Friday, January 16, 2009

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

"The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (The Archers, 1946) Controversial film for the majority of its life, although looking at it now, one wonders what all the fuss was about.

"Colonel Blimp" was a political cartoon created by cartoonist David Low as a blow against pomposity and complacency, but writer/director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger ("The Archers") took the name and reputation and turned it into another animal altogether—an epic about manners, regimentation and the Rules of Engagement, both intimate and grandiose.

After serving in the
Boer War, Clive Wynne-Candy (the criminally forgotten Roger Livesey) is embroiled in a sword-duel with a German officer, Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook), which results in both men being wounded and a substantial recovery time in the same hospital. The two become friends, and while friendships may last, alliances do not, especially in the European history of the 20th Century. Times change, the borders of countries shift like Teutonic plates, but loyalties...what happens to them? It may seem an odd thing to focus on to American audiences (as we've always fought "dirty" in our wars, bending the rules of warfare to our advantage), but the British throughout that century struggled to maintain a decorum to war, which, if it were not so ingrained, must seem like a flight of fancy.*

"The criminally-forgotten Roger Livesey"

Flights of Fancy are what Powell and Pressburger do best. And despite mis-understanding by, primarily, Churchill (who must have thought it was about him), the film has been unfairly maligned, and expectations for it blown out of proportion. Satirical it is. But also a melancholy treatise on long life and outliving one's epoch. One walks in expecting brash and finds it sad and sweet. And cleverly inventive, in technique and story-line. Deborah Kerr (in a daunting screen debut) plays three women in Candy's life: the woman he gave away to a friend, the woman he married, and his driver during WWII—the arc of a love in three acts for women who resemble each other, if only in the mind of one man.

If nothing else, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" is amazing in its look--a Technicolor confection that pops off the screen, a mark of "The Archers."

*However...given the film begins with The Boer War, one can't help but use the word "decorum" a bit sarcastically given the British use of "scorched Earth" policies and concentration camps during that conflict.

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