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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Typed by Linda Cupples
This is the (in)famous pamphlet by the Sidneyan Society (aka the two right wing, Presbyterian Scots, E.W. & M.M. Robson). It's not known if they were siblings, husband & wife (M.M. was female) or what they were.
I've done the first few pages in as near as is possible on the web to the style of the pages of the actual pamphlet. For the rest of it I'll just let them rant away. Towards the end they also have a go at 49P & ACT. I thought about correcting the factual mistakes they make, but there are just so many and I was so busy laughing I just couldn't
THE SHAME AND
The True Story of the Film
E.W. & M. M. Robson
TWO SHILLINGS AND SIXPENCE
THE SHAME AND DISGRACE
OF COLONEL BLIMP
E. W. & M. M. ROBSON
THE SIDNEYAN SOCIETY,
9 Basing Hill, London, NW11
Other Works by the Same Authors-
The Film Answers Back.
In Defence of Movie.
Dear Joe (Letters to Stalin).
"In times like these one enemy in our midst can do more harm
than ten across the Channel".
From the film: "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp".
Dugdale Printing Ltd., 122 Wardour Street, W.1.
This little book concerns itself with two things, a highly elaborate, flashy, flabby and costly film, the most disgraceful production that has ever emanated from a British film studio, and the war. No, not this war against the Nazis nor the previous war against the fathers and breeders of the Nazis, but the next war - The Third World War.
Before we show the close connection between the two, let us first hasten to assure the reader that there is nothing inevitable about another war. It may never come, it need never come, it will never come to afflict mankind for yet a third time, but whether we shall be blessed with a durable peace or cursed with a third visitation of this dreadful plague is, dear reader, entirely in your own hands. "It all depends on me" is as valid a watchword for the safeguarding of peace as it has proved true in the winning of victory.
First of all let us get certain fundamental principles clear in our minds. There are those who say that wars are economic in origin, that trade rivalries in the international field are at the rot of it all. Others ascribe the outbreak of wars as being due to the evil in some men's minds, thus giving it a religious interpretation. A third group, to which the writers of this book belong, suggest purely and simply that wars are made by men, and since men are complex creatures, living a highly intricate and complex social life, wars cannot be attributed to one set of activities only, not to economics alone, morals alone or politics alone, but by a complex intermingling of all these activities. But, the reader may ask, if the causes of war are so complex, how is he expected to prevent another outbreak? The answer is as follows:-
First, just as it takes two to make a bargain, so it takes two sides to make a war. Trade is inconceivable without both a buyer on the one side and a seller on the other. War is only made possible, not only by the existence of a bellicose aggressor but also by the co-existence of his opposite-the passive or the timid, or the temporarily befuddled aggressee. Thus, however much we may disagree as to which has priority as the primary cause, the moral, political or economic factor we can all agree on an elementary fundamental that it takes both an aggressor and aggressee upon to make a war. These two facets of human behaviour must co-exist before a war takes place. Once these two sides are there, then all the appeasement policies in the world cannot prevent the outbreak from taking effect sooner or later, as the last twenty-five years of history have abundantly proved. Your job, dear reader is to see that your mind and the mind of your neighbour is not lulled again, just as much as it will be to prevent the Germans from again becoming aggressors under some fancy name other than "Nazi" a few years hence. The aggressee is the natural counterpart of the aggressor. By the mere fact of being one he invites the aggressor to go ahead. He is just asking for another dose, and the aggressor will be there to oblige.
Agreed that wars are made by human beings, it should be possible to subscribe to the following proposition:-
(1) Human beings as individuals are so made that they have to think before they act. They may not always think deeply or too wisely on any given problem but some measure of thought is always exercised even in the simplest act such as brushing your teeth in the morning.
(2) As aggregates of human beings, as humans in the mass, as communities or nations, they not only think, they express their thoughts by writing, public speaking, printing, broadcasting and filming. In other words, they propagate and prepare for a long time before they act.
(3) How a nation will act can therefore be clearly forecast from the basic nature of the literature and culture of that nation. Such literature and culture is merely the collective, crystallised thought of that nation, and since thought precedes action, aggressive action is inevitably preceded by the active expression of an aggressive collective thought, i.e., an aggressive anti-social culture. That in brief is the story of Fascism, Nazism and Japanism.
(4) On the opposite side of the fence, the nation that thinks thoughts that are deliberately muddled for them by pseudo-intellectual self-seekers, becomes in due course a passive and therefore tempting victim for the aggressor-minded nation, and the basis for war is thus laid.
Now you ask, "What can I do about it?" You can do a lot about it, and this book is here to offer you a hint. Here we have picked upon the dissection of a film, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," as an example of the mental preparation which is being spread about to prepare you for the role of softy to the German aggressor in the next world war. But, as we have pointed out, the next war, whether it comes or not depends on you. So much depends on you. It depends on whether, among other things, you will fall for the message of "Blimp" or spurn this film with the contempt it deserves. And your example will be followed by many others.
"The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp", is one of the most wicked productions that has eve disgraced the British film industry and inflicted upon the long-suffering British people. We shall later have occasion to mention a few others from the same "Blimp" stable, but this one in particular offers a vivid example of how the living, crawling germs of World War Three are being carefully hatched. In this long three-hour mess-up of a film you will gain a good idea of how World War One led to World War Two. This picture will give you the answer that has puzzled so many people. How is it that when we had victory utter and complete in 1918, with the Germans at our mercy, how is it that though we had determined there would be no more war, we allowed victory to elude us, the Germans to fool and hypnotise us, so that we have to fight them all over again? When you have looked at, and pondered well, the phenomenon of "Blimp" appearing during the Second War against the Germans, the answer to that will be easy.
Today the attempt to hypnotise us has been made not as last time, after the war, but right in the middle of the war, in the middle of 1943. Last time the hypnotising process was directed against us from a distance, from Germany, by Germans, which is understandable. This time it has been effected within our own camp, at the very climax of a life and death struggle with a ruthless enemy.
The final effect of this film is to present us to the world as mild, foolish softies and the Germans as the hard done by victims of superior caste. This film might well be a first step towards a national mental preparation for this country to become an aggressed upon nation for the third time.
For the third time ideas are being spread about the land that will suit the Germans down to the ground in their preparations more subtle than the last for a third attempt at world domination. If you, reader, decide to stop this process from making further headway then you in your millions can stamp it out before the germ gains a hold upon our body politic. The Great Statesmen gathered round conference tables may decide the shape of things to come but their decisions can have no lasting effect without your sanction. Remember that your elected representatives think and act in the same way as you think and act with the requisite power and numbers. You will only get the kind of world peace that you yourself deserve, the kind that you yourself are mentally prepared for, and so the first thing to do is to realise what sort of ideas are being circulated among us under the innocuous expedient of "entertainment" and "recreation".
Judge then this thing for yourself upon the evidence here presented, and remember that we have chosen this film, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," because of all forms of idea communication, print, speech, radio or film, the film, especially Technicolor, leave the most lasting impression upon both the conscious an sub-conscious mind of a nation.
Colonel Blimp, the "Evening Standard" cartoon figure, not the film, started as an idea in a person's head: in Mr. David Low's, to be precise. One of the most distinguished and gifted cartoonists in the world, Mr. Low intended to symbolise in Colonel Blimp the irascible obtuseness of a certain type of upper class Englishman. In an inanimate cartoon, drawn on paper, Colonel Blimp is an abstraction - never a reality. The static cartoon has its useful purpose but that purpose is certain to be defeated in a film.
Along come director Michael Powell and scriptwriter Emeric Pressburger with an idea. They will make Blimp a reality, by having him acted by a real person in a real setting in a realist medium - Technicolor film. Emeric gives birth to a further brain-wave. Against the person of Blimp he will set an ideal German émigreé as a foil. Having decided upon this, what shall we call this German? We will give him the high-sound, pompous and dignified German name of Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorf. That settled, what shall we call our Englishman by contrast? Something soft, of course, and sloppy - Candy, "Sugar" Candy. The stage is thus set for determining the action to be scripted.
When one character is called "Sugar" Candy and the other Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorf, it is pretty certain what the eventual relationship between the two will be. The one will be a big, fat lollipop of a walrus-whiskered Englishman and the other, the noble, handsome, awe-inspiring, able and wise German. The scales are weighted against poor old Blimp right away but one concession is granted him. He is awarded a V.C. supposed to have been won in the Boer War. We do not see him winning it. We are only told he won it. In fact, throughout the rest of the film he proves himself nothing but a miserable, fat-headed bungler who could no more have won the V.C. or any other distinction than could the cat. His whole career depicted here is a tragedy of errors, and his final humiliation is in the true German style of film-making made familiar to us by Emil Jennings and others in the German films between 1919 and 1930.The film opens with soldiers on cycles and in lorries thundering hither and thither along English country roads and lanes with the order "war starts at midnight". The whole of the opening sequence is one maze of disconnected bits and pieces without any coherence or unity. The spectator has no clear idea as to who gave the order nor who are the opposing armies in these allegedly large-scale manoeuvres. You are then given the fantastic, ridiculous and crazy idea that a single company of infantry can steal a march a la Pearl Harbor by disobeying orders, driving triumphantly into London and capturing Blimp, who is apparently C.-in-C. of the Home Guard.
Although we are given to understand that "The war (i.e. the manoeuvres) starts at midnight", some whipper-snapper of an officer takes it into his head to disobey the order, by staring the "war" on his own six hours earlier than the scheduled time. It all seems to take place on the spur of the moment. Since the directive accompanying the order says "Make it like the real thing", this bright young spark of a Second Lieutenant thinks, as the Japanese thought (but were mistaken), that he can win by fighting the Jap way and thinking the Jap Way. "All right", says he, with boisterous neuroticism, "we'll make it like the real thing - Pearl Harbour". We are then asked to assume that British soldiers, knowing that their Subaltern was disobeying orders, would follow this cock-eyed officer into an adventure of his own creation. He will personally set the whole idea of the exercise at night by capturing the Commander-in-Chief in his Turkish bath. But it is not made clear whether Blimp is commanding the side to which Second Lieut. Wilson belongs. Apparently Pressburger-Powell found it unnecessary to explain who was supposed to be fighting whom. It was immaterial whom they were fighting as long as there was a fight. That seems the general idea. If we can assume that a Second Lieut. can chip off a piece of the British Army to do with just as he jolly well pleases, irrespective of the wider plan thought out by his superiors for the purpose of testing out the Army at every joint; if we can assume all this, we can swallow everything that follows.
