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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 New Pictures

From: Time
2 April 1945

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (General Cinema Finance - United Artists) is one of the most expensive and ambitious films ever made in England. It cost some $1,000,000 and it runs, even as cut for U.S. distribution, two hours and 26 minutes. Its very leisurely pace - almost that of a novel rather than a drama - may mystify the American cinemaddict, but the leisure is put to such good use that the chances are it will charm him instead. For The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is an uncommonly rich and pleasant study in character, both human and national. It brings to the screen the greatest English character since Pickwick: cartoonist David Low's walrus-whiskered epitome of unenlightened self-interest.

     In Low's famed cartoons, Blimp acts out in black & white by one class and political reflex after another, the whole tragi-comic history of a special kind of British stupidity. The screen's version of Blimp, in rosy Technicolor is not a Low specimen of humanity at all, but one long apologia for the better side of the Low character. Watching on the screen how the old man got that way, you would never suspect that the Colonel and his kind had anything to do with bringing on the Second World War. Even insofar as Blimp is shown to be old-fashioned and short-sighted, this is simply because he is the soul of gentlemanly honor.

     But if the movie is incomplete without the gently savage cartoons, by the same token the cartoons are incomplete without the affectionately explanatory movie. Many liberals and leftists are going to feel that Blimp has been whitewashed into a Dear Old Boy - as indeed he has - but David Low himself, who advised on the characterisation and make-up, is well satisfied. Says he: "Blimp is a symbol of stupidity and stupid people are not necessarily hateful. In fact, some stupid people are quite nice."

     Blimp first appears as a gallant and naive young officer named Clive Candy (Roger Livesey), back from the Boer War with a V.C., who takes it upon himself - very much without diplomatic portfolio - to go to Berlin in order to refute some popular German lies about British mistreatment of Boer prisoners. A cafe quarrel leads to a duel, thanks to which young Candy 1) gets the wound which causes him to raise his walrus mustache, 2) makes a lifelong friend of his unwilling opponent (Anton Walbrook) 3) loses, to this Prussian officer, a charming English girl (Deborah Kerr) whom he loves.

     As a Brigadier he serves quietly and creditably through the First World War - and catches sight of a nurse (Deborah Kerr again) who is the spit & image of the young woman whose loss in Berlin confirmed him in bachelorhood. After the war he marries her. Together, in a British prisoner-of-war camp, they seek out and are coldly rebuffed by Candy's old friend, the Prussian officer. Candy's young wife dies: and the walls of his home, through the years, grow ever more thickly studded with the big-game victims of his soldierly loneliness.

     By the time his second great war is upon him, Blimp is the grand old lobster of the cartoon, angry, hurt, and bewildered to find his age and his military experience in disesteem. The crowning blow comes when sharp young men of the new Army jump the gun in training maneuvers and capture him, boiling red and boiling mad, in a Turkish bath, hours before the sham battle was supposed to begin. Reluctant and heartsick, he begins at last to understand the one thing the movie tries to teach Blimp, or to show him inadequate in; the idea that the code that has ruled his life is a suicidal anachronism in a world threatened by global gangsters.

     The picture would be no great shakes as a story if at every point, through a dozen means other than those of plot, it did not make itself illuminating, touching, and delightful. The tortuous protocols in preparation for the duel, and the duel itself, between the brave but reluctant contestants, is as pretty a satire on diplomacy and war and national character as the movies have achieved. Candy's relationship with his beloved girls, reticent, boyishly idealistic and far more deeply felt than the eye can see, is a moving exposition of a kind of love the movies rarely pay attention to. The life history of the subtle German and the sanguine Englishman culminates in a beautiful study of two kinds of old age: one seasoned through suffering, the other invincibly innocent. Long as it is, Blimp seems short, for it is done with a constant feeling for lightness and for style, and it is wonderfully well acted.

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