Sunday, June 12, 2011

Capsule Review: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a tough sell for a modern audience. Based on a wartime comic strip detailing the simplistic, often pompous views of a moustached (and typically British) Colonel, the film begins with a wraparound segment displaying the titular character (never referred to as "Blimp" in the film) being upstaged in a training exercise by a group of young soldiers who have ignored the rules of combat, believing that following order against an enemy who does not is senseless. It's a comical, emotionally charged beginning, but one that leads into a flashback, detailing how the young Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) developed into the bald, comical figure through his experiences from the turn of century, through World War 1, and finally back into World War 2. The emotional depth given to the character is astounding, as we see him develop a lifetime friendship with the German Theodor Kretschmar-Schul­dorff (a brilliant Anton Wal­brook) while regretting the loss of his love Edith Hunter (Deb­o­rah Kerr, who is excellent in multiple roles). When we finally return to modern day (meaning 1942), all of the actions from the beginning are replayed but are through an entirely new perspective and given much more resonance. Directors Michael Pow­ell and Emeric Press­burger took a caricature and - over a period of a very brisk 160 minutes - slowly add flesh and substance to him until we are left as shaken and devastated by his eventual realization - that his simplistic views on life and combat have been usurped by a younger generation -  as the character himself. This is an expertly acted and paced film, filled with dry (and enduring) British humor that ranks among the very best of the time. Tragically edited for American release - which was itself delayed because of objections from Winston Churchill - and often only seen in battered prints, the gorgeous technicolor cinematography and expert film-making can now be appreciated fully on DVD and Blu-Ray. A wonderful achievement, and a movie that any cinema lover should make time for.

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