Second Lieut. Wilson's girlfriend is chauffeuse to Blimp. Wilson naively blabs to her of what he's going to do. Because she is going to warn Blimp he calls her Mata Hari and apparently, if this film is to be believed, there could be found no way of warning Col. Blimp except through the house telephone at the Turkish Bath. There are no telephones in all the wide world apparently except the one at the Turkish Bath! Then follows the unedifying scene in the Turkish Bath with a lot of old men parading about in towels. Second Lieut. Wilson finds Blimp on a slab in the hot-room and rudely awakens him to tell him he is now their prisoner. Blimp, shocked and angry, expostulates: "But the war doesn't start till midnight". Wilson thereupon treats Blimp to a lecture. He's going to larn these old Army fogies how to run a war. "Your orders were to make it like the real thing, with every means at our disposal". Says Wilson, as he proceeds to heap gratuitous insults on poor Blimp's head.
"Give me that case," orders the young bully. "But the code is in that case," says Blimp, and Blimp explains that the whole purpose of the manoeuvres will be nullified if the code is taken. But the obtuse subaltern remains adamant and insulting. Blimp, in the course of this mad altercation with the insubordinate officers, shouts out-
You are not in Hyde Park with an audience of loafers", which may be Pressburger-Powell's comment on the democratic informality of Hyde Park meetings and a reflection of their ignorance in not knowing that Englishmen in the past had laid down their lives so that such meeting places as Hyde Park should be freely open to the people for airing their views. It is a remark in keeping with Hitler's Nazi contempt of the democratic processes. It is a truly German expression and utterly foreign coming from the lips of Blimp.
Having started from the premises that Japanese methods are the goods, it is not surprising that this exemplary officer returns Blimp's shouts with insults of a personal nature in the genuine Nazi manner. It isn't enough to disobey orders, Wilson must utterly humiliate his Commanding Officer in true Nazi style, and since Wilson, at the close of the film, is represented by Pressburger-Powell as an upright character whose actions both right and proper for winning the war, we must conclude that Pressburger-Powell fully concur in this shameful tirade, which ends in an indescribable melee.
Looking insultingly at the defenceless protruding stomach of the old man, Wilson shouts, "Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach ... but ... I'd better not say anything more". Blimp shouts, "When I was a young man your age, forty years ago ..." and set about the impudent subaltern until they then fall into the swimming pool. A sepulchral voice echoes "forty years ago, forty years ago", the film fades into Blimp emerging from the water in the self same bath, minus the moustache, minus the embonpoint, minus his antagonist and plus a head of hair-forty years younger.
The whole situation, however, is true to Nazism, the young bully acting without thinking, execrating all that has gone before and ostentatiously insulting and humiliating the older generation, shouting, bamboozling, commanding in contemptuous tones-all these are staple Nazi characteristics, German characteristics, and absolutely strange to British ways of life and thought.
Blimp emerges from the swimming pool in the year 1902, dancing and prancing, kicking up a row and singing "Mignon" with his equally boisterous friend Hopwell - a ridiculous "silly ass" type of a fellow officer. Both leave the premises in full dress uniform. From an encounter with a superior officer just outside it transpires that Blimp, whose real name in the film is Clive Wynne Candy, "Sugar", Candy, has won a Victoria Cross in the Boer War. That Pressburger-Powell had no idea what the Victoria Cross signifies in the estimate of the British people is made clear in what follows.
It happens that Hopwell's friends have a niece who is a governess in Germany, and from this governess in Berlin the news arrives that a certain writer named Kaunitz is creating mischief by spreading atrocity stories about Britain. Blimp, hearing this, goes to see Colonel Betteridge at the War Office to ask permission to go to Berlin, so that he may put a stop to Kaunitz's anti-British activity. A very commendable venture if Blimp, by the grace of Pressburger-Powell, had had a single clear idea of what the situation demanded, and what needed to be done. As will be seen later, instead of carrying out his plan of dampening down the anti-British propaganda he adds fuel to the flames. He instead, like the bungling Englishman he is continuously represented to be throughout the length of the film, makes things worse than before.
Colonel Betteridge, at the interview, is represented as possessing the manners of a film director in the big money. He parrots off the latest smarty smart 1942 Chelsea patter like this: "I've only got five things to say to you. One, so and so. Two, so and so. Three, so and so. Four, so and so. Five, OUT". This little piece doesn't mean a thing because Blimp doesn't go out, but stays, and Betteridge listens to Blimp's story.
"Kaunitz is telling how we are killing women and children in South Africa". "Conan Doyle is doing some counter propaganda but ..." Blimp process to tell Col. Betteridge that he know Kaunitz personally; Kaunitz had been spying for both sides and was a prisoner in Blimp's blockhouse in South Africa. Blimp asks to be allowed to go to Berlin to try to dissuade him from his mischief-making against the British. Colonel Betteridge calls his idea "juvenile nonsense", expostulates about the differences between a diplomat and soldier and gives Blimp some sage advice as he leaves the office. "You've got a darn good V.C. Now keep quiet for a bit".
The complete craziness of this bit of dialogue is almost unbelievable. One would think from such a remark that the V.C. was a kind of title which may be easily obtained by some backstairs political wire-pulling. Or that it was in the nature of an negotiable security.
In the name of sanity, where in heaven or on earth has anyone high or low in Britain ever spoken to a V.C. in that manner? From the evidence of this remark it is crystal clear that the authors had the Continental property concept uppermost in their minds and were far remote from the British esteem in which this highest of decorations is held. Pressburger-Powell could hardly have read the inscription carefully enough. "For Valour seems to have got itself mixed up in their minds with" For Valuta". This, however is not an accident but is an integral part of the whole mental set-up in which" The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" has been conceived.
Hopwell receives a picture postcard of the Kaiserhof Hotel, Berlin, announcing Blimp's arrival.
Next we are shown Blimp meeting the young governess in question, Miss Edith Hunter, in the lounge of the Kaiserhof. They discuss the situation. She informs him that English people aren't very popular in Germany, and that as a result she is herself out of a job. Blimp questions her regarding the whereabouts of Kaunitz and she tells him of a certain beer-house where he maintains a reserved table for himself and his circle. Whereupon they resolve to meet there in order to see Kaunitz.
The film fades to the beer-house scene where Blimp and Edith are seated at a table on the balcony overlooking the place at which Kaunitz is expected to arrive. There is an atmosphere of forced gaiety as the orchestra plays the can-can. Blimp questions Edith about Kaunitz's friends. Edith explains that they belong to a Burschenschaft, an association of old boys from a certain university whose main occupations seems to be duelling and beer drinking. It is important also for the audience to know that the German word for the reserved table is a "Stammtisch".
Before Kaunitz enters, the orchestra is playing suitable background music, "The Mill went round and round", but, of course, we also have to be informed by Edith that the German for this is "Die Muhle ging rum und rum". Blimp tells Edith he has been to see Babyface Fitzroy at the Embassy (an Englishman is always Shoogie, Hoppy, or Babyface in this farce; only Germans get serious names). Fitzroy had given his opinion that the relations between England and Germany involved in Kaunitz's activities were a matter for careful diplomacy. "I had to promise to do nothing. I'm only a soldier", he says, apologetically. Edith begins to taunt him and apparently all his good resolutions and promises go to the winds. He thinks up a boyish prank to annoy Kaunitz and to announce his own presence; he'll ask the orchestra to play "Mignon", the classic remembrance of the one record they possessed at the blockhouse together in South Africa.
Candy decides to strike his first blow for Britain, home and glory. So, a stranger in a foreign land, he decides to abuse the hospitality afforded him and gets the orchestra to play "Mignon". Now Blimp knows full well that "Mignon" has very unpleasant associations in the mind of Kaunitz and that it will upset Kaunitz. When Kaunitz orders the orchestra to stop, Blimp's lady friend obligingly bribes the orchestra with beers all round to continue to play the (to Kaunitz) irritating tune, and the expected result that Kaunitz gets up from his table in a flaring rage, there is a row, a particularly filthy German spit in the face, a sock on the jaw, Kaunitz straddled down the steps and the place in an uproar during which Blimp insults the "All-Deutsche Verbrand", which is the holy of holies of the German officer caste. The iron of this scene, most unconscious irony, is that only a few minutes earlier Blimp's young lady companion was lecturing him on bad manners and good manners. Candy, dear, simple Sugar -Blimp-tells her quite humbly: "You know, good manners are important". "Where did you learn that?" snaps his charming girl friend. "In South Africa?". Her brother had told her that we lost three battles there because of good manners, and adds: "When with a little common-sense and bad manners there would have been no war at all". Thus common sense and bad manner s are equated. So, bad manners would have prevented war, would they? Dear young lady, did bad manners prevent a fight and a brawl at the beer-house at which you were witness? Did it prevent the subsequent stupid paraphernalia of the duel and mutual lacerations between Kretschmar-Schuldorf and Candy?
And you, Messrs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, what was it that impelled you to make that young lady say such a thing? Did the bad manners of Gauleiter Greiser who thumbed his nose at the League Assembly at Geneva before the war, prevent war? Did the bad manners of the Italian delegates who shouted down the Emperor of Abyssinia at a League meting prevent war against Abyssinia? Did the bad manners of Ambassador to Britain, Ribbentrop, who at an audience with the King gave the Nazi salute, prevent war? Is not in fact a display of bad manners a sure preliminary to aggressive anti-social action whether in private or in public life? Are not, in fact, bad manners a sure augury for future war? And are not bad manners indeed the very antithesis of common sense? In whose interests are you advocating that bad manners and common sense go together and that they prevent war? Fond of paradox, aren't you, Mr. Pressburger?
But to continue with the film. After this brawl in the beerhouse there follows another revealing scene. You are shown the muddy snow-covered ground in a Berlin street. Two pairs of jack-boots belonging to offices of the Uhlans tramping through the slush in marching rhythm to the portals of the British Embassy. That it is the British Embassy is well underlined, because at the entrance at the spot where the door-mat is usually placed, you see the British coat of arms, with lion and unicorn, and the mottoes "Dieu et mon droit," and "Honi soit qui mal y pense," the emblems of the British State, laying there for all to see, and for the Uhlans to wipe their feet on, still with their ostentatious marching rhythm.
There is no such thing as an accident in a film. Everything is carefully thought out for the way in which each element is expected to contribute to the film's final effect. Every incident for each sequence, every shot or planned photographic angle, whether close-up, mid-shot, tracking shot, or any sort of shot, is most deliberately planned in the smallest detail beforehand, and set down in the script, including the actual composition of the picture itself. Why, therefore, the foregoing sequence of the Uhlans wiping their feet on the British cost of arms was put there is beyond imagining.
However, to continue: These Uhlans, after a ceremonious "einen Moment bitte," "bitte sehr", and "danke schoen," manage at last to get themselves seated before Babyface Fitzroy at the Embassy. They explain that they have come for information about a certain Mr. Clive Candy, and when Fitzroy tells these Uhlans he knows Candy well, are overjoyed. "Then he is an officer," that makes thins easier. Now they can demand satisfaction. In the German code only officers can be challenged by officers. Great perturbation ensues at the Embassy because Blimp will have to fight his way out of the incident during which he insulted the German Officer Corps. It is feared that the two Governments may be embroiled but the Ambassador contrives that the brawl should be believed to be about Miss Edith Hunter, who is represented to be Blimp's fiancée.
