Watched: December 13 2016
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Starring: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook
Runtime: 2h 43min
An epic masterpiece in glorious technicolo(u)r, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp follows soldier Clive Candy (Liveley) through three wars and the untimely deaths of many African animals.
During World War 2, Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy, commander in the Home Guard, is “captured” in a Turkish bath by overzealous soldiers who cannot wait for the actual exercise to begin. A scuffle ensues, Wynne-Candy is assaulted and insulted by the young leader, and we are then treated to a two-and-a-half hour long flashback of the aging soldier’s life.
It begins during the Boer War, when young Candy is on leave and hears of some anti-British propaganda being spread in Germany. After being told clearly by his superiors to leave it alone, he goes off to Berlin to see Edith Hunter (Kerr), the British governess who brought the offence to his attention. Because why listen to your superiors?
For offending the entire German army, Clive must fight a duel with Theo Kretschmar- Schuldorff (Walbrook) which leads to injuries for both fencers. They end up in the same hospital for convalescence, where they strike up a lifelong friendship together with Edith. As Clive recovers and prepares to return to England, he finds that his two friends have fallen in love and celebrates their engagement with them. It is only after he leaves he realises that he too is in love with the governess.
The two men go their separate ways, but keep in touch. World War 1 begins, and both soldiers are fighting, though obviously on different sides. On the last night of the war, Clive sees nurse Barbara Wynne (also Kerr) who is the spit of Edith (naturally) and once home, he tracks her down and marries her. Probably healthy.
After 1918, Theo is a prisoner of war in England for a year before he’s allowed to return home, defeated and defiant as many Germans at the time. However, his attitude changes during Hitler’s regime, and he eventually seeks refuge in England.
The second World War is a difficult time for the now aged Clive, and his attitudes to war and how it should be fought give him a dismissal from the military where he has lived his life. The friendships of Theo and Clive’s driver (and confidant) Johnny Cannon (Kerr again) help him find new new purpose and brings us right up to the start of the film.
This was a wonderful film and despite its long run time it flies by. All major actors give great performances, and the glorious technicolor really does justice to the soldiers’ uniforms as well as Deborah Kerr’s amazing hair. We loved the clips showing the passage of time between wars, and the handling of Barbara’s death through newspaper clippings was oddly emotionally effective. There are some very good comments on a then ongoing war which are still good observations 70 years on.
The friendship between Clive and Theo is beautiful and the characters are wonderful as well. They’re both flawed, yes, but they are likable and human, which made us very invested in the outcome. We loved it, and it’s well worth the three hour run time.
What we learned: Oh, so many things! Old people have lived long, full lives. Never go off at half cock. Avoid politicians like the plague. Political ideas are best discussed by drinking beer and fighting duels. You so rarely see a good fencing duel nowadays. Only part of the title is true.
Next time: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)