliberately. He sounds like an extra from the Fighting 69th.
If you like to see the arrogant British colonial spirit receive its come-uppance, with a cast of great English second bananas (Denholm Elliott and John Mills and Bob Hoskins), you will enjoy this. As for us, we kept waiting for Michael Caine to show up. No, he doesn’t.