The honour of about 80 German officers is involved in this encounter, but they draw lots (we are told) for the glory or duty of fighting the duel with Blimp. The lot has fallen to Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorf. Much gaudy celluloid is then wasted on all the ins and outs of dwelling. There is a conference between the representatives of the two sides with frequent reference to the German Ehren-Codex, which is apparently the sacred book of words and music on this all important subject presented for our education and delectation. When the preliminaries are nearly over, the English representatives remarks that it seems strange that two people who have never seen each other before should be fighting a duel. One of the Germans stands up and offers this homily to the Englishman. "Theo Kretchmar-Schuldorf is a soldier, he know his duty very well." "It happens...in marriage also sometimes"; whatever this may signify to Pressburger-Powell it is quite meaningless to an English audience.
Then the duel - what a duel? The frills, the pomp, the paraphernalia, everything about the duel except the fight itself, which is given as a few passes with sabres. Not that any part of it might be considered elevating. To us it is just something on a mental level with bear-baiting. Candy is shown after the encounter swathed in bandages. Like the fumbling, muddling Englishman, he is sure to get himself all hacked about the scarred. So different from the handsome, "expert", elegant, German officer-duellist. No scar to mar his beautiful face. No, only a single bandage round his forehead. Both find themselves in the same nursing home to recover from their wounds. And they make "friends" with each other. The "friendship" lasts throughout the years to this very day. Although it is at this very nursing home that Kretschmar-Schuldorf wins away from Blimp the affections of Blimp's girl. Successful in arms, successful in love, The German wins hands down, and the Englishman, Blimp, returns from Berlin to his aunt's house in England, apparently in a saddened mood. Apropos of nothing connected with the story of film he asks the maidservant, "How did you feel when you buried Mr. Rennie?". Lady Margaret, his aunt, appears. She invites him to make his home there so that he can deposit all his shooting trophies. "Look how much room there is," she says, "eighteen rooms," as if Blimp, who is a nephew, and had known her all his life, wouldn't know. Well-mannered English people do not for every gloat over their property. It is only Pressburger-Powell who think they do.
Blimp goes big-game hunting every year till war breaks out. You do not se him in the jungle, or anywhere else, shooting anything. All you see are the head trophies stuck on the wall. You have to take Pressburger-Powell's word for it that they were got by Blimp big-game shooting and not out of a junk store. You will remember that Blimp is also known to be a V.C. purely upon the evidence of a ribbon on his chest. You will remember also that the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin is represented on a picture postcard that duels are fought according to he words in a book of duels, and that nobody really dies in this film. All you see are "In Memoriam" notices in "The Times," both for Blimp's deceased wife, and Blimp's devoted manservant Murdoch, who is supposed to have been killed in an air raid. Everything happens on paper, in words, or on a picture postcard or in a picture postcard album, all in the half conscious or sub-conscious, but never in the reality of real life, in objectivity. And although the title has it- "And Death" of Col. Blimp, you do not see him die, He is very much alive taking the salute with his beloved German by his side.
Next we are in France during the last war. Blimp and his batman, Murdoch, are trying to find their way through a mist. One of them says, "There's the dead cow's cross roads." It starts raining. Murdoch puts up an umbrella. Someone says, "You have an eye for loot." Murdoch replies, "That's from the English in the Boer War, sir." Now, Messrs. Pressburger-Powell, what does this last man? Are you serious in suggesting that the English looted during the Boer War and that the Scot Murdoch took their example in the 194-18 war? If you were not serious what made you put in that bit of dialogue? What were you out to prove? Were you merely trying to emphasise the whole lesson of "Blimp," that the English are unworthy people? Or were you just writing a script with a hole in your hat? If so, was it necessary to use up a quarter of a million of British money to effect that purpose, and to revile the people whose money you were spending?
Later, Blimp is leaving from home, when prisoners from the Second Regiment of Uhlans are brought in. He says, "I'll question them." So he questions them. "Wasn't there an office by name of Kretschmar-Schuldorf?" He is not so much concerned with eliciting information of military value, as he is to meet his old buddy, Theo, in the enemy camp. This softy, Blimp, however, gets nowhere with the grim-faced stern-jawed, German prisoners; so, as usual, what the Englishman cannot do the more intelligent, the tougher, foreigner can do. In this particular instance, it would be too much to show us how a German would interrogate these German prisoners, so Messrs. Powell-Pressburger strike upon the next best thing. They find a friendly foreigner, a South African, an ex-enemy (of the Boer War) Afrikander to show us how. But before this Afrikander starts the interrogation, he has a few things to say about Blimp himself. "I am not a simple English gentleman, I an a simple African." Believe it or not, but those are the exact words spoken. In other words, he's not soft, he's tough, and he shows it by giving the German prisoners 30 seconds to reply as he looks at his wrist watch with grim set teeth. You really expect that all this posturing with grimness on his face would mean that in 30 seconds the Germans either give in, or the tough Afrikander would put them against the wall to be shot. But what really does happen? Absolutely nothing at all happens. Nothing at all. The next sequence shows Blimp outside in the open, in the dark, tramping in the mud. What happened to the German prisoners at the expiry of the 30 seconds, whether they blabbed or not, nothing is known or shown. The whole thing fizzles out into thin air. It is only much later in the film that you get one more piece of evidence of the word and paper complex from which Pressburger-Powell suffer, when the name Kretschmar-Schuldorf appears on the screen on the report made by the Afrikander. You would think from all this that there was nothing so virtually important in the whole war as the problem of finding the whereabouts of Kretschmar-Schuldorf. The whole thing is more like a caricature version of the Quest of the Holy Grail.
Since the main thesis of this film is to show how much at one we are supposed to be with the Germans, the next item on the Agenda as a corollary is to show how far apart we are, how utterly distant we are supposed to be from the Americans. Blimp goes to a transport depot manned by Americans and asks for facilities to get home. They tell him they have no transport available Blimp gets very peevish about it and then tells the world that in this war (unlike during the Boer War) he had found train depots without trains, motors without petrol, field kitchens without cooks. All these and other similar things would never have been tolerated during the Boer War. Here an American is shown to be so contemptuous or indifferent or ignorant of English history that he asks: "What was the Boer War?" and the next American replies, "That wasn't a war, it was only summer manoeuvres." That's one slap in the face. Blim0p then asks whether the American has received a chit.The American: "A chit?"
Blimp: "Yes, a chit, a message, man, a message. Dash it we don't speak the same language."
Blimp then asks whether there is any food to be had. Yes, he is told, at a place further down. What is it, asks Blimp, a pub? Another puzzled look from the American as if to emphasise still further how different we are from the Americans. No, it's a Convent. He goes to this Convent on foot. Since we have just been told there is no mechanical transport, it seems rather incongruous to find a whole intact Convent of women, said to be nurses, complete with a Mother Superior or Matron, living there quite undisturbed, although the place is within walking distance of the firing line. All the evidence, in fact, shows that his Convent is a pure film studio piece and not an integral part of any war that ever occurred on earth. You see all these women, sitting down at a long table as at a girls' school. You are told that these girls are nurses, although you never see them nursing anybody either then or later. You have to take Pressburger-Powell's word for it that they are nurses. Throughout this picture Pressburger-Powell take the outward appearance, to be all sufficient. You stick a ribbon on a person's chest and straightway that person is a V.C., although in character, disposition and every-day intelligence that person, as depicted by Pressburger-Powell, could no more have been a real V.C. than the man in the moon. You stick a bunch of women into nurses', uniform, and at once they are all nurses, irrespective of whether they are shown doing any nursing or not. You stick a German into a mackintosh coat sitting forlorn, grey-haired and self-pitying in an Aliens Office, and that German is no longer a German but an object for our pity-an émigré, an exile from Nazidom, although there is not the slightest scrap of evidence that this German ever raised a finger against Nazidom in active opposition.
Towards the end of this episode, Blimp and his batman, Murdoch, are on a road in France, when a dispatch rider comes up with a message. (What, another?) Blimp looks at it, dismisses the dispatch rider, turns to Murdoch and tells him that the war is over. Blimp asks, "What does that mean to you, Murdoch?" and Murdoch replies, "Home, sir." Blimp ruminates, "To me it means that right is might after all." "Clean fighting, honest soldiering have won." Then they hear the cessation of the bombardment, the birds' song, and both look idyllically up to the sky.
The war being over, Blimp home, he marries Barbara, who wears the first spun cloth after the looms had ceased turning out khaki. Just before they are married, he ask Barbara, "Why do you want to marry me?" She tells him. Then he explains that he is a professional soldier, and that all he can ask of his country is, "Where is there another war where you can use me?"
That, Messrs. Pressburger-Powell, is a palpable falsehood. That, Messrs. Pressburger-Powell, is an idea that is native to a Prussianised, German professional, mercenary, and never to an Englishman. War is never accepted by an Englishman as being in the inevitable scheme of things. Not wars for their own sakes, but he ultimate motives for which they fought, are the Englishman's concern. The Britisher looks upon war as a surgeon looks at a messy, dangerous operation which must be performed if life is to be saved. Even when Blimp is made to say that "clean fighting, honest soldiering" won the war, Pressburger-Powell betray not the slightest awareness of the end motive for which the Englishman fights. Fighting and soldiering for their won sakes are purely Prussian concepts, and coming from the lips of Blimp are bastardised expression of Prussianism.
In pursuance of his life's work o discovering the whereabouts of dearly beloved Kretschmar-Schuldorf, he receives an answer from the authorities in charge of German prisoners of war from which it appears that Kretschmar-Schuldorf is in Paris. There is much confusion of thought and dialogue in the script at this point. The wife says: "Let's go to Paris. I'd love to meet him," but instead of Paris, the scene dissolves to a German officers' prison camp in Derbyshire where a concert is taking place in the grounds. The Blimps, husband and wife, are in the office of the Commandant in charge of the camp. Blimp writes a message for Kretschmar-Schuldorf in English asking him to come and meet him in the office. The message is taken by an English soldier to the presence, none other than Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorf sitting on the grass in the grounds listening to the orchestra, surrounded by his fellow German prisoners. Kretschmar-Schuldorf has the Hunnish bad taste and impertinence to insult the soldier by barking at him twice, "No reply," to insult the Commandant, to insult Blimp and his wife by refusing this outstretched hand.
