Portrays in warm-hearted detail the life and loves of one extraordinary man. We meet the imposingly rotund General Clive Wynne-Candy, a blustering old duffer who seems the epitome of stuffy, outmoded values. Traveling backwards 40 years we see a different man altogether: the young and dashing officer "Sugar" Candy. Through a series of relationships with three women and his lifelong friendship with a German officer, we see Candy's life unfold and come to understand how difficult it is for him to adapt his sense of military honor to modern notions of "total war."
The setting is 1943 Britain. Major General Clive Wynne-Candy, a forty year military officer, is seen by some of his younger eager officers as an old, soft, pudgy man with a ridiculous mustache, he who has outdated ideas of what is required to win the war. But they have no idea of his background and military history, which shaped his outlook and the man he is today, including why he wears a mustache. This history includes a diplomatic row in Berlin over the German view of the British military in the Boer War, his time in the front lines in France during WWI and what he believes was the reason for the end of that war, and his need to reinvent himself over the course of WWII. He is also shaped by his friendship with four specific people, one being Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German officer with whom he had an inauspicious inaugural meeting in 1902. The other three are the significant women of his life: Berlin based English schoolteacher Edith Hunter, Red Cross nurse Barbara Wynne, and Angela "Johnny" Cannon, his personal driver during WWII.
Clive Candy V.C. has fought in the Boer War and the first world war. He still believes he can win any fight with honour and maintaining "gentlemanly conduct". It takes an old German friend of his to point out how much the rules have been changed when fighting the Nazis. We follow this delightful gentleman through his life and the pursuit of his (various) ideals.
From the Boer War through World War II, a soldier rises through the ranks in the British military.
- A dashing young subaltern in the British Army of 1943 has to take part in an exercise organised in conjunction with the Home Guard. He is convinced the Germans are gaining in the war because the English fight according to the rules and the Germans dont, so to illustrate his point he sets off to capture Clive Candy, a retired general now soldiering in the Home Guard, before the exercise officially begins.
The action flashes back to the last years of the nineteenth century, when Candy (Roger Livesey), himself a dashing young subaltern, has just returned from the Boer War, where he won the Victoria Cross for escaping from the enemy. Back in London, he receives a letter Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), telling him that the German press is spreading anti-British propaganda based on his escape, and inviting Candy to travel to Berlin and confront the propagandists with the truth. In doing so he ends up insulting the honour of the German army and is challenged to a duel. The officer chosen to fight him is one Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). The duel is inconclusive, but each emerges with an honourable scar and a great friendship for the other. Theo fears that the friendship will be short-lived as he falls in love with Edith, but Candy is able to congratulate him.
Candy returns to the uneventful life of a senior office in regimental service, which largely consists of shooting expeditions in far-flung bits of the British Empire. However, the Great War breaks out in 1914 and Candy finds himself in service again. Armistice night sees him still maintaining that deviation from the rules of war swill spell disaster that might has to equal right. Some of his subordinates dont share his moral compass or his faith in the British way.
On his return from the front line, Candy catches sight of a newly-arrived nurse, Barbara Wynne (again, Deborah Kerr), who looks the living image of Edith Hunter. Smitten, Candy spends some time after the war tracking Barbara down and persuading her to marry him. He also discovers that Theo is interned in a POW camp nearby and tries to visit him, only to be rebuffed by the German, who feels the shame that his highly professional army has been beaten by the British, who treat war as a game.
Candy and Barbara return to regimental life and are happy until Barbaras death. Meanwhile, Theo has fallen foul of the Nazi regime and in the run-up to the Second World War, arrives in England as a grateful refugee from Nazi oppression. War breaks out, and when Candy appears to be surplus to requirements despite 40 years military experience, Theo encourages him to devote his expertise to the Home Guard and Candy throws himself into the new role with enthusiasm, aided by his driver Angela Johnny Canon (again Deborah Kerr), who again looks uncannily like Edith.
The film ends with Candy and his entourage facing an uncertain future bravely, with Candys faith in his principles unshaken.