Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

First review

Every time I see this I am further boggled by the scope and depth of the project: a poignant epic about the passing of an Age of the world, dressed up as a satirical comedy. All of the Powell & Pressburger titles of the 1940s are magical; here they go all in.

It begins at the ending: "now" is 1943, the middle of the war in Britain. We have a wild road race with brief glimpses of Deborah Kerr as she tries to get to Gen. Clive "Sugar" Candy and warn him that the regular army is about to cheat at the war games against his Home Guard. Candy is in his Colonel Blimp phase: fat, bald, pompous, easily enraged and stuck with an outmoded code of honor.

We then jump back to previous decades and discover how he came to be. Roger Livesey is always a joy to watch. The makeup job is amazing:

Deborah Kerr appears as a different woman in every episode, but always as the loved one:

(Note the last photo. If you've seen the Foyle's War series, Honeysuckle Weeks plays a character with the same driving job, same uniform, same hair style and color).

First: 1902, young Boer War veteran Candy goes to Germany and provokes a duel over a political feud. Everything is imperial uniforms, elaborate codes of honor and honest anger over injustices. Unexpectedly, he makes a life-long friend.

Next: WW1, all mud and desolation. War is no longer romantic. The Americans have arrived, bringing a more utilitarian outlook, casual discipline, and no regard for military traditions.

After the war, time to fall in love, get married, and try to salvage friendships. It's not easy; did the War really end in 1919?

Then the build-up and start of WW2. A whole new world of total war where none of the old decencies apply. Candy is now old Colonel Blimp; does he belong anywhere? And we are back at the beginning and complete the original comic war game competition.

With this viewing it seemed to me that the events of history are different for every life, but in another sense everyone experiences the same passing of a World Age. We're young and vigorous and have it all figured out; forty years later we are fat and bald, railing about the failures of youth today and ridiculed by them in our turn.

This is a great, really great, movie about all that.

See some of the original criticism of the film, often hostile or bewildered.

Criterion DVD.

Second review

I reviewed this previously and will let my previous heartfelt comments stand. The wonderful Criterion Blu-ray is an excuse to visit it again.

As I said before, it is "a poignant epic about the passing of an Age of the world, dressed up as a satirical comedy". It is also intensely romantic: our hero meets his dream girl three times in his life. She is always Deborah Kerr at age 21, no matter how old he is. Once he marries her, but twice she belongs to another.

I'll see anything with Kerr or hoarse-voiced Roger Livesey. I'll see anything by Michael Powell.

Martin Scorsese is an obsessed Powell & Pressburger fan and seems to be the driving force behind this restoration. He supervises several good extras on the disc and says his own Raging Bull was much influenced by this film. I wouldn't have imagined that, but I'll be watching for it next time.

The Criterion Blu-ray has a combined commentary track with Scorsese and Powell watching the movie, although not together. Powell is sometimes a bit difficult to understand, but has some great reminiscences.

Churchill (a bit of a Blimp character, bless him) hated the project and wanted the film banned. The government didn't ban it, but neither did they help and Powell was told he would never get his Knighthood if he proceeded. He never did, although that might have something to do with Peeping Tom (1960).

Emeric Pressburger, a Hungarian Jew, was still classified as an enemy alien, even though he and Powell had been making patriotic films for years. The solution: open an account -- 37 pounds -- in a British bank. He got his papers immediately.