Not content with being thus rebuffed, Blimp goes out of his way to invite a worse and even more stinging insult. He walks out into the grounds, alone, in the full uniform of a British Army General, goes through the crowd of German officer prisoners, asking appealingly for the whereabouts of his precious Theo. There occurs at this point, a wholesale manifestation of mass emotion, of implacable hatred, against Blimp when the whole German crowd, including Kretschmar-Schuldorf who supplies the cue, deliberately turn their backs on Blimp and walk away as if he were the plague. Blimp thus receives not only the mass insult of this set of caged Germans against his own person, but also against the British State symbolized by the King's uniform that Blimp is wearing.
The reader will remember that other pointed insult at the symbol of the British State, the Uhlans ostentatiously wiping their jack-booted muddy feet on the British coat-of-arms as the doormat bearing the motto: "Dieu et Mon Droit."
In an attempt to disarm possible criticism of the film, Pressburger-Powell put in an interpolation and afterthought just here, by making Mrs. Blimp use he following expression: "I was thinking how odd they are, these Germans; they make beautiful music and poetry, then all of a sudden they start a war. They kill and torture innocent people and sit down in the same butchers' uniform to listen to music."
Dear Mrs. Blimp, don't you realise that these Germans do not start wars, "all of a sudden," but by long, careful, deliberate, conscious, active preparation? Nothing comes "all of a sudden." Everything requires time, and to gain that time, the Germans adopt and adapt their "love of music and poetry" as a protective colouring, as an innate form of camouflage which lulls their neighbours into believing that the Germans are quite human, while it enables the Germans to plan and prepare their mass killings and torturing of innocent people. Without that camouflage they would never be able to lull other nations into false security, they would be recognized for what they really are and the nations would take steps to put these Germans under restraint. No nation with its eyes wide open would accept the "German's love of poetry and music" as anything but superficial camouflage. No nation with its eyes wide open would have allowed any set of film makers in its midst, to portray a German, an essentially German German, as an object of commiseration, sympathy and affection, as in the case of Kretschmar-Schuldorf in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp." No nation with its eyes wide open would have permitted the downright travesty of having the German character deliberately whitewashed and the true character of the Englishman misrepresented, caricatured, humiliated and degraded.
But to return to the film. This Kretschmar-Schuldorf, when he is among Prussians, either in a prisoners' camp or at home, acts like a pure-bred Hun Prussian, as his behaviour at the concert shows. But released from prison amp, temporarily on his own, and waiting at Victoria Station before being repatriated home, he has a pang of misgiving about his action in the camp, and he makes a telephone call to Blimp's home in London. Murdoch, ex-batman and now butler to Blimp, lifts the receiver and asks who's speaking - who? - Kretschmar-Schuldorf? Although he must have heard the name from the lips of his master umpteen times, he cannot catch the name, and asks, please repeat it.
Murdoch goes dumbly away to find his master, Blimp, and garbles the name once more, but the jubilant Blimp joyously goes to the 'phone over which Kretschmar-Schuldorf is gaily humming the strains of "Mignon". Nobody but a Kretschmar-Schuldorf would have been so graceless even in making a political apology and whistling "Mignon" before abasing himself in repentance for his boorishness at the camp. However, as these are represented as "good German" manners, you know what to expect from "good Germans." Kretschmar-Schuldorf, quite unabashed, smoothes off the playful indignation of Blimp, who then invites him to stay with him. Kretschmar-Schuldorf expostulates a little, and Blimp tells him he'll send him back to Derbyshire if he's not careful. So the magnanimous Kretschmar-Schuldorf forgives Blimp by becoming his guest of honour at a dinner to which are invited men of prominence in many exalted walks of public Life. Generals, Admirals, Governors of Colonies. Before this takes place, there is a significant conversation in the taxi between Blimp and Kretschmar-Schuldorf which, after their usual pleasantries, "You old Prussian stiff-neck," goes something like this:Blimp: "How about Edith? Have you any children?"
Kretschmar-Schuldorf: "I almost wish we had no children."
Blimp: "I must introduce you to Barbara."
Kretschmar-Schuldorf: "Who's Barbara?"
From which it becomes clear that the alleged "friendship" between Blimp and Kretschmar-Schuldorf is more in the nature of a word than a reality. In view of the fact that Kretschmar-Schuldorf had been married to Edith since the time of the duel in 1902, and Blimp and Schuldorf were "friends" (as it is stressed gain and again), one might have expected Blimp to know how many children Kretschmar-Schuldorf had, and also Kretschmar-Schuldorf would surely have know that Barbara was Blimp's wife. If these are "friends" why did neither know the most important, the most salient fact about the other? And if the people who made this film don't know, who could know? What does the word "friendship" mean in this context? Do words have any meaning at all according to Pressburger-Powell? And then take that festive table with Kretschmar-Schuldorf as the guest of honour. When one recalls the "Hand the Kaiser" atmosphere of 1919, and the intensely bitter feeling that prevailed in this country against Germany, the Germans and everything German at that time, the scene at Blimp's house with leading Englishmen in attendance is utterly grotesque and ridiculous.
Here are Blimp and Kretschmar-Schuldorf sitting at the head of the table being toasted and wined by this alleged cross-section of English upper class society, not excluding the alleged "silly ass" type with protruding teeth and bushy moustache. "How do yer do, ole fellow," a type of Englishman whom you could only discover in the German "humorous" weekly "Simplicissimus," here they are asking Kretschmar-Schuldorf politely about life in the prison camp.
"Did you get any letters from spinsters?"
"Was the camp well run?" and to the question "What was the cooking like?" Kretschmar-Schuldorf has the supreme impertinence to reply that it was English cooking, although only a minute ago he was explaining that the prisoners themselves were responsible for the running of the camp. This point evokes the remarks from some fool in the company, "And German organization is very thorough," which is seconded by another fool, "Yes a bit too thorough for us," to the accompaniment of inane laughter form the assembled.
Despite all this artificial adulation, Kretschmar-Schuldorf is still hanging a lip when someone consoles him. "You're a decent fellow." Kretschmar-Schuldorf protests plaintively, "I am not a decent fellow, I am a beggar." He thus betrays, through his creators, Pressburger-Powell, the typical German ignorance of the essential meaning of "Decency," confusing the term with the possession of property. In other words, when Kretschmar-Schuldorf is thrown back on what English people would call his moral resource, all he says goes to show he hasn't got any. It is quite clear that all his self-esteem has been bound up with his position in the Prussian military caste. When this is gone, with the lost war, he shows nothing but this childish, petulant resentment and desire for revenge. He says:
"What is there left for us to do in Germany? We know a bit about horses, we can become stable boys."
He spits out that "stable boys" with a hiss of contempt. Well, what's wrong with being a stable boy and earning your bread honestly instead of being a Prussian professional butcher and wrecker of nations? Then he begins to whine again: "You'll be occupying our country for years." But everybody hastens to reassure him: "Nonsense, we'll soon have Germany on her feet again." "We don't want to make beggars of you." "We can't ask you to be friends if we rob and hat you." "We want to trade with Germany."
And then Kretschmar-Schuldorf, back in the train on the way to Germany, back in the company of his repatriated fellow Prussian officers, hisses out with contempt what the English upper class aristocrats had said to him.
"We'll soon have Germany on her feet again." He imitates mockingly. "These English Generals, they are children, boys playing at cricket." "and," he continues scornfully, "Their newspapers are anti-militarist. "Wait," he says meaningly with a glint in his eye, "There is something in that for us," as he turns the idea over in his mind, as much as to say, "These stupids are playing into our hands so that we can have another smack at them by and by."
Reader, cast your mind back to the whole of this Kretschmar-Schuldorf set-up. Is there no lesson in it for you? Aren't all these Kretschmar-Schuldorf attitudes of mind, the very seeds, the very roots, the very ingredients of Nazidom? Let's table them:
- Resentment at defeat.
- No regrets for the war at all.
- Contempt for honest labour.
- Contempt for the people who show him friendliness and who are prepared to forgive and forget.
- Preparation in his own mind to subject these kindly people to yet another blood-bath.
- Elevation of property above human values.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is The Good German. This is the German that Blimp the Englishman is made to slobber over for forty years. This is the German who by some undisclosed metamorphosis at the hands of Pressburger-Powell becomes a contrite anti-Nazi in 1939, and the object of our sympathy, when he is being examined by our Aliens officer. Do Pressburger-Powell show Kretschmar-Schuldorf doing one single act, showing one single kindly gesture, one simple, humane deed for a fellow human being that might indicate to the audience that the sneering contemptuous Prussian of 1919 has definitely and unmistakably changed by the year 1939? We have to take Pressburger-Powell's word for it that he has changed. We have to take Kretschmar-Schuldorf's own word for it that he has changed. But has he? Has the Prussian leopard changed his spots?
All right, let us see. Let us see how Kretschmar-Schuldorf states his own case with his own lips, by the grace of Pressburger-Powell. We are in the Aliens' office where Kretschmar-Schuldorf occupies the centre of the stage and where he is supposed to be wringing our withers for sympathy.
The officer examining Kretschmar-Schuldorf's credentials on some ambiguous occasion, the date or purpose of which is never made explicit. We are only left to surmise that it takes place somewhere at the beginning of the war in 1939 and the purpose is to ascertain whether Kretschmar-Schuldorf is indeed a fugitive from Nazidom or whether he is to be interned as an enemy alien.
Kretschmar-Schuldorf explains that he fled from Germany to Paris about eight months after Hitler came to power. Questioned why it took him so long to find out the nature of the Hitler regime he excuses himself by reminding us that it took the British people five years to discover its nature.
This retort is the perfect example of a non sequitur. Kretschmar-Schuldorf's answer had nothing to do with the point at issue. It has much to do, however, with the persistent outcropping of the German superiority complex and his perennial attitude of putting the other fellow in the wrong. While the British people were getting their information about Hitler at second, fourth or sixth hand, German affairs at that time were considered to be the affairs of Germans and the true point that the officer did not raise was "You claim to be an anti-Nazi. Well, what did you do about it? Did you fight the Nazis, did you join in with others? Did you cry out in sympathy for those that were being bludgeoned to death?" Pressburger-Powell find it inconvenient to put these questions. They apparently do not understand the nature of the world we live in. They assume that protestations have the same validity as actions.
