TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 July 2014
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP  [The Criterion Collection Special Edition] [Blu-ray] [US Import] A Thrilling Lifetime of Courage and Love . . . In Triumphant Technicolor!
Considered by many to be the finest British film ever made, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is a stirring masterpiece like no other. Roger Livesey dynamically embodies outmoded English militarism as the indelible General Clive Candy, who barely survives four decades of tumultuous British history, 1902 to 1942, only to see the world change irrevocably before his eyes. Anton Walbrook and Deborah Kerr provide unforgettable support, he as a German enemy turned lifelong friend of General Clive Candy's and she as young women of three consecutive generations and a socially committed governess, a sweet-souled war nurse, and a modern-thinking army driver who inspire him. ‘Colonel Blimp’ is both moving and slyly satirical, an incomparable film about war, love, aging, and obsolescence, shot in gorgeous Technicolor.
FILM FACT: Winston Churchill, never gave up in his ban, especially refusing to let `The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' be exported to other countries until two years after the war ended, at which point it was only shown in a highly edited form. Audiences in the U.S.A. didn't see the film as Michael Powell intended it to be seen until some 40 years later. By then, of course, Winston Churchill had passed away, although he may have made one or two rotations in his grave upon Colonel Blimp's glorious reception by the critics. Making their second appearance in ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ were director Michael Powell's golden cocker spaniels, Erik and Spangle, who had previously appeared in ‘Contraband’ , and went on to be seen in the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger films ‘I Know Where I'm Going!’  and ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ [USA Title: Stairway to Heaven, 1946].
Cast: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Ursula Jeans, James McKechnie, David Hutcheson, Frith Banbury, Muriel Aked, John Laurie, Neville Mapp, Vincent Holman, Spencer Trevor, Roland Culver, James Knight, Dennis Arundell, David Ward, Valentine Dyall, A. E. Matthews, Carl Jaffe, Albert Lieven, Eric Maturin, Robert Harris, Arthur Wontner, Theodore Zichy, Jane Millican, Reginald Tate, Captain W. Barrett, Corporal Thomas Palmer, Yvonne Andre, Marjorie Gresley, Felix Aylmer, Helen Debroy, Norman Pierce, Harry Welchman and Edward Cooper (BBC Official)
Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Producers: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Composer: Allan Gray
Cinematography: Georges Périnal
Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio and 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 163 minutes
Number of discs: 1
Region: Region A/1
Studio: The Criterion Collection
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: British filmmaker Michael Powell is probably best known in the United States for directing the cherished ballet melodrama, ‘The Red Shoes’ , a picture that many consider to be his greatest work. But Americans shouldn't be too surprised that Michael Powell and his producing partner, Emeric Pressburger. Their other masterpiece, ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ , was the subject of considerable scorn in England when it was first released, even though British were the only viewers who seemed truly capable of grasping its stiff-upper-lip form of satire.
As is so often the case with a Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film, ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ boasts stellar production values. Michael Powell shot the picture in glorious Technicolor, a genuine rarity during the war years, since Technicolor film stock was so hard to come by. Although Colonel Blimp features a terrific cast, cinematographer Georges Périnal's vibrant Technicolor imagery adds greatly to the picture's overall effectiveness. He was a hugely talented visual stylist.
Set over a period of several years, ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ follows the exploits of a British Army officer named General Clive Candy [Roger Livesey]. In a manner that's somewhat reminiscent of ‘Citizen Kane’ , Michael Powell jumps around in the narrative as he examines General Clive Candy's often dismayingly dignified approach to both war and romance. General Clive Candy ages from a young participant in the Boer War into a conservative member of the Old Guard, all while pining for his one true love [Deborah Kerr, portraying three different characters]. Along the way, Michael Powell also traces General Clive Candy's ongoing relationship with a Prussian military officer Anton Walbrook.
Those who are young, eventually become old. It's an unshakeable inevitability of life, and it's rarely a painless process. Forced to watch the world grow and evolve around us, some choose to embrace the changing tides; while others instead hold firm to the past, stubbornly maintaining faded principles in the face of ambiguous progress. But even the most proud and obstinate of personalities can't fight off the looming shadow of approaching obsolescence forever, or can they? Those who are young eventually become old. It's an unshakeable inevitability of life, and it's rarely a painless process. Forced to watch the world grow and evolve around us, some choose to embrace the changing tides; while others instead hold firm to the past, stubbornly maintaining faded principles in the face of ambiguous progress. But even the most proud and obstinate of personