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In his autobiography, "A Life in Movies" (published 1987), director
Michael Powell recalled that he and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger
sharply disagreed as to their best collaborative film work. The former
argued in favor of their satirical vision of Heaven, the phantasmagoric
"A Matter of Life and Death" (1946). The latter preferred the romantic
world of international ballet as presented in the opulent backstage
musical/dance-athon, "The Red Shoes" (1948). In my opinion, both were
"The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (1943) is their masterpiece. It was the film in which Powell finally fulfilled the promise that he had shown sporadically in his earlier films in scenes such as Conrad Veidt's darkly comic encounter with a mountain-goat while trailing a bicycle up a cliff in "The Spy in Black" (1939); the opening shot of "Thief of Bagdad" (1940) as the camera tracks closer to Jaffar's ship and reveals a painted eye on the boat's prow; or in the eerie opening sequence of "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" (1942), where, without a crew to guide it, a Wellington bomber, flying over the southern coast of Britain, suddenly smashes into a power line and implodes in a blazing white ball of flame. Here, in "Colonel Blimp," based on the stuffy, elitist character created by David Low, director Powell found a unifying style that encompassed the other-worldly vision that is sustained throughout the film's lengthy running time (2 hours, 43 minutes) a style that is, at once, austere yet elegant; moody but curiously euphoric; hard at its core but sentimental around the edges.
As evidenced by the film's title, Pressburger's script does deal in a very generalized way with issues of Life and Death, but he carries his vision into the realm of the abstract, and he does so in circular fashion. More specifically, he explores a younger generation's brash, rebellious attitude towards their elders; and then examines how that attitude becomes more restrained, more conservative with the passage of time until, as that generation ages, they become so "traditional" that, in the end, when their notions of honor and ethics have become obsolete in relation to the dominant society, they abstain from collaborating with community and, in a sense, they cease to really exist at all. And in the end, Death is all there is.
In keeping with Pressburger's theme, the film is structured in circular fashion, beginning in 1943, flashing back to 1903 and progressing all the way up to 1943 again, where it ends: Life as a universal loop, so to speak. Pictorially, the movie begins with an image of speed British military messengers motorcycling across the English highways to their respective units with orders regarding war-game maneuvers. But the film ends with a sharply contrasting image a yellowish-brown leaf floating down a small waterway, its slowness of passage suggesting a funeral dirge and procession.
The story's main concern is of the deep friendship and camaraderie between the film's hero, Major John Candy, V.C. (Roger Livesey), and German Lieutenant Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook), who meet one another as participants in a duel that has been arranged for the two in order to solve a peacetime diplomatic dispute. Afterwards, while nursing their wounds in a hospital, they become close friends so much so that when it is discovered that they are unacknowledged suitors to the same girl, an English governess (one of three women played by Deborah Kerr), there is no dispute whatsoever: a coy suggestion by the filmmakers that two individuals can often solve disputes more efficiently than two nations. There is a temporary row between Candy and Theo at the end of the First World War, as indeed there can be little other than animosity between two uneasy nation/signatories of a peace treaty. But 20 years later, when Theo flees Nazi Germany and begs political asylum in England, it is Candy (now a general) who gladly uses his enormous influence to save Theo from either internment or deportation. This last episode is particularly affecting: Theo recites for British immigration officials a long, sad story of his life from 1919 on, relating the death of his wife and the indoctrination of his sons into the Hitler Youth.
From there, the film completes its flashback "loop" to 1943, where we witness Candy's old-fashioned Victorian adherence to "good sportsmanship" his single failing as a military tactician and leader that costs his Home Guard unit a war-games competition. David Low sought to satirize the Blimp character as a ridiculous facsimile of grandiose pomposity; Powell and Pressburger, however, seek to humanize him by tracing the process that finally made "Colonel Blimp" what he was, at least externally. Roger Livesey's performance is an outstanding, sympathetic tour-de-force he was one of the most transparently gifted film actors of his generation. And Deborah Kerr's triple-performance confirmed her stardom for decades to come.
Powell references one of his favorite films "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) throughout even down to the naming of Candy's aunt as the Lady Margaret Hamilton. Candy is referred to as "the Wizard" by his driver's fiancée, even while humming and dancing to the tune "We're Off to See the Wizard." (Three years later, Powell would use "Oz's" technique of alternating between monochrome and Technicolor for his fantasy, "A Matter of Life and Death.")