To the further question as to why Kretschmar-Schuldorf put up with Hitler's Germany for eight months, he confesses quite blandly, "I thought I had nothing to fear from Hitler." It being ME and MYSELF that matter to him. "I thought he meant no harm to me." That is the whole crux of the Kretschmar-Schuldorf set-up. "I thought he meant no harm to me." Apparently he could look with cold indifference upon the unheard of sufferings of some of his fellow countrymen, upon the flouting of all the moral standards, upon the public boycott of Jews, upon the robbery of many sections of the community. All these things moved him not a bit. "I thought Hitler meant no harm to me." The operative word is ME. Then he explains pathetically how hard done by the Germans were after 1918. How, deprived of his army position, he was compelled to take a job as a military chemist in Mannheim. Of course, he is incapable of seeing the unconscious irony of the "peace-time" job he has chosen. He does not see the irony of telling the world that although he had an English wife whom he stole from Blimp in 1902, his two sons being, therefore, half English, he confesses himself so incompetent at one of the most important jobs in life - that of rearing children - that when Hitler comes to power his sons are morally and mentally ready to joint the Nazi party. They are so dehumanised that they do not even attend their mother's funeral when she dies. But then what did you expect, Messrs. Pressburger-Powell, when you yourselves made their future mother say in 1902 that bad manners and common-sense are equated, and that bad manners can prevent wars? If that's the kind of woman she was and this the kind of man she married - from such a combination what else could you expect but Nazis? How could Kretschmar-Schuldorf with such a record, first of stealing his best "friend's" girl, and who in a crisis of his own nation thinks of nothing but his own comfort and safety - how could such a man help but breed Nazis?
What sort of man was this who enjoys the hospitality and friendship of Blimp after the Armistice in 1918 and then sneers at him as soon as his back is turned, and plans revenge? But that is not the end of our indictment. Asked by the Aliens' officer whether he has anyone in Britain who will vouch for him our dear allegedly repentant Schuldorf shows himself the identical Prussian boor he was in 1919. He spurns the idea of mentioning Blimp as his friend because Blimp hasn't appeared just at the crack of his whip. With the same stinging contempt that he expressed for "stableboys" in 1919 at Blimp's dinner-party, he now tells the Aliens officer that the only friends he has are "the policeman at Bow Street Police Station and the doorman at the chemical works" where he was refused a job.
Then a curious thing happens. The Aliens Officer must be a mind-reader for he tries to help Kretschmar-Schuldorf out by saying, "Don't you know Clive Wynne Candy?" The words are hardly out of his mouth when in walks the genial figure of Blimp himself. He explains he has been in a distant part of the country on military business; he mustn't say where -"Do you know him?" asks the Aliens' Officer.
"Do I know him?" says Blimp, enthusiastically.
"And stand surety for him?"
"With everything I've got" says Blimp, looking lovingly at Kretschmar-Schuldorf.
This precious pair set out or Blimp's home. Blimp offers Theo permanent hospitality, and again comes Pressburger-Powells's characteristic accent on property. "Look at all the rooms I've got: I have 18 rooms," and again here is a display of hunting trophies in Blimp's "den" above the mantelpiece of which hangs the portrait of Blimp's deceased wife, Barbara.
Kretschmar-Schuldorf says he can't accept Blimp's offer of hospitality because he would first have to get the permission of the Alien's Officer.
Blimp presses him to stay a little longer, but Theo pathetically mentions the aliens' curfew, to which Blimp replies, "All right, I'll send you home in my car. (Never mind the need for conserving our petrol supplies during the war).
Pressburger-Powell at this point seem to present the idea that an Englishman as portrayed by their puppet, Blimp, is incapable of learning from past experience. Once bit, twice bit, seems to be their cue. Again, this German is taken in to the bosom of Blimp's circle and made a great fuss of. The rest of the film is concerned to prove that if the Blimps had been set aside and the Schuldorfs put in command what a successful sort of a war it would have been for us. This point arises out of the circumstance that Blimp's postscript for the B.B.C. has at the last minute been cancelled. The B.B.C. has stopped the broadcast because Blimp had said he would rather Britain were defeated than that she should fight foul. That is, the only alternative to fighting foul is defeat.
Back in Blimp's home the group round the wireless set consists of Schuldorf, Murdoch and the A.T.S. chauffeuse. The post-script is announced. They hear, not Blimp's name, but J.B. Priestley's. Consternation on the faces of Murdoch and the chauffeuse, but bland sagacity on that of Schuldorf's. "I was expecting it", he says. "I've read his speech; I thought they'd cancel it." This is laughably German; Nazi or plain German. Everyone will remember the much quoted phrase of Hitler's when he seemed on top of the world and sweeping all before him a couple of years ago. "Ich habe jede Moeglichkeit von vornherein ein kalbuliert." "I knew everything beforehand." "I have taken every possible contingency into account." The German expert who knows all about running wars, our dearly beloved Kretschmar-Schuldorf!
When Blimp returns home with his tail between his legs, Kretschmar-Schuldorf steps into the breach. "Let me handle it," he says.
Murdoch, with his usual alleged dumb tactlessness, says, "There is a War Office letter for you, sir."
Blimp reads the letter and says he is not a General any more. He deplores his wasted skill acquired in a lifetime of soldiering. Kretschmar-Schuldorf asserts that this war is different, a different kind of skill is needed, the enemy is different. If you refuse to pay them back in their own coin, there will not be any methods left in the world but Nazi methods. But we can show Messrs. Powell and Pressburger that they are wrong, just as wrong, as when they assert that bad manners prevent wars. We will show later how General Montgomery gives the lie to this three-hour travesty, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp."
Blimp reminds Kretschmar-Schuldorf that we won the last war all right, but Schuldorf retorts, "I don't think you won it, you forgot to learn the moral, some will never learn." "You are educated to be sportsmen in war and peace," he goes on, "but this is not a gentleman's war. You are fighting against the most devilish idea that ever entered the minds of men and this time there will be no return match, perhaps not every for a hundred years." He's telling us! He goes on: "Who can describe hydrophobia better than one who has been bitten and who has been healed? You've just got to change over."
Blimp is represented as being downcast en despairing. Kretschmar-Schuldorf tries to comfort him by laying his hand on Blimp's arm. "Clive," he pleads, "you shouldn't give up so easily, my boy."
Coming from a German, this wonderful intuition a la Hitler, this diatribe, is about the last word in irony.
In this sequence, too, quite out of the blue, we are treated to the thrice expressed assertion that Kretschmar-Schuldorf is an expert. What he is expert in is never rightly made clear, but we can assume from context that it is in the military sphere.
Blimp becomes a commander of the Home Guard. He orders a big invasion exercise. On the eve of the exercise, as he is taking a Turkish bath, he is arrested by the young Subaltern who has taken it upon himself to start "the war" some hours earlier than scheduled. The last humiliation to be heaped upon the ashamed head of the bewildered veteran is when friend Schuldorf declared that the young whipper-snapper of a subaltern was absolutely right, and poor Blimp has to believe him and ends by asking this anarchist to dinner instead of taking disciplinary action.
This brings the film back full circle to where it began in the Turkish bath.
The film peters out with a band playing, and the audience is made to imagine the soldiers led by Second Lieut. Wilson are marching by into London. As they pass, the camera pauses over the faces of the A.T.S. chauffeuse, Kretschmar-Schuldorf, finally settling upon Blimp, who gives a salute, and thus the film fades upon a "ye-olde" cross-stitched coat of arms bearing the motto, "Sic transit Gloria Candy," and for this, dear reader, you are being presented with a bill for £250,000 or so it is said.
What is the moral of this film about Blimp?
Broadly speaking, it is really a message from the émigré German to the British people. Kretschmar-Schuldorf tells them what fools they are. How they should have consulted experts like himself. "But I am an enemy alien," he says bitterly. So that in the ultimate Blimp isn't the only fool that's walking around, but the British Government as well, the elected representatives of the people, and even the people themselves.
The German is successful in the duel, successful in taking away Blimp's girl, has two children who are Nazis, and when he falls foul of the Nazis he has a friend in the right place in Britain to guarantee him, namely, Col Blimp. He has all the luck but still pities himself. Blimp is lucky in nothing - unlucky in love, he marries but has no children, his wife dies, he is a lonely widower and is delighted to help this proud German who takes every boon as a right and looks for more. He would like to have supplanted Blimp! After all, he is an "expert", but his expertness is a big idea in his head - he does not reason out the matter so far as to say - "The Germans are experts in war, but they lost the 1914-1918 war. The English are muddlers in war but they always win. It must, therefore, be that it takes something more than expertness to win a war. Now just what those extras are I don't know, but being here in England I shall try to find out". No, like the Bourbons, he forgets nothing and learns nothing. He has charm, but no humility. Charm is a veneer, humility a spiritual possession which would have enabled him to learn, but when you know everything already you can't learn. This is the penalty of being a German "expert".
The film winds its slow length along. It will be swallowed by those who are forever sitting at the feet of the "good" German, by those who are fascinated by the "New Order". And use that name for the sort of world they hope for after the war. By the intellectuals who think we are fighting the war for "Schiller, Goethe and Thomas Mann". By those who, wittingly or unwittingly, want the Germans to win the peace as they won the peace after the last war. By those who are so blind that it will take a third world war to convince them that a nation which acts like a dangerous criminal must be put into protective custody. By those who would rather the whole world were kept in chains than harm a single hair of one "good" German's head. By those who would rather that the widows of the last war who lost their sons in this one should again be bereaved of their grandsons in a third world war.
The good Germans of the last war had Nazi sons, as Schuldorf had. When "good" Germany acts it is to slay, steal, torture and burn, but some poor fools believe that somewhere in that fury of hatred there are a multitude of good Germans, forced along or tramped down. They ignore the fact that even if there are such good Germans and they happen to be impotent to restrain the evil men within their midst, then they are no good to themselves and no good to us. Goodness as an abstract notion is a sheer hallucination.
Since Germany became a nation in 1870, the evil men have not grown fewer but have multiplied. They have grown in such strength, numbers and power that it has become a favourite pastime to argue whether there are any good Germans or no. The only exhibits that are every produced in favour of the good German idea are the works of the Mephistophelean Romantics like Goethe who wrote of Faust who sold his soul to the Devil for gold, or Schiller who wrote an appropriate German drama called "The Robbers."
But whatever the merits of the dispute concerning the goodness of Germans, the fact remains that the Hitler Nazi State is still Exhibit "A" in the real world and it is this we have to deal with realistically unless we wish to see our children inherit the sins of their fathers to the third generation.
Now let us take the second part of the thesis contained in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," on the way to run a war to beat the Nazis. According to Pressburger-Powell's mouthpiece Kretschmar-Schuldorf, we must beat the Nazis with Nazi methods. We must assume from this that it is the total range of Nazi methods we are being persuaded to employ.
Here for example is a glimpse of Nazi methods on the Russian front. G.L. Garvin in the "Sunday Express," of 24th October, 1943, writes:-
"Throughout the length and breadth of a great part of her immense European territories, it has been the most terrible and destructive invasion in history, not excepting the Mongol hordes of Ghengiz Kan.
"Her sacrifices, losses of every kind are beyond our compute or conceiving. She has passed through the deadliest perils. Her present recovery and immortal deeds are miracles. Yes, but at what price have they been wrought?
Think of one thing. To say that Soviet Russia has lost over 20,000,000 men and women by battle, ravage and atrocity is a careful underestimate - not to speak of her deported population carried into foreign bondage.
