Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
By Henry Coombs
Not what you expect.
9th December 1999
I'm not sure what you expect; but I'm pretty sure it isn't this.
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.) [He had studied under Schönberg and had composed for a few U.F.A films in Berlin. He had only recently arrived in England, fleeing from Nazi Germany when he "discovered" by P&P and used on The Silver Fleet (1943), The Volunteer (1943) A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946)] 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'? [Good question. It's apparently meant to represent the death of Clive's "Blimpish" attitude. But as the "Colonel Blimp" cartoon character was only really known in the UK (it only appeared in a London Evening paper) it's a mystery as to why they associated the character so strongly with Blimp. It also led to all the trouble with Churchill]
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 Does Clive Candy really become out of date and out of touch?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. [The others (mainly Theo, the German) explain the moral by saying where Clive is going wrong. But there's no reason why he should let that affect him much. He does at least warm to the young man, Spud, at the end]
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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