General Candy is caught napping on the eve of a Home Guard exercise, and defends himself by recalling his exploits before and during World War I, which lead to an enduring friendship with Theo and a search for his elusive feminine ideal. Accused of being out of date, he acknowledges the need for new tactics to defeat the Nazis, but reaffirms his own values.
Even at the level of its overall debate about ends and means, the film speculates dangerously for the time that a war may not be worth winning if it involves a fundamental sacrifice of principle by the just. Its wit holds at bay the sentimentality that many of its themes evoke; its wilful eccentricity takes it far beyond the confines of most cautionary propaganda. But in the end, it is this great film's elaborate anti-realist, almost allegorical structure that allows it to lament the loss of innocence suffered by both Candy and Britain, and to confront, with childlike wonder, the intimations of mortality.
Ian Christie (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger: Arrows of Desire)