"Still they have on their hands the main weight and bulk of the German armies. Mightily they are driving the enemy back and out. But as they advance, they leave behind them on their own scorched soil a widening wilderness where the constructive work of years has been annihilated".
Remember that these are acts committed by Germans, and that it is a German telling an Englishman how to conduct war in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp." But in spite of the alleged superiority of the German methods of warfare, it is clear that they are losing this war their predecessors lost the last war. The "experts" are losing. What is the explanation? You will find the explanation in the real world, not in the fragmentary figmentary world of "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp." Not the dummy pasteboard and plaster world of Pressburger-Powell's "Archers" film studio, but the world as it really is. Let us ask a real person why and how the British win. Le us go to the right authority, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, and see what he has to say.
After the victorious conclusion of the African campaign, General Montgomery delivered an address at Amesbury School, Hindhead. He explained his principles quite explicitly. General Montgomery established positively that the biggest battle-winning factor is morale, and the side whose troops possess the higher morale will win, other things being equal. The British soldier can be worked up to a high pitch of enthusiasm in battle, and as far as the 8th Army is concerned their morale is so amazing that it is almost dangerous. Morale has an extraordinary effect on the physical sickness rate.
During the North African campaign, it was never more than 0.5 per thousand per day. He said:-
"If you were to make a collection of my messages issued to the 8th Army you would see that everything I said they would do was done. This has been an important factor in the morale of my troops. You can be absolutely assured that the British troops in North African had only one idea - they would see this thing through."
General Montgomery then went on to describe the principle that dictated the battle and our victory at El Alemein and how the great pursuit battle began. He described how when they reached El Agheila it had a most marked psychological effect upon the troops because that was the point they had reached before and had been turned back. It was a very strong position but once it was dealt with effectively and passed through "the psychological effect of what had happened before began to disappear."
He explained the new, and to the Germans and Italians, unexpected methods he used, first on the Mareth line and then at the Gabes gap, and the boldness with which every blow was carefully thought out, prepared and delivered. Further-
"Of all the soldiers of any nation fighting in this war, on any front, none in my opinion can beat the fighting man of the British Army. He is a very easy person to lead and he is willing to be led. But I will say this about him, that if he is not well led he can be terribly bad."
Compare this with the kind of officers and soldiers we are presented with in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," from Blimp downward. And compare, too, the opinion of General Montgomery gained from first hand contact with realities, with the Pressburger-Powell concept of a German officer in Kretschmar-Schuldorf.
"The German General is a first-class, highly trained professional soldier and he is particularly good if you allow him to do what he wants to do. A battle is really a contest between two wills. If the German General is allowed to dictate the battle he is good. If, on the other hand, he is dictated to, he is inclined to get rattled, and there is no doubt that in the battle of El Alemein and subsequent operations, Rommel did get rattled. The German soldier is a very good fighting man and he has three characteristics that stand out. First, he is very good technically in handling his weapons. He is quite first-class in making the best use of the grounds he finds himself on. The third point is his complete and absolute obedience. He obeys because he does not know what is going on, and he obeys blindly."
Thus according to General Montgomery's analysis the real difference between the German and the British soldier is that to the German the technique, that is the material aspect of war, is everything, while the Briton adds something to technique which the Germans haven't got, the spiritual factor, the factor of morale, and the knowledge of the end and purpose for which he is fighting. The Germans are experts in the technicalities and obey leadership blindly. The Germans are war-making robots and operate on a switch. The British are just incapable of following blindly; they respond only to good leadership; they must know what they are fighting for and love what they know. Their leader must be of impeccable integrity and be as good as his word in all things. For that reason the character of both Blimp and the subaltern at the beginning of "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" is utterly slanderous. The British are sensitive to experience as at El Agheila, they are skilful innovators, and keen learners from both their own and the enemy's mistakes.
The German soldier operates on conditioned reflex action; he is the "expert", so much lauded in Pressburger-Powell's masterpiece. The British soldier, on the other hand, has to be heart, soul and mind in the fight or he cannot fight at all. That is why he is never fixed in his reaction, never an automatic "expert." He is simply the intelligent amateur putting his back into a job he wants to see through. It is the difference between the German slave and the British free man, between the automaton versus the intelligent human being, between the non-moral or immoral versus the moral, between the blind versus the convinced, between the degraded and backward versus the socially progressive.
What is there "good" about this German soldier in any moral sense? Good in being slavish, automatic, blindly obedient and unscrupulous. Yes, but where is the moral good? We can say that the Germans are technically good Germans but that their moral qualities are non-existent.
What about all this "expert" efficiency and "German thoroughness" that Pressburger-Powell are so much at pains to impress upon us? General Montgomery assumes technical efficiency in his own men as a matter of course, and never mentions it. The qualities he notes in British soldiers are the profoundly moral qualities. Moral equipment makes for physical health. He proves that by the extraordinary low sickness rate that prevailed in North Africa compared with the rate among the Germans. The German soldier sought health in things other than in the moral qualities, in too much sun-bathing for instance. He suffered a great deal from rheumatism and stomach complaints and was nothing like as robust as the British soldier. The German officers were not so good as ours and some were even taken prisoner in their pyjamas, efficient "experts" as they are. The British never fuss about machinery. They invented the damned things. They are the masters of the machine, not its slave. The German god is acquired property. His attitude to machinery is therefore the very opposite to the British. Where property is god human beings are bound to be a poor second. In worshipping property "Ueber Alles" the Germans become de-humanised, rigid and non-adaptive.
The Germans are at the mercy of events. Whenever events get out of hand according to their book, they become rattled. Again this illustrates the difference between possessing merely technical equipment and the British possession of technical equipment plus that little extra that the Germans haven't got.
And where does this German Militarism acquire its motive power? Out of the blind obedience of the German soldier who is none other than the plain German citizen who does his professional military training in exactly the same way as he goes to school for his ordinary education. He is part of the German social and family system. To take him from the family and call him a Nazi and then to call those who are left behind the non-Nazis is no better than begging the question.
Finally, what are the conclusions to be drawn from the analysis we have made of the spurious world of Pressburger-Powell's daft imaginings and our comparison between that world and the world as it is, the world of reality?
We said at the beginning of this book that one of the pre-conditions of a third world-war is the existence of an aggressee nation. Now since it is true that we won the war of 1914-1918, then by all logical standards, if another war took place in 1939, then it is we who should have been in a position to strike first, strike hard and win quickly, because we had all the material cards in our hands in 1919. What happened in the interim between 1919 and 1939 that made us lose the advantages of 1919? What was it that put us in the position of an aggressed-upon nation for the second time?
Yes, we know all about the mis-doings of the politicians, of the diplomatic foolery that went on in our relationships with other countries, of the sins of the bankers and industrialists, but even if we accept the current fashion of focussing our attention exclusively on the bankers, industrialist and political leaders, we get no satisfactory answer as to why their tremendous advantages at our command in 1919 should have been vitiated by 1939.
If we accept the thesis that it is in the nature of these people to hold what they have, how is it that everything they did between the inter-war years conspired towards preparing them to lose everything they ever had, and to lose it well and thoroughly if Hitler had been just a little more successful in 1940?
There is an explanation that goes to the core of this problem, and that explanation has to be sought for in the thought processes of a nation. These thought processes are only partially affected by the activities of the economic and political leaders, because, as we have already explained, society is a highly complex organism, and therefore there are a thousand other influences at work to mould the thoughts of a people. There are the preachers, teachers, authors, journalists, magistrates and film makers, and it is the general mental atmosphere which is generated by the totality of all these formative influences which will determine how a nation will act at a given moment of crisis.
In some definite way, a decay in the thinking faculties of one section of the community will tend to affect the thinking of the whole nation. It is only a process of time. The nature of the ideas that were being spread about between 1919 and 1939 will some day occupy the attention of many historians and psychologists.
But here we are concerned with a specific case, a costly and much patronized film, in order to illustrate how easy it is for the thoughtless to soften a nation's mind in advance, to prepare that national mentally for another dose of illimitable suffering in the future. If the message of "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" is absorbed without a vehement protest into the subconscious mind of the nation, it encourages other film makers to do even worse, and this process need only to be repeated often enough until the manners, the thoughts, the woolly thinking and the anti-social bias of "Blimp" becomes part of the conscious mind of our nation. And what of our future relationship with our Allies and other countries after the war?
What of the Russians? What are they likely to think when "Blimp" goes out to the world as a supposed estimate of the British view of the British people, Shoogy, Hoppy, Babyface, and the British estimate of the hero-German? After what the Russians have gone through at the hands of the Germans, what will they think of Kretschmar-Schuldorf? And what will they and the whole wide rest of the world think of us if we swallow "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," like a lot of innocent lambs?
SOME SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF COLONEL BLIMP
This part of our narrative will attempt to describe a few of the apparently minor but potentially serious social consequences, which the appearance of "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" has already helped to bring to birth. The reader will bear in mind what we have already stated. Whatever is implicit in the novels, poetry, drama and films of a nation is bound to become explicit in national action in some way or another, but whatever is implicit in widely patronized fictional film reinforced in Technicolor becomes even more vividly, more quickly explicit in action.
If the effect of "Blimp" is to blur the public mind, if the sharp outlines of the realities of this war are obscured or made to overlap each other, so that you cannot see this from that or the other from which, like looking though a lens out of focus, if you see an elderly Englishman in high military authority acting like a doddering fool, and a young English officer behaving like a Nazi Sturmbann-Grupenfuehrer, and by contrast you see a German strutting about like a wise nobleman; if you see these things and realize what the cumulative effect of millions seeing them will be upon society, then there is no occasion for surprise at what has been happening on the home front during the months "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" had had time to sink into the national consciousness.
In the few months of "Blimp's" release and after, the Trade Union Congress reversed its previous decision and voted that the Germans be now divided into the sheep and the goats, the good 'uns and the bad 'uns, the Nazis and "the people", notwithstanding the fact that it is the Nazis who had spread their evil across Europe while the good German people have never been good enough to prevent hem.
In the few months after "Blimp's" release, the public consciousness had become so blurred that (whether caused by employers or employed is beside the point) a wave of discontent had led to strikes all over the country, so impeding the war effort. Hardly three months passed before Mr. Morrison released a great number of Fascists, among whom was principal Fascist, friend, comrade and admirer of Mussolini and Hitler and would-be Gauleiter of England - Oswald Mosley. Last, but not least, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," which was permitted to be shown in Britain only but was banned for export, soon afterwards had the export ban lifted.
