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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Review by 'W.G.'
The New Yorker, 1945
The title of the new British film, 'Colonel Blimp', is, of course, taken from the celebrated series of cartoons by Low, and this may be unfortunate, since a good many people are apt to get the impression that the picture is only a sort of animated comic strip, akin in spirit to 'The Better 'Ole'. Actually, is it a rather touching and dramatic biography of a professional British soldier who has been serving his country since the Boer War. In a great many ways, Colonel Blimp.or Clive Candy, as he is called in the film.is as absurd and limited as any member of a purely military caste, but he is unquestionably a brave and honest man and there is considerable pathos in his growing recognition of himself as an anachronism.
The picture, made in Technicolour, opens with young Candy on furlough in Berlin. As the result of a series of somewhat elabourate circumstances, he finds himself involved in a duel with an uhlan officer (there is quite a fine satire in the scene on the Continental punctilio governing such matters), is wounded, but forms a lifelong friendship with his late opponent. Here, too, he falls in love with and loses the first of the three girls (all, rather confusingly, portrayed by the same actress) who play important parts in his life. He turns up next toward the end of the first World War, when he emerges definitely as Colonel Blimp, a standard product of the playing fields of Eton.
He acquires a young wife (it is a curious feature of this picture that nobody seems to age except the protagonist) and settles down for the twenty years of peace that his nation apparently accepted so trustingly. During this period, incidentally, he shoots a greater assortment of wild animals than anybody since the elder Theodore Roosevelt, and the gradual accumulation of their stuffed heads on the walls is one of the minor humourous triumphs of the screen. In the present war, when time and makeup suggest that he is a man of at least seventy, he is finally persuaded to join the Home Guard after it gets to be only too clear that he is not adapted to what has come to be called total warfare. It is a simple story, I guess, made important largely by the fact that it epitomises all the qualities that have made the Empire ridiculous and exasperating and great.
Since the names of English moving-picture actors are not likely to convey much to American readers, it probably isn't necessary to cover the cast in much detail. Roger Livesey, possibly a victim of rather too ingenious makeup towards the end, plays the hero with just the right mixture of nobility and stuffiness; Anton Walbrook looks like a German without that touch of von Stroheim caricature which is so apt to creep into such things; and Deborah Kerr, as three women, is always beautiful and energetic.
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