Powell and Pressburger's first Technicolor masterpiece, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
(1943) transcends its narrow wartime propaganda remit to portray in warm-hearted detail the life and loves of one extraordinary man. The film's clever narrative structure first presents us with the imposingly rotund General Clive Wynne-Candy of the Home Guard (Roger Livesey in his greatest screen performance), a blustering old buffer with spreading handlebar moustache and stomach to match. Confronted by a youthful regular army Captain he seems the epitome of stuffy, outmoded values. But travelling backwards 40 years we see a different man altogether: the young and dashing officer "Sugar" Candy, just returned from earning a Victoria Cross in the Boer War. Through a series of affecting relationships with three women (all played to perfection by Deborah Kerr) and his touching lifelong friendship with a German officer (Anton Wallbrook), we see Candy's life unfold, and come to understand how difficult it is for him to adapt his sense of military honour to modern notions of "total war".
If Livesey's engaging Clive Candy is the film's heart, Anton Wallbrook's Theo is its conscience; his exile speech delivered to an uncomprehending immigration officer is a heartfelt tour de force made all the more poignant by the Austrian actor's own circumstances, as well as those of Hungarian scriptwriter Emeric Pressburger. Powell's technically masterful and innovative direction illuminates every scene, from the surprising camera move in the duel sequence to the hunting montage of stuffed animal heads on a wall. Notoriously, this is the film that Churchill tried to have banned, and indeed its sympathetic portrayal of a German officer was contentious in 1943, though one suspects that Churchill's own blimpishness was a factor too.
On the DVD: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp looks in excellent condition on this special edition DVD. The mono sound is crisp and the picture largely free of grain, allowing the subtle lighting and muted colours to be seen as intended. The main extra is a 25-minute documentary feature which tells us nothing revelatory about making the film, but has good new interviews with cinematographer Jack Cardiff (then an apprentice) and eloquent admirer Stephen Fry. Text biographies and stills are also included.--Mark Walker
In this Powell/Pressburger production set in World War Two Britain, stuffy ex-soldier Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) recalls his career which began as a dashing officer in the Boer War. As a young man he lost the woman he loved (Deborah Kerr, who plays three roles) to a Prussian officer (Anton Walbrook), whom he fought in a duel only to become lifelong friends with. Candy cannot help but feel that his notions of honour and chivalry are out of place in modern warfare. The film's title comes from 'Evening Standard' cartoonist David Low's satirical comic creation, Colonel Blimp.