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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

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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Original review at TVGuide

TV Guide review

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1945)

One of the most celebrated films from the extraordinary director-writer partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a warm and wise work that displays extraordinary generosity of spirit. Home from the Boer War, a dashing young British officer (Livesey) is distressed to learn of reports in German newspapers depicting atrocities committed by the British in South Africa. Vowing to set the record straight, Livesey heads for Germany, where he meets Kerr, a British woman teaching English in Germany. Livesey succeeds in arousing the ire of the locals to such an extent that it is determined he must fight a duel, and a young German officer (Walbrook) is selected as his opponent. This leads to a very amusing scene, as the proper British and rigid Germans discuss the ground rules for the duel. Both Livesey and Walbrook are wounded in the duel, and while hospitalized they form a friendship that will last more than 40 years. As Kerr visits Livesey in the hospital, she and Walbrook are attracted to one another and, with Livesey's blessing, they marry. Only after he returns to England does Livesey realize he was in love in with Kerr. However, continuing his military career, he meets a young nurse (again played by Kerr) and marries her. She dies several years later, but Kerr appears again as Livesey's driver during WW II. It is during that war that Walbrook leaves his homeland, appalled at what the Nazis have wrought, and joins his friend in England. There he finds Livesey a doddering brigadier on the verge of retirement, still prattling on about honor and duty and noting that he would rather lose the war than fight like the Nazis.

Based on a popular comic strip of the day, this was a controversial film for director Michael Powell. Made during WW II, when films, if they were political at all, were usually aimed at inspiring patriotism, this critique of British staid traditionalism was not well received in England upon its release. The movie so enraged Prime Minister Winston Churchill that he banned its export. As a result, the movie, completed in 1943, was not shown in the US until 1945, and then was heavily edited. The politics aside, this is a marvelous film, featuring a superb performance by Livesey as the thoroughly honorable gentleman who can only look with bafflement on the changing times. Walbrook, a consummate performer, counterpoints the strutting martinet, displaying sympathetic friendship for a man who cannot break out of his rigid mold. Kerr's versatility is shown in her three-part role. This was the first production of the Archers, sponsored by J. Arthur Rank and headed by Powell and Pressburger, who had produced One of Our Aircraft is Missing and The Invaders (aka 49th Parallel), a superb episodic portrait of Nazi submariners in Canada. Another hallmark of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was that it offered one of the few color productions made during WW II, when such film stock was scarce.

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