Forget what another reviewer said here about being "shallow and lacking
in emotional content" and full of "stock characters", as nothing could
be further from the truth. This is one of the finest British films ever
It may mock the old reactionary Blimp (who pretty much is Churchill) but it does so with deep sympathy for his passing age of fair play. And its message that Britain must fight a realistic war was a great bit of intelligent and patriotic propaganda. By opposing it Churchill underestimated the intelligence of the British people.
Roger Livesey's and Anton Walbrook's performances are both fantastic, and the film contains two drop-dead emotional moments: Walbrook's single shot speech about leaving Germany, and Livesey's final lines as the film ends.
And any film which has a character called Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff MUST be good.
Neither war films nor romances rate amongst my favourite film genres.
Colonel Blimp is both of these and has to rate as my runaway favourite film.
Made in 1943 by the irreplaceable icons of British film making Powell and
Pressburger it displays a pacy breathless brilliance since unparalleled on
the big screen.
The film follows the life and times of General Wynne-Candy from when he is an idealistic young officer returned on leave from the Boer War through to his retirement as an anachronistic and obdurate Major General.
The film is structured in three acts set in the aftermath of the Boer War, the first world war and the present (at the time of making the film) the height of the 2nd World War. But it is not just an examination of these conflicts. Its real power lies in Candy's pursuit of his ideal woman throughout each of these stages. All three women are played beautifully by Deborah Kerr who never surpassed the power of her performance in this film.
The other constant in the film is Anton Wallbrooks character of the sympathetic German with whom Candy builds a lifelong friendship and ultimately is probably Candy's only ever really satisfying relationship throughout his life.
For me the film operates on many complex levels. The romantic element is as affecting as anything you are likely to witness in the cinema. It achieves everything in the unrequited love department a la "the remains of the day" in a fraction of the time and as only part of the overall plot.
It deals with the moral complexities of war in a way that will have you debating the issues in your mind long after you have seen the film. This particular theme reaches its climax towards the end of the film when Candy is "retired" by the war ministry probably as a result of his outdated approach to strategy for the 2nd World War. Anton Wallbrook then delivers a setpiece speech which starkly outlines the evils of Nazism and the necessity to use any means to defeat it for the sake of freedom and humanity for coming generations.
Colonel Blimp with its pristine performances, absorbing plot, dazzling colour photography and economic flawless script easily gives Citizen Kane a good run for its money as the best film of all time.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is one of the most deeply moving films I've ever seen. It's amazing how independent producers (the Archers--Powell & Pressburger) managed to put together a lavish Technicolor epic without government assistance in wartime England--but they did it. it contains one of the most subtle "why we fight" themes--to preserve the English (and, hopefully, American) sense of fair play exemplified by the title character. The emotional kicker is a scene which takes place in 1939 in a British police station, where the German (played by Anton Walbrook--a German refugee actor) calmly and drily narrates how and why he came to settle in England. Just the thought of the scene moves me to tears. It's a marvelous piece of acting. The narrative technique--the story contained in one, long flashback--was in vogue on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 1940s--one can think of Sam Wood's Saratoga Trunk (Warner Brothers, 1943) as a good example--but the shift from 1942 to 1902 is accomplished by a very deft piece of editing. Colonel Blimp enters the pool of the Royal Automobile Club an old man, and emerges 40 years earlier! Colonel Blimp's true subtext is how civilization, friendship, and love survive times of chaos and barbarism (not to mention war) and, indeed, triumph by their survival. It is especially timely at the time of this writing (late March 2003).
Once in a while, I see a film I wished I'd seen before. This movie is one of
those. It was a complete and total surprise. I'd heard of it, but never
anything definitive. It is simply one of the greatest films I ever saw. From
the first shot to the closing credits, it was wonderfully acted, beautifully
photographed, and superbly directed. Everything worked: the music was
effective, the costumes and makeup were perfect.
Roger Livesay and Deborah Kerr, in particular, shone beautifully. There was a chemistry between them that was especially magical during the early years. Livesay aged well, not just in the way he looked, but in the way he acted. He gave the impression that as an actor, he understood that generals always fight the previous war, and his General Candy felt, by films end, exactly that sort of general.
I recommend this movie without qualification to anyone who appreciates the art of moviemaking, and the pleasures of watching.
