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United Kingdom 1943
Directed by
Michael Powell / Emeric Pressbuger
163 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp

The distinctively English twinning of self-congratulation and self-parody is exemplified in this richly florid saga of the end of a way of life as epitomized by the career of Clive Candy, played by P & P regular, Roger Livesey. The film is based on an English comic strip called "Colonel Blimp", created by David Low in the 1930s that satirized the late 19th imperial attitudes of the military Establishment. The spin is a lot gentler here as the film opens in 1943 with a bald and bloated Candy being caught in a Turkish bath frequented by old military types who are leisurely preparing for a war game which will begin at midnight and are about to be taught a lesson in the Nazis’ “total war” tactics

We then flashback to 1902 and chart Candy’s career as he progresses from Boer War hero to WWII anachronism, all lovingly framed by the production design of Alfred Junge.  Roger Livesey gives a winning performance as the old war horse whilst a 20 year old Deborah Kerr adds to the delight with three separate roles representing the female ideal in a sentimental romantic fantasy in which Candy is twinned with a Prussian officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook, an elegant foil to Livesey), the pair in love with the same woman, a pretty, independently-minded young governess, played by Kerr. This aspect of the film is somewhat creepy as Candy marries the look-alike (Kerr) of the governess only for her to eventually die and be added as a portrait on the wall of Candy’s den with a lot of stuffed heads from his hunting expeditions. Then Kerr turns up again as Candy’s driver although he doesn’t appear to notice the resemblance (Kretschmar-Schuldorff does but makes no comment)

The film is arguably too drawn out at 163 mins, with P & P indulging their love of gorgeous visuals and formal etiquette at the cost of dramatic engagement. This is so particularly once Kerr drops out of view and we are left with the more general theme of the passage of time and how it makes fools of us all.  But then this kind of grand statement is very much what an Archers production is about. The result is a film one can admire for its artistry but leaves one feeling a little over-stuffed.




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