To most people who had not even heard that "Blimp" had been banned for showing abroad, the almost simultaneous lifting of the ban and Mosley's release will hardly be connected. The reversal of the T.U.C. vote on the Germans, the epidemic of strikes, the easing of 18B on our native Fascists as manifestations of the national mind, are closely related to the cock-eyed fact that a film such as "Blimp" could ever have been conceived, sponsored, nurtured, financed to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, made, boosted and swallowed whole by multitudes of Britishers as an alleged statement of the British case
But it was not the banning of "Blimp" or its release for overseas consumption, which got the goat of the public. No, it was Mosley's release. It was the Mosley case that led to the most terrific outburst of public indignation in many years. There is surely no need to get hot under the collar about Morrison's action, blaming him for something that in the ultimate you yourself, dear reader, are responsible for - Mr. Morrison defends his action by quoting law. Ellen Wilkinson and other Labour leaders defined Mr. Morrison and refer to" the mob". Such an idea as "the mob" is clearly a veiled expression of contempt for the ordinary mass of the people, but how does it come about that Labour leaders who are supposed to be champions of the people are capable of giving tongue to such an expression?
Yes, it does seem preposterous, doesn't it? But is it any more or less so than that bawling match in the Turkish bath in "Blimp," i.e., "You're not in Hyde Park with an audience of loafers?" And if one of the democratic institutions of Britain may be insulted in a "British" film with impunity what does another insult more or less like "the hysterical mob" matter? What is good enough for Pressburger-Powell is surely good enough for Morrison-Wilkinson.
If you, dear reader, were foolish enough to swallow "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and swallow it hook, line and sinker, in your millions (as the pay-box receipts undoubtedly show) then why blame Morison for acting in consistence with the spirit and message of the film? After all, you have given the film material support at the pay-box. Why then blame Morrison for accepting your nod to be as good as a wink? Why complain if Morrison acts upon your approval and patronage of "Blimp" and rubs your nose in it with the release of Mosley?
Morrison's action is not an unaccountable accident. He cannot do a thing unless it is in general conformity with the nature of the current social, mental atmosphere, and it is you who help to create that atmosphere. If you in your millions quietly acquiesce in allowing an Englishman to be portrayed either as a ranting Fascist bully like Second Lieutenant Wilson or as a snivelling idiot like Wynne Candy and the German to be shown as the all knowing, all wise and all handsome Kretschmar-Schuldorf, then you have nothing to complain about if you get what's coming a few months later. You asked for it.
Here is something else you asked for and got - with a vengeance; "The Canterbury Tale," the immediate offspring of "Blimp," the most recent of the Pressburger-Powell plethora.
Let it be noted in Pressburger-Powell's favour that they are not the only offenders in the British film industry who are casting a slur on the fair name of Britain. The number, character and description of each of these alleged British films of the last ten years would fill several large size volumes. Pressburger-Powell merely provide the most obvious target. They are very prominent, they are the most publicized team in Britain, and their progress from bad to worse and still worse can be more clearly traced. Their earlier attempts at elevating the German and sneering at the British were tentative, only partially concealed and cautious. With each succeeding film caution and concealment is thrown to the winds and they come out, more and more into the open, until with "The Canterbury Tale" they slap you right in the face and spit in your eye just as Kaunitz does to Blimp.
The process was started by Pressburger-Powell with the German hero Captain in "The Spy in Black." Contempt for the British is fairly implicit in this picture to anyone with a discerning eye, but a measure of intelligence is still grudgingly admitted to the British naval officer. "The Spy in Black" led to "49th Parallel," which, via "One of Our Aircraft is Missing" led to "Blimp," which in turn inspired "The Canterbury Tale."
Two points of resemblance can be noted in the last two of the Pressburger-Powell films. Before dragging Blimp Wynne-Candy to the depths of humiliation, degradation and subservience to a German, they must perforce endow him with a V.C. Nothing less than the highest possible military decoration has to be associated with a record of idiocy and nincompoopery difficult to match in film history. The very highest must be forced down to the very lowest.
In "The Canterbury Tale" it is the same tale. Nothing less than Canterbury, the very birthplace and shrine of Christian England, the very core and heart of all that has made the English speaking world stand firm in upholding the right against the forces of viciousness and evil, nothing less than Canterbury, nothing but the finest, the highest, the noblest has to be made the scene of a most puerile, piffling and pathological story of a vicious minded split-personality mayor of a near-by town who pours glue over girls' heads in the black-out and then escapes in Home Guard uniform.
Pressburger-Powell are not satisfied with choosing an ordinary person as a schizophrenia-bitten maniac with an abnormal sex aberration. No, he has to be the very highest person in the town, the main prop and pillar of the municipality, the chief and the symbol of civilized English society, no less. Nothing less will suit Pressburger-Powell's purpose.
Nothing less than Canterbury, its environs and sacred associations will suit Pressburger-Powell to depict a number of specially chosen old country folk as drooling open-mouthed half-wits or as paralytic unfortunates who speak with a stutter, or to focus upon a British Army corporal who talks like an undergrown 14 year old schoolboy. Nothing less than the environs of Canterbury must be set as a background for an utterly stupid mock battle between boys of between 5 and 12, an incident which is quite irrelevant to Pressburger-Powell's narrative, but which is of immense interest to a psychiatrist.
Nothing less than Canterbury must be chosen to show soldiers marching through the streets to music and then to juxtapose this scene with a scampering flock of sheep. If we know anything at all of the Eisenstein-Pudovkin cult of symbolism we can guess what was in Pressburger-Powell's mind, especially when we remember the Uhlans wiping their feet on the British coat-of-arms in "Blimp."
Now the question is, is it possible to dissuade the Pressburger-Powells and their confreres in the British film industry from continuing on this path of their own choosing?
No one will quibble with people who are capable of learning by their mistakes. By rectifying those mistakes they can show themselves worthy of public support, but the disconcerting, disagreeable, stubborn facts of the matter lend no great hope that Pressburger-Powell types ever do learn anything even when the drift and substance of what they are doing is made plain to them by the clearest possible demonstration. "We're doing all right. The rest of you can go to blazes" seems to be their reaction, that is, so long as there is no great public outcry against their activities. The reader can judge the truth of this matter for himself, by reading the controversy, or part of it, that we conducted with Pressburger-Powell over two years ago in the columns of the "Dumfries and Galloway Standard" concerning their then current films, "49th Parallel," and "One of Our Aircraft is Missing." We did not attack this pair for any personal reason, but because they were the most notorious and the most conspicuous in following trends that are by no means confined to themselves alone. Most unfortunately, right through the "phony war" period and beyond, the country has been made the catspaw of a whole progeny of phony films that have confused our own well deserving people at home, and affronted the nation abroad. In an attempt to draw public attention to this lamentable state of affairs, we sent the following letter to the "Dumfries and Galloway Standard." It appeared on April 8th, 1942, and we reprint it here word for word:-
To the Editor of the "Dumfries Standard."
Sir, - It has always been the privilege of the citizen in past days to write to his newspaper to express his indignation upon this or that question affecting the public weal.
I therefore crave the courtesy of your columns to make certain observations upon a film which was shown in Dumfries recently. I write not in indignation but in sorrow that a film such s "49th Parallel" should have been conceived at all by responsible heads in the British film industry, a and that it should be considered suitable meat for the British public. This picture is reputed to have cost a huge sum of money and to have been partially subsidized by the Ministry of Information.
For many years I have made a close comparative study of the basic characteristics of the major French, German and Russian films on the one hand, as they compare with the essential psychological ingredients of the foremost American films, and the main feature that emerges from a comparison between the Continental European film and the American is this; That in the conflict between the good and the evil, between the social and the anti-social, between the Christian and the anti-Christian, the emphasis in the American is invariably on the side of the good, the social and the Christian in the main. I emphasise "in the main" to meet those critics who say that some American films are bad. Undoubtedly there are such films, but the chief point to remember is that in the American film, in the end, the bad man gets it in the neck, and you are shown how and why, and that is how it should be.
In the average Continental European film it is always "they" the forces of evil, who triumph over "us", the good, the decent people. It is always the good man who gets it in the neck, usually in a welter of platitudinous talk, as he expires in full view of the audience, in the centre of the screen, under the bestial blows of brutes, bullies and gangsters, and invariably, almost without exception over nearly twenty years of European film history, the evil men get away with it.
And now in "49th Parallel" every possible mistake that the European film producers had been making during twenty years is repeated almost to the last little stitch and in every nicknacket.
Permit me to go over a few of the highlights. The film starts with a salute to the flag. Which flag? Well, since the film was made with British money and with the blessing of the Ministry of Information, which flag could it be? Why the German, Nazi, Swastika flag fluttering at mast height in the breeze on a surfaced Nazi U-boat, with the Nazi crew at attention gazing upon it with reverence and adoration. "Heil Hitler," says the captain. "Heil Hitler," says the crew. This is the beginning, but if you imagine that these are the first and only "Heil Hitlers" to be rammed down your throat in the course of the film you are greatly mistaken.
Having thus seen and heard this ultra-strong emphasis and limelight centred on "their" Nazi flag, on "their" Nazi jackboot discipline, and on "their" Kapitan's pep talk on the glories of the Nazi Reich and the decadence of the stupid British, and having seen hundreds of European films in the past with precise similar overemphasis on the evil, the negative aspects of life, I knew for certain that the rest of "49th Parallel" would go right through to the end placing the Nazis in the forefront and our own people in the background, in accordance with the good old muddle-headed European custom, and so it turned out exactly.
The U-boat, it appears, is just off the Canadian coast. The Herr Kapitan orders the Herr Lieutenant and a landing party to make a raid on the coast. While on shore and before the Nazis can start their depredations, the U-boat is sighted by a British plane and is bombed to smithereens. This you may say, is one to us and is to the good, but in actual fact, as is provided by subsequent happenings in the film, the bombing of the U-boat is merely a filmic device to provide a situation in which the Nazis are thrown on their resources on Canadian soil, and in which they are shown cleverly, brutally and ruthlessly outwitting the half-asleep British at every turn.
The Nazis are shown brutal and efficient all the way through; they tweak our noses at every step. Their first success is the capture of some kind of outpost of undefined character, making the inhabitants prisoner. A simple-minded French-Canadian trapper is also captured, and there is a discussion between the Herr Lieutenant and the trapper, in which the Herr Lieutenant is given the platform in order to dish out all the undiluted bilge from the Goebbels Propaganda-Ministerium, complete with Nordic race supremacy, the glorious destiny of the German Herrenvolk, the inevitability of 'German victory, and the utter decadence of all non-German races, who are merely worthless potential slaves, and all the rest of the Goebbels tripe.
The good, kind, simple French-Canadian naturally takes exception to the Herr Lieutenant's views, and tells about his freedom under a democracy to do as he likes, say what he thinks, and to grumble at grievances. So what? So the French-Canadian, for his pains, gets bashed and bayoneted by the evil Nazis when he tries to cry out a warning over the radio transmitter for help, and in exact accordance with European filmic tradition this good man expires in front of your eyes while the evil Nazis get away with it.
