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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance, War | 4 May 1945 (USA)
From the Boer War through World War II, a soldier rises through the ranks in the British military.
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Anton Walbrook ... Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff
Deborah Kerr ... Edith Hunter / Barbara Wynne / Johnny Cannon
Roger Livesey ... Clive Candy
Roland Culver ... Colonel Betteridge
Harry Welchman Harry Welchman ... Major Davies
Arthur Wontner ... Embassy Counsellor
Albert Lieven ... von Ritter
John Laurie ... Murdoch
Ursula Jeans ... Frau von Kalteneck
James McKechnie James McKechnie ... Spud Wilson
Reginald Tate Reginald Tate ... van Zijl
David Hutcheson David Hutcheson ... Hoppy
A.E. Matthews A.E. Matthews ... President of Tribunal
Neville Mapp Neville Mapp ... Stuffy Graves
Vincent Holman Vincent Holman ... Club Porter (1942)
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Storyline

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." Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

The Lusty Lifetime Of A Gentleman Who Was Sometimes Quite A Rogue! See more »

Genres:

Drama | Romance | War

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English | French | German

Release Date:

4 May 1945 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

£200,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Microphonic Recording)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The filmmakers wanted Laurence Olivier to play Clive Candy, but he was prevented from being furloughed from the Navy by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who didn't want the film to be made. Churchill didn't want to bolster the production with an actor and star of Olivier's caliber, as he felt the movie was critical of a type of British patriot. Olivier was allowed to take a leave from the Navy to make a film about William Shakespeare's patriotic King Henry V in Henry V (1944). Roger Livesey was cast instead. A generation later he played Olivier's father, Billy Rice, in The Entertainer (1960), though he was actually less than a year older than Olivier. See more »

Goofs

The position of the two decks of cards on the card table changes from one position at the time the nurse picks up the table to move it to another when she sets it down. See more »

Quotes

Colonel Goodhead: If we don't know what we are doing, the enemy certainly can't anticipate our future actions.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Deborah Kerr's characters are listed separately, in order of appearance. So Deborah Kerr's name appears three times in the movie credits. See more »

Alternate Versions

The original version (the one restored to Criterion Collection DVD and laserdisc) runs 163 minutes. When Winston Churchill expressed his vehement dislike for the film, the British distributor, Rank Films, cut it to 140 minutes. The film was chopped to pieces when it was imported to the United States in 1945, running around 120 minutes (in which the film's vital flashback structure is eliminated and the story is told from beginning to end). The film was further cut to 90 minutes and ran on public television often in the 1970's (in the Criterion commentary, Martin Scorsese comments that this is the version he saw late night when working on New York, New York (1977)). For years, it was thought that the only existing version was this 90-minute version. In 1983, with the cooperation of the Archers, the epic film was restored to the full 163-minute length, much to the delight of Emeric Pressburger (whose favorite film this was). The film was reconstructed to the original flashback structure and many scenes taking place during World War I were restored, including the much-discussed black soldier. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The 100 Greatest War Films (2005) See more »

Soundtracks

The British Grenadiers
(uncredited)
(traditional march)
See more »

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User Reviews

Powell's Masterpiece
21 June 2004 | by nk_gillenSee all my reviews

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 mistaken.

"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.")


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