The film is told in flashback and covers the time period from 1902, well before World War I, to 1943, near the end of World War II. In that time the world went through major changes most specifically in the way wars were fought. Clive Candy (played by the hoarse-voiced actor Roger Livesey) is a relic of the past. He is a soldier who defines war by a 19th century paradigm in which war was considered a gentleman's game - an old-fashioned way of thinking about modern combat.
The film is based on a comic strip called "Colonel Blimp," created in England by David Low in the 1930s that was both sarcastic and frequently harsh about the old British imperial attitudes that defined the late 19th century conservative men of the military. But even though Powell and Pressburger clearly satirize the old guard they also give the film a romantic angle by memorializing the main character while also pitying him.
Starring alongside Roger Livesey - who in a marvelous performance manages to get fatter and grayer as the film goes on - are Anton Walbrook who plays a German soldier who becomes Clive's best friend, and Deborah Kerr who plays three roles which cover three primary periods in Clive's life; as a young man, as an aging soldier, and as an elderly man. In each time period she represents the ideal woman for him.
Like all of the Powell/Pressburger films, this one has a masterful use of cinematic language. There are impressive editing techniques, striking shot selections (in Technicolor), grand use of music, wonderful acting, and a strong and sometimes witty script.
An example of this mastery comes when Clive and Theo are preparing to fight a sword duel in a large building. Powell sets up the scene in a very deliberate manner using the space in the building and the editing to build tension. But right as the duel begins the camera goes up into the air, floats away into the snowy night sky, and comes down to a carriage, which waits for Clive.
Virtuosity aside, this duel sequence turns out to be the pivotal scene for the entire film because it sets the stage for the rest of Clive's life, specifically in the way he faces danger with a sense of genial spirit and deprecation - an attitude that will win him friends but lose him wars.
The team of Powell (who directed) and Pressburger (who wrote the scripts) created many great films such as The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and A Matter of Life and Death. This film doesn't quite have all of the magic of those others - some scenes linger a little too long - but it is certainly better than any old run-of-the-mill epic and is more than worth a look whether you are a fan of their work or have never heard of them.
The Criterion Collection DVD of the The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp adds a lot to the film. Included are an informative and astute commentary track - comments were recorded separately and spliced together - by Martin Scorsese and the late Michael Powell. There is also a 24 minute video-documentary about the film as well as a selection of David Low's "Colonel Blimp," cartoons and a good number of production stills from the film.
Run time: 163 mins
In Theaters: Friday 4th May 1945
Production compaines: The Rank Organisation, The Archers, Independent Producers
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Director: Michael Powell
Screenwriter: Emeric Pressburger
Starring: Roger Livesey as Major General Clive Wynne-Candy, Deborah Kerr as Edith Hunter, Anton Walbrook as Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, Roland Culver as Col. Betteridge, James McKechnie as Spud Wilson, Arthur Wontner as Embassy Counsellor, David Hutcheson as Hoppy, Ursula Jeans as Frau von Kalteneck, John Laurie as Murdoch, Harry Welchman as Major Davies
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