Ebert’s Greats – The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 173/409blimpTitle: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Director: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Year: 1943
Country: UK

Sometimes you get put off of watching a film because it has a ridiculous title. I mean how can you take a film seriously that is titled The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp? Well I certainly didn’t, which is one of the reasons (other than the general lack of time) that I had yet to get around to watching this film. The fact that the colonel in question is a rather dated reference to a satirical cartoon from the 1930s is something I only discovered having watched it.

In essence there are two main story threads that can be taken from the film that follows 40 years of a man’s military career. The first is of an army man who was never able to get over the love his life; the other of how warfare changed so much that those in the army all their life are unable to cope with the concept of sportsmanship no longer applying. Seeing how it was released in 1943 as London was under the siege of blitzkrieg there are, of course, anti-Nazi overtones… but this film is by no means a propaganda piece.

The most interesting thing about this film is the character of Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German military officer and best friend to the ‘Colonel Blimp’ character Clive Candy. Despite this being a very British affair of a movie whose humour is very reliant on a ‘comedy of manners’ scenario the film offers up a very sympathetic view of a German during the height of World War Two. Considering this fact it is possible to understand why Churchill sought to have this film banned from cinemas. He failed, but that didn’t prevent this film from having to spend years in the wilderness before being properly evaluated.

Towards the end of the movie Theo gives a short speech which would have probably been the great chagrin of Churchill. In it he delivers the main message of the movie; that Britain did not win World War One, Germany lost it. Due to this fact Britain had yet to learn how warfare had changed which was why Germany were able to be so dominant at that time. They were fighting for existence after years in of being a broken nation. The fact that Theo is vehemently anti-Nazi (to the point that his two “good Nazi” sons don’t speak to him) is unlikely to have taken the sting out of his speech… or his jibe that it took Britain 5 years to act against Hitler when the immigration officer chastises him for taking 8 months.

In many ways Theo (played by Austrian-born actor Anton Walbrook) is an ideal mouthpiece for the sentiment that sometimes to fight for existence you have to jettison valour. He is arguably the character who goes through the worst lot in the movie and Walbrook gives an excellent performance in this role. Then again so does Roger Livesey in his Clive Candy as his character moves from a dapper and handsome young upstart to something akin to a walrus. Then there is also Deborah Kerr (here only in her mid-20s but already commanding top-billing) who plays three characters during the 40-year span the movie takes place in, watching her here it is so easy to see how much of a star she was destined to be.

At a run-time of 163 minutes this film seemed to fly by, a definite recommendation for any fans of 1940s cinema.

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