One of the Nazi crew surreptitiously places a Catholic rosary into the dying trapper's hands. What is this supposed to prove? Have our film people to go out of their way to suggest that there is some good in a Nazi after all? The muddle-headedness of this incident is shown by the very next thing that happens, when this same Nazi tears down a picture of the King and Queen off the wall and viciously carves out a swastika with this bayonet in its place.
Is what I have so far recited of the film calculated to hearten and inspire our people with confidence in their own strength and the justice of their cause? Well, hardly for there is more and much worse to follow. It seems that it is not enough for the Herr Lieutenant to be made to express his views that the British are a lot of soft, decadent nincompoops, but the film goes on to show that he appears to be right. When a British seaplane arrives for the rescue of the inhabitants of the aforementioned outpost, the men aboard the plane arrive unarmed. The Nazis naturally kill our men and fly off with the 'plane, so obligingly placed at their service!
The Nazis are always in the centre of the limelight in one marvellous adventure after another, in which they bash and smash and shoot their way among our people all the way through. In the same way as they fly off in one of our planes, they bash a trusting motorist on the head and make off in his car. In the course of their travels, during which you hear of no hue and cry among the Canadian people, and never a single Canadian policeman mounted or ummounted is seen until almost the very end of the picture, they come across an Englishman camping high up in the Rocky Mountains.
This character, too, plays right into the hands of Dr. Goebbels' with almost every word he utters. He is a great devotee of art and good wine, and an admirer of the painting of Matisse, an example of which he has taken with him into the wilds, if you please! And he reads Thomas Mann in the German original. All very nice perhaps(I say perhaps), but what has all this got to do with winning the war? Well, explains our simpleton author, he is only mildly concerned with the war. He tells the Nazi visitors (without of course suspecting they are Nazis) that he is not man of action. He hasn't got that type of glands! Believe it or not, but those are his actual words?
No wonder he gets himself caught and tied up by the Nazis in his own tent, just as all the other Britishers, with whom the Nazis had come in contact had got themselves into a mess.
As a glorification of the adventurous prowess of a group of Nazis in Canada, tweaking the noses of the British and getting away with murder, I could see no point in the title of the film. What had the 49th Parallel to do with the story? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It is only during the last 50 feet of the picture which is about 12,000 feet in length, when you are shown the Herr. Lieutenant in a locked goods truck being shipped back over the line from America to Canada, where he will most probably be well looked after and well fed by the Canadian Government in an internment camp for the rest of the duration of the war.
In other words, and in accordance with the whole European film tradition, the bad man will have got away with it.
Well, that sir, is the story of the film. I will say nothing about the effect of such films upon our own people. What the effect is likely to have been will obvious to anyone with the most elementary knowledge of human psychology. But if the film is shown in the Latin American States or in China, India, or neutral Turkey, what kind of impression of British competence will these peoples take away with them after they have seen "49th Parallel?"
A curious sidelight on psychology is unwittingly offered by the makers of this film in their choice of a title. The 49th Parallel as everyone knows, is an imaginary line that divides Canada from America. If, instead, of being obsessed with imaginary lines that divide nations, our film makers had concentrated on real, solid links that indeed unite Canada with America and the Western Hemisphere with all the other United Nations now fighting for life and freedom, we might well have been spared this monumental example of filmic folly, "49th Parallel."
Dumfries, 30th March 1942
To this letter, several wrote in some in support, others in opposition. Mr. Michael Powell himself entered the arena in the following terms:-
To the Editor, "Dumfries Standard."
Sir, - I have been very much interested in the discussion recently published in your columns about this film.
If the writers will permit me to say so, they showed a detailed knowledge and appreciation of the various sequences of the film which was very gratifying to Emeric Pressburger, the author of the screen play, and to myself, the director. We cannot, of course, take part in the discussion, since we are the makers of the film and solely responsible for it's opinions and content, but we have the authority of three Governments in asserting that our motives in making it were and remain sincere; the film was and is the exact expression of the truth; and our intention was that it should be seen and heard by the widest possible audience and provoke sincere discussion and thought. This, in Dumfries, it seems to have done; and I hope you will extend to me the courtesy of your columns to express our interest and appreciation of the fact.
April 24th, 1942.
We replied to Mr. Michael Powell's letter as follows:-
To the Editor, "Dumfries Standard."
Sir- I sincerely trust that before this correspondence is closed and sentence is passed on "49th Parallel," you will permit me the privilege of replying to Mr. Michael Powell's charmingly evasive letter.
The times in which we live are too serious for charm and alibis. My sole reason for writing in the first place was the deep concern I felt at the psychological effect of "49th Parallel" and so many other recent British productions upon the minds of our people and upon British prestige abroad.
Mr. Powell calls three unnamed Governments as witness to the merit of his film, but Governments, like ordinary mortals, are human and fallible, and some Governments have been known to make mistakes. Against Powell's three I could name quite a few Governments in Europe the fruits of whose collective wisdom in the past are now being reaped in captivity or in exile, while her peoples suffer, work, starve and die under the Nazis.
Mr. Powell says rather retiringly that he is precluded by reason of his association with the film from discussing it in detail, but he gracefully side-steps the general charge I have made that "49th Parallel" is European in concept, outlook and pedigree, and that it contains all the tendencies of European intellectual defeatism which have contributed to the state in which Europe now finds itself. He also says that he is sincere. I do not doubt it for a moment, but sincerity, like patriotism, is not enough. The film producers of Weimar Germany were sincere; so were those of Republican France. What needs to be added to sincerity are the right ideas. The wrong ideas may send countries to perdition, as Germany and France were sent to perdition.
My criticism was written not to attack "49th Parallel" in particular, but in order to do something towards arresting those tendencies that are all too alarmingly prevalent in British film output. Have I succeeded in this? Not yet. Not quite. There is a lot more to be done . There is, for instance, Mr. Powell's newest film, "One of Our aircraft is Missing".
Notice the emphasis. One of "ours" is missing, not one of "theirs". I quote further from the "Times" of 21st April.
"Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger- the film was made with the co-operation of the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, the War Office and the Netherland Government Information Bureau. The film is introduced by a roll of drums, a shouted German command and the crack of rifle fire as five Dutchmen are executed by the Herrenvolk for assisting in the escape of a British air crew."
And again it is "our" side that gets it, first go, and again it is the brutal Germans who lord it. Anybody can guess what the rest of the film is like-anybody who has seen "49th Parallel".
Dumfries, 30th April, 1942
It should be noted that at the very time that Mr. Powell was reading our criticism of "49thParallel," he with Emeric Pressburger was actually engaged in the making of "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp." Probably, Mr. Powell is ready to say of "Blimp" the same as of "49th Parallel":-
"....we are the makers of the film and solely responsible for its opinions and content."
He will probably also plead that as in the case of his earlier pictures, his motives in making "Blimp" and "The Canterbury Tale" were and are sincere."
Dr. Johnson would have retorted with contempt:-
"The road to hell is paved with such sincerity."
When we speak of a remedy, the symptoms of the disease must first be noted, checked, analysed and properly diagnosed. The emergence of Pressburger-Powell is the result of a widespread chronic process which has been going on for years. Pressburger-Powell are but one of the peak expressions of a general Blimp cult which has spread its fungoid influence over the land. We must find the remedy for this cult which is by no means the exclusive intellectual possession of Pressburger-Powell. However much the latter may preen themselves upon being the authors of their precious masterpieces, they could never have begun had it not been for the passive acquiescence of society itself. Whatever success they have achieved is due to forces outside their ken as much as to their own efforts. Their achievement is due to a number of circumstances and one of them is that their films impinge upon the sub-conscious and not upon the conscious mind of the nation. Were it otherwise, then "49th Parallel" would have been spurned, not supported, by the Ministry of Information.
They have got away with it so far firstly because few people are yet fully aware of the effect of films upon the social consciousness, and secondly because since there is a natural time lag between events and the social mental apprehension of the significance of those events, therefore though we are in physical conflict for our very lives with the vilest enemy in history, the Pressburger-Powell type of films impinge upon a national sub-consciousness which still has its being in the sleep-walking era of the 1920's and 1930's.
A nation, like an individual, must have its sub-conscious mental processes brought into consciousness. Those mental processes must be understood and controlled if an individual or a nation is to remain healthy. The sub-conscious is that part of the mental framework which is linked to "intuition" for which Hitler is famous. The sub-conscious cannot be allowed to roam about at will to rule our social life, in the manner of Pressburger-Powell's schizophrenic mayor who rules a municipality in "The Canterbury Tale." The individual sub-conscious has no morality. It is selfish and self-absorbed, concerned only with its own pleasures and impulses. That is why Pressburger-Powell's mayor gets away with it in the film, is never brought to book, is never put on trial, and there is no public move to have him unseated as mayor. It is of the utmost importance to pursue to the end of this question of the dissemination of the right ideas in films. We cannot afford to have the minds of some of our fellow citizens made to become like the minds of these, our film production playboys, because unless we approach our problems as adults, unless we desist from acting and masquerading or being represented as masquerading as children (vide "Canterbury Tale"), we shall, like children, burn our fingers and worse in yet a third world catastrophe. From the instances we have given it is clear that film makers such as these cannot be deterred from their own peculiar, automatic, sub-conscious mental path, except by means of an overwhelming external force, the strong force of an enlightened public opinion.
THE SIDNEYAN SOCIETY
9, Basing Hill,
LONDON, N.W. 11.
Secretary: Mary M. Robson M.A.
The aims of the Sidneyan Society are:-
- To help enlighten public opinion on the effect of film, radio and television to the minds of the nations.
- To promote a better critical understanding of these new mind-forming instruments by encouraging the study and analysis of the cultural products of different nations and so to arrive at a real science of culture.
- To remedy the unfortunate yet widespread intellectual tendency of decrying the American commercial film indiscriminately and bowing low to the European (i.e. French, German and Russian) film uncritically.
- To spread the realisation that a healthy film and film industry can only come out of a truly healthy society; that the best films in the world are those that induce the best social conduct; that the worst films are those showing that bad social behaviour pays, no matter how "artistic" they are alleged to be.
- Since the film has developed on commercial lines and is now one of the world's major industries, and since it is a medium of expression utterly unlike any that has ever preceded it in human history, the film cannot and should not be judged by the criteria hitherto applied to literature and drama. Therefore:
- The Sidneyan Society affirm that film and television must be measured by the critical test applied by Sir Philip Sidney in 1581 which has been valid since the classic days of Greek and Roman civilisation and should be valid today, namely, that every cultural medium should have as its purpose:"To make to imitate, and imitate both to delight and teach, and teach to move men to take that goodness in hand which, without delight, they would fly as from a stranger."
- The Sindeyan Society aim at stimulating public opinion so that the British film industry may take the lead (not lag behind America, as hitherto), and prosper as the standard bearers to the world of all that is finest in British thought, action, leadership, enterprise and moral supremacy
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