THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP
Review by Michael Jacobson
Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook
Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 163 Minutes
Release Date: March 19, 2013
isn’t it? Arranging a duel for
two men who have never met each other?”
happens sometimes. Marriages,
Blimp is not a man, but a comic image, and The Life and Death of Colonel
Blimp is not about the image, but the man who conjures it up.
David Low’s popular cartoon character was known and beloved by Britons
during the war years, yet Powell and Pressburuger’s character of Major General
Clive Wynne-Candy has become a beloved character even by those around the world
who had no familiarity with Blimp.
we first meet Candy (the terrific Livesey), he seems the epitome of aging
British pomposity; a warrior who has outlived his ability to wage war.
It is 1942, and England has been under siege by the Nazis.
The twice-retired general commands the home defense, and is prepared to
begin a military training exercise with the regular army starting at midnight.
regular army jumps the gun, however, and storms the Turkish baths where Candy
and his fellow aged soldiers are relaxing.
Enraged, the general protests that the war wasn’t supposed to start
until midnight. His young
challenger argues that the Nazis are more interested in winning the war than
abiding by any such nonsense as a gentleman’s agreement.
He belittles Candy for his age, his rotund stomach and his walrus-styled
mustache. The two struggle in one
end of the pool as Candy asserts, “Forty years from now, you’ll be an old
gentleman, too!” Then, in an
ingenious flashback, the camera tracks to the other end of the pool, where a
young Clive Candy emerges in the year 1902!
movie is both a delightful comedy of manners and a thoughtful exploration of the
differences between the young and the old.
At the beginning, we are invited, possibly even encouraged to chuckle at
General Wynne-Candy as an old buffoon. By
the time we see him like this again at the end of the picture, our perceptions
have changed. We have walked the
proverbial mile in his shoes.
than a mile, though…almost an entire lifetime is explored in Blimp’s 163
minutes. From his reckless
misadventures in Germany, where he makes a lifelong friend of a dueling partner
in Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Walbrook), and falls in love with an English
teacher Edith Hunter (Kerr, in the first of three roles for the 20 year old
newcomer), only to lose the former to the latter, to his escapades nearly 2
years later in the first World War where he meets Theo again, but this time, his
friend is a conquered enemy, to the finale of his career in World War II where
he has to come to terms that his values no longer apply in a world where Nazis
exist, Powell and Pressburger leave nothing unturned in their examination of
this man’s journey from youth to old age.
like Grand Illusion, Blimp recognizes the passing of an era where wars
were fought by gentlemen who recognized rules, order and discipline as tools for
victory. Grand Illusion learned
that lesson in the first World War, but Candy does not.
He relishes the fact that despite the German’s use of poison gas and
other unsavory techniques, the British still won.
As Theo would later point out to him, Candy paid a price for not learning
the moral of the first war in time for the second.
is hurt in the aged Candy’s eyes when the young soldier mercilessly blasts his
ideals and values, but he DOES have a point.
The Nazis broke every promise, abandoned every treatise, and generally
used England’s old fashioned devotion to honor as a weapon in their favor.
The new war may have required less of men like Candy’s experience and
more of the young officer’s impudence and willingness to change in order to
the film is a well-rounded portrait of the man…it focuses on him not only as a
soldier, but as a romantic as well. He
cheerfully gives up Miss Hunter to his friend Theo in his youth, only to return
to England realizing far too late that he loved her, too.
The rest of his personal life is a quest to find Edith again, which
culminates in his meeting of Barbara Wynne (Kerr again), a nurse serving in the
first World War. He marries her and adds her name to his.
By the time he and Theo meet for the third time, both women are deceased,
and Theo is amused that Candy’s driver Angela (Kerr a third time) bears such a
resemblance to the other women.
impudence of youth invariably gives way to the experience of old age, but inside
every old man is a young one, still filled with fire and passion unhampered by
the years. The face of age may mask
that fact sometimes, but this terrific movie dares to look beyond the lines and
into the mind and heart of a man and finds character, not caricature.
This film has often been truncated over the years for television
release and even shown in black and white.
Criterion’s Blu-ray restores it to Technicolor glory and it’s full,
proper running time.
did a remarkable job with a transfer of a 60 year old film.
This marked the first color production for Powell and Pressburger, and
it’s a lovely looking movie, though not quite as distinctive as their later
efforts with Jack Cardiff as cinematographer (he DID serve as a second unit
cameraman on this picture). The print is free of debris and dirt, and colors look
extraordinarily lively and rich (particularly Ms. Kerr’s radiant eyes and hair
color). A tiny bit of flicker is
noticeable from time to time, showing a bit of aging and inconsistency from the
negative, but it seems to have been cleaned up as much as possible, and the
overall presentation is still pleasing. A
most mono soundtracks, this disc offers one that is perfectly suitable if
unremarkable. Dialogue is clean and
clear, noise is minimal to none, and dynamic range is fair.
No complaints…it’s a completely serviceable offering.
Criterion features, it’s as much about quality as quantity, and this disc
boasts exactly what you would want for this movie. It starts with another terrific and in-depth commentary track
by Martin Scorsese with the late great Michael Powell (as recorded originally
for the laser disc), which is as solid and informative as you would hope for
(Scorsese, in addition to being a great filmmaker himself, is also one of our
country’s premiere movie buffs!). There
is also a good 24 minute documentary profiling the film, a selection of Sir
David Low’s original Colonel Blimp comics, and finally, rare production stills
and behind-the-scenes photos from Mr. Powell’s own collection.
For the film student, Criterion once again makes an already good thing
Few things inspire as much anticipation in me as a critic as knowing that another Powell and Pressburger classic is coming to Blu-ray from Criterion. These terrific and important films continue to be well preserved and presented, and given the red carpet treatment they deserve on disc. No film fan should pass up the opportunity to see The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp or to learn why it’s considered one of the greatest of all British films.