The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
POWELL AND PRESSBURGER, 1943
5 STARS OUT OF 5
Take both the title and the opening scene, and you think you have a 2 hour, 40 minute comedy about a blow-hard and buffoon rising and falling in the British military. I'm glad I didn't do any research on this film prior to seeing it, it would've ruined the truth of the film, and a few paragraphs could've stolen this experience right out from under me. Because, in the end, Clive Candy is a decent if incredibly naive man out of which militarism and imperialism made a fool. Once his truth really sunk in with me, I started to wonder if, tonally, this was fundamentally sad-funny or funny-sad. But then, that's one of the great questions of life.
Powell and Pressburger flex a magic for humanizing the unthinkable in this film, and that's what has struck such a chord with me. It also apparently led them to a great deal of pain, insofar as you consider temporary censorship and the threat of never being knighted pain. You take a comic strip idiot colonel and say, No one is simply this. Who are they? Who were they?
And create this fanciful, charmed, if not doomed life for our Clive Candy. Then you take a German soldier, Theo, as your army fights the Nazis in WWII, and show that beyond the fighting, he's simply a man. A man that has complex thoughts on war and being. Then you take the newly-minted, fully realized Candy and the humanized Theo, and make them best friends
who touch base on and off throughout the years, and you get people to care about them in a lengthy war film that shows little of war and so much of the people, it's a great accomplishment. And I believed in their age differences a lot more than I did with The Irishman, too, a film made with the technology of 77 years later - maybe to its detriment.
There should also be a pause to think about the contributions of Deborah Kerr and her trio of characters who collectively bewitch and haunt Candy's life. The first, Edith Hunter, he gives up because his new best friend falls in love with her, and she with him, though later Candy realizes he was in love with her as well. The second is his wife, twenty years his junior now, as his ideal of her stays the same age as he gets older. The third, a woman soldier who works as his driver, the irony here being Edith in 1903 refusing to go back to England because she'd have no agency and could only be a wife or a governess who taught "good manners", when now a woman can serve in the armed forces and do quite a bit more than work in the home. Another rather progressive touch from the directorial duo. It also adds a sense of melancholy and nostalgia, seeing her throughout the movie, especially when she takes the third "Johnny" form and Theo looks upon her with longing now that his Edith version has passed and their two sons, what should still connect them, have become Nazis. It especially shows how Candy's concept of a great woman has changed as much as he has, which is to say, not at all. Love and the cost of war is on full display.
As I watched, I was easily most interested in the plot and the three primary actors, taking the look of the film a bit for granted. Still, a little further inquiry, and I'm starting to better understand what Technicolor was all about, how its color-saturated richness changed storytelling. It's hard to imagine Colonel Blimp in black and white considering his personality, the abundance of military khaki, and the overall tone of the film. It might be a film that provokes a bit of melancholy in me, but it's not black at all. It's like imagining a Wes Anderson film in black and white, hard to compute.
Fantastic picture, surprisingly deep and complex, and yes, funny and a bit sad.
Now, Antares, to what soliloquy were you referring? Theo detained by the British when seeking asylum? Theo on the morality of fighting the traditional way or no way at all? Or something else I haven't thought of?
I will also say about the rating that I did not expect to give anything five stars in this marathon because usually I need time to think things through, let it sink in. Like, months, maybe years. But, oh well, this is where I am with Colonel Blimp.