I love this film because it asks more questions than it answers. It takes a character that I would not be naturally sympathetic to and explores his life in the context of the war and politics of his time. The films bright colour constantly reinforces the message that the world can not be represented in the black and white of right and wrong. It is more modernist but less self-concious than a host of films that appeared in the 50's and 60's. James Joyce would have loved this film had he seen it. I know that no two people ever come away with the same memories of the film. Remember that this film was made in Britain during a war that the Nazis might have won. It still engages the viewer in a two-way experience that I believe has never been matched. It is true "open cinema" despite the criticisms that others may have. I still do not know what a lot of the film is trying to say, and I hope I never get all the answers. Ciaran Cregan 23.05.01
This has to be my all time favourite movie. It is the story of Clive Candy (Roger Livesey), a British Army officer, from 1902 to 1942. It is told as a flashback in three sections - 1902, 1918 and 1942. Deborah Kerr plays three women in his life, Edith Hunter, who he falls in love with in 1902, Barbara Wynne, who he marries in 1918 and Angela/Johnny his driver in 1942. Anton Walbrook plays Theo who fights a duel with Candy in 1902 and then becomes friends with Candy and Edith and marries Edith. They meet briefly in 1918 when Theo is being sent back to Germany from a British POW camp. In 1942 they meet again although both Edith and Barbara have died by then. When Theo sees Johnny he realises why Clive chose her to be his driver. Other excellent perfomers include John Laurie as Candy's WWI driver and later his butler. Some of the lines must have meant a lot to Emerich Pressburger, particularly when Theo explains why he left Germany so late after the Nazis came to power and the bit when Theo says it must be hard losing your wife abroad and Candy replies "It wasn't abroad, it was Jamaica" which summed up the David Low cartoon character Col Blimp's attitude to the world and particularly the British Empire. The film is not a war story, though it features a soldier. It is not a sloppy romance, though it features a man looking for his ideal woman. It more than either or both put together. It is without doubt due to the consummate skills of Powell and Pressburger every bit as much as the excellent performances they coaxed out of the superb cast. Winston Churchill hated the film and tried to have it banned as it featured a sympathetic German character when Britain was at war with Germany. I am so glad he failed.
I'd forgotten what a good film this was until I watched it on DVD recently.
'The Archers' had such an impressive body of work even a gem can be
temporarily out of mind - such was the case with Colonel Blimp while I was
catching up with all their other work.
There seem to be three performances approaching greatness in this - first of course, that of Livesey as Clive Wynne-Candy throughout his long service as a soldier to old age and 'Blimpishness', a superb portrayal and very memorable; then Anton Walbrook - brilliant in all his scenes as the sympathetic German who finally becomes reconciled to 'his wife's country'; and finally, in three roles, Deborah Kerr, standing for Candy's ideal woman. There'd be one more film for the Archers before Kerr became established in Hollywood, and she is excellent in her trio of roles in this.
Special mention should go not only to P&P for their tremendous vision and energy, but also the great Jack Cardiff who put such wit and clarity in sequences such as the animal head shots. The film itself is one of Britain's best. I'm amazed to hear it was suppressed in its entirety for so many years, and glad it survived to become the masterpiece it surely is.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the outstanding British
writing-directing team of the 1940's, produced probably their greatest work
in this assured, pacy flag-waver made in the middle of the war. Colonel
Blimp was a newspaper cartoon character created by Low, the English genius
with the patriotic bent. Blimp was a little slow and inflexible, but he was
certain of his moral position and was entirely fearless. He enshrined the
British national character, and stood as a reassuring emblem for the British
people during the dark days of World War Two. In this film, the character
of General Wynne-Candy is loosely based on Blimp.
An early British venture into the new Technicolor process, "Blimp" is an unmitigated triumph. Georges Perinal, for the Technicolor Company, produced a sumptuous and crystal-clear stream of images. The pastel blue of the Turkish baths and the pinks and reds of the British Embassy are a feast for the eye. And it is hard to think of many finer cinematic moments than Edith's appearance at the hospital window, her face dappled by leaf shadows and her vivid scarlet belt radiant with colour.
The brisk pace of the action is set right at the very beginning, with a team of motor-cycle couriers being passed at speed by the truck-mounted camera. We see a message being delivered to a young army officer. Dialogue is delivered in amusing staccato, and the officer, 'Spud' Wilson, launches a military manoeuvre. His men set off in pursuit of a uniformed young woman, referred to as 'Mata Hari'. This puzzling business engages our attention, but we have to wait until the final reel for everything in this section to be explained.
A skilful transition takes the camera by means of a crane shot to the far end of the pool in the Turkish baths, and we have travelled back in time from 1943 to 1902. The gentlemen's club is exactly the same, this being England, land of enduring values. There are comforting references to Albion's might, for this is Britain's heyday and the Boers have just been defeated. Young Candy is correspondingly vigorous, just back from South Africa with his Victoria Cross. A letter from an English governess living in Germany sends Candy off on a bit of proto-Bond counterespionage. Those German bounders must be prevented from spreading lies about Britain's record in South Africa. The British, unlike the beastly hun, always fight fair.
The German episode culminates in Candy fighting a duel with Kretschmer-Schuldorff, befriending him then losing Edith to him. This section of the film is packed with unflattering German stereotypes. Kaunitz and his 'table' stop the playing of the operetta tune - German militarists, you see, are killers of beauty. Whereas London was reassuringly sooty and foggy, Berlin is all snow trodden by jackboots - a harsher political climate. The meticulous care the German officers take over the duel arrangements emphasises their devotion to violence and their lack of humanity. A second beautiful transition lifts us out of the Uhlans' gymnasium and into a carriage.
Quite apart from boosting morale at home in Britain, this movie was also intended to encourage sympathy for the British cause in the USA. Accordingly, some blatant Americanisms have found their way into the script ('went bail', 'railroad', 'we're quits'). Kretschmer-Schuldorff wears his duelling scar with pride, but Candy, being English, modestly covers his with a moustache.
Another brilliant transition moves the story forward to World War One. We see animal heads mounted on Candy's wall, with dates attached. Rifle shots sound and rapid cuts move us from boar to elephant etc. In simple elegant cinematic language, the years between 1902 and 1918 have been bridged. Candy has aged, and is now a brigadier serving on the Western Front. The Americans whom he meets are all genial types (the actors were actually serving American soldiers). As the guns fall silent on Armistice Day, their ominous rumble is replaced by birdsong. The battlefield set is superb.
The 'English countryside' sequence is skilfully done. Concert music to which the German prisoners are listening carries over unbroken into the scene between Candy and the Commanding Officer. As Candy and Barbara talk of their love, the grand house stands behind them out of focus, the symbol of Britain's heritage, ever-present but never ostentatious. The kindness shown to the German prisoners is emphasised, and this makes the snub administered by Kretschmer-Schuldorff all the more distasteful.
When Wynne-Candy (as he now styles himself) sits at the fireside with Barbara, the colour and composition are exquisite. The dinner guests are open and generous, in contrast with Kretschmer-Schuldorff's teutonic gracelessness: "Don't you worry," they tell him, "we'll soon have Germany on her feet again." Yet another transition takes us through the inter-war years by leafing through Wynne-Candy's scrapbook.
Anton Walbrook is billed as the star, playing Kretschmer-Schuldorff, but it is Roger Livesey as Wynne-Candy who unifies the whole film with an inspired performance as the amiable British hero. A very young Deborah Kerr plays three parts - Edith, Barbara and Angela - as Wynne-Candy pursues his vision of the Golden Girl across the decades of the 20th century.
The two duellists are inseparable, having once been enemies, and aliens in each other's homeland. The stiff German is civilised by his experiences in England, and eventually comes to feel 'homesick' for the land he once hated. 'Spud' Wilson is the enthusiastic young soldier of 1943, the Candy of the new generation. And thus the Great British story continues ...
I'm not sure what you expect; but I'm pretty sure it isn't
We open in the early days of World War II with some motorcyclists speeding through the English countryside to some jaunty music. (The score, by the way, is a fine one - by Allan Gray, a composer I don't think I've heard of in any other context.) Very little is explained about the motorcyclists' quest and we don't get the full significance of the opening events until the the film's conclusion, after we've gone back to the end of the Boer War and seen events narrated from there. There's no sudden revelation at the end: it just slowly dawns on us why the motorcycle chase was so very important. I found, also, that the title preyed on my mind through most of the film's running time. It's `The Life AND DEATH of Colonel Blimp'. Why `death'?
It's a lovely, sad story with a pronounced moral, even though it isn't at all clear, even on reflection, what the moral is. Does Clive Candy really become out of date and out of touch? If so, when? There doesn't seem to be any particular moment; or rather, there are many moments - he's a character who always gives the impression of having only just ossified.
There's a lot of humour beneath the sadness - I'm particularly fond of the Battle of the Orchestra, which takes place late last century, where Candy keeps bribing the musicians to play a piece by Johann Strauss, while a German officer, who loathes the piece, offers fresh bribes to get them to stop. The German officer is, of course, an omen. Strauss is much too merry for the Germany that's to come.
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