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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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Submitted by Mark Fuller

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

By Dilys Powell

From: The Sunday Times
17(?) June 1943

"The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp", a film in Technicolor, written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is like the conversation of a clever and plausible talker with the gift of the gab; that is to say, it holds the attention, it is interlarded with excellent jokes, it has patches of feeling and patches of making do, and it goes on for a long time. In another respect, too, it resembles the wily talker; it persuades its audience by appearing to advance one argument while edging in the direction of another.

     The Powell-Pressburger piece is, on the face of it, about a character long dear (in the economic sense) to us all. The Blimp with whom a great comic talent has familiarised us is not an amiable but a ferocious force. He is a man in whom the sluggish or reactionary cliche is, not the symbol of fidelity to a tradition once estimable, but the natural expression of a belief in the policy of death. Blimp creates the circumstances favourable to a war and then refuses to fight it. But the Blimp of this intellectually humane film is an honourable man, an incurable dreamer, a soldier holding in the midst of a totalitarian war to the rules of a game which to his romantic, if imperceptive, mind was never deplorable. The story is thus not an attack on an old enemy, but a defence, reasoned and often touching, of an old friend.

     Its hero (for we have no cause to refuse him the title) begins as a likeable young V.C. with enough enterprise to nose beyond the business of soldiering, but not enough wit to succeed in his adventure. He grows into a middle-aged general still honour-bound, still pursuing the shade of the romance which earlier eluded him; he ends as a charming old stranded walrus, pathetically humiliated by his inability to understand or accept the new all-in technique. The moral of his career is left uncertain; with one voice the film censures his beliefs, with another protests that they are the beliefs of all upright men. The portrait presented, in fact, is the portrait of almost any decent, slow-witted, romantic Englishman, with this difference; that not all decent, slow- witted, romantic Englishmen would show the humanity towards a German refugee shown by this Colonel Blimp.

     These doubts expressed, the film is to be recommended for its study of a curious and endearing phenomenon. Sometimes the dialogue is presented by a technique unnecessarily static, but more often, particularly in the early Berlin scenes, there are passages of enchanting satire; and the acting is generally first-rate. Roger Livesey, whose make-up in the later sequences is brilliant, gives the hero exactly the right air of devil-may-care rigidity: Deborah Kerr plays three parts with vivacity and discretion; and Anton Walbrook, as the German, acts better than ever before on the screen.

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