The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
May 12, 2024 11:00 AM - Subscribe

From the Boer War through World War II, a soldier rises through the ranks in the British military.

Molly Haskell: Though more delicate than Wendy Hiller (Powell’s first choice for the role), Kerr’s three women are, in different ways, just as strong-minded as Hiller in I Know Where I’m Going!, or the intrepid Sim in A Canterbury Tale, incipient feminists who provoke as much as they charm. Kerr, in her second persona, as the society lady who becomes Candy’s wife right after World War I, is more conventional. Their life is a round of international diplomatic parties; she goes along with his sporting life and dies young. But she, too, is possessed of an insight he lacks. And the spirited Angela, Candy’s driver in the final episode, refuses all romantic notions of womanhood, and takes an active role in pushing him out of retirement. Theo, who has fled Germany to live in England, is both intrigued and sorrowful at the brash charm of this “new woman.” At one point, Candy takes Theo into his den to show him a portrait of the dead wife who so marvelously resembled Edith. The painting has pride of place over the mantel but is surrounded by the heads of antelope, deer, buffalo—the booty from Candy’s hunting expeditions. Theo expresses surprise at the placement (which gives new meaning to the term trophy wife), but Candy affirms with satisfaction that Barbara wanted it there, in the room where her husband would spend most of his time.

When pressed as to whether she doesn’t bear a startling resemblance to their Edith, Theo gently and ironically reminds his friend that Edith and he faded and grew old together, that when she died she was no longer the ravishing young woman of his memory. This rueful, fatalistic insight is beyond the ever-innocent Candy’s imagination. Unbowed by grief or complexity, he keeps moving forward. He now has for his driver a beautiful redhead who’s brasher and more modern than his first two loves but is otherwise their spitting image. Thanks to this magical coincidence, his love will remain forever young, forever fair.

Mattie Lucas/: There's something decidedly elegiac about the film. It's a heartbreaking study of aging and obsolescence in the face of modernity, but also a paean to a generation of heroes. Candy is facing an enemy he doesn't understand, an enemy that refuses to play by the rules and threatens to engulf the world. The world has indeed changed, but not for the better. Candy is a relic from a simpler time, but here he is not a man to be put out to pasture, he is a man to be honored and thanked, even as the world marches on. It is said that the film's view that strict adherence to traditional warfare would lose Britain the war cost Powell and Pressburger their knighthood. While not forbidden to make the film, they were strongly encouraged not to. It's interesting watching the film now, knowing that the British government considered the film unpatriotic, when nothing could be further than the truth. Candy's methods may be outdated but the film itself is a celebration of the British spirit.

Virginia Wilson: Colonel Blimp is to English cartoons what Dick Tracy is to American comic strips. He's a blustering old gentleman who believes wars are won on the fields of Eton. In this picture, however, he is metamorphosed into a romantic figure, and his name is changed to Clive Candy.

. . .

Candy is still a sportsman of the old school, fighting a kid glove war. But Theo and and the pretty chaffeur's boy friend teach him that this war is not a 'pukka sahib' affair.

"Colonel Blimp" manages to be both leisurely and exciting. It is definitely worth seeing.

posted by Carillon (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is such a good movie. I really can't believe how much I enjoyed it, and how beautiful this film is. You get the arc of his life, and this who understand of who's this old man, to really believing you know him. It's such a trick to start with the bath fight scene. And then that beautiful transition from old to young, what a shot!

You understand too the Scorsese quote about De Niro: “He was questioning Michael that night, asking all about the weight gain and the use of padding and the balding and the ageing 40 years in the picture. He was asking: ‘How? How? How?’ And Michael finally said to him: ‘It’s called acting.’” Scorsese laughed. “Obviously, they had different styles...”

The aging makeup is so good. It makes it hard to accept the bad aging you see in a lot of projects when you know it can be done so well!

The technicolor print too is luminous. The frame glows in such a beautiful way. There's obviously a trend these days towards 100% fidelity, but it helps you understand why it's not always desired, when shots can look like this.

Then there's the beautiful friendship between Livesey and Walbrook. I think it is the central relationship of the film, and drives forward you own understanding of Candy. It's beautiful to see such a deep male friendship, and I loved how it was portrayed.
posted by Carillon at 11:09 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]

Theo's speech always makes me tear up.
posted by carsondial at 12:35 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

Colonel Blimp is to English cartoons what Dick Tracy is to American comic strips. He's a blustering old gentleman who believes wars are won on the fields of Eton. In this picture, however, he is metamorphosed into a romantic figure, and his name is changed to Clive Candy.

This detail confused the hell out of me when I first saw it; I was following the story fine, but for much of the film I kept wondering "okay, I'm following Candy's story, but when are we going to meet this Blimp guy?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:21 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

Did that take you out of it? I'm curious because it was so engrossing, even that first parts really drew me in. Did that distract you enough from the movie to color your reactions?
posted by Carillon at 6:05 PM on May 12

Not really, it was more of an occasional "wait, where's Blimp?" It also helped me kick-start the blog entry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 PM on May 12

This film really blew me away. I think you can easily approach older films expecting something a little staid, but this is not that at all. By setting up what appears to be a blundering fool at the start, a relic who is past his time, we then have our expectations dashed. We see the full life he has lived, and how many deeply admirably qualities he has. Maybe his ideas are out of date, but he does deserve our respect
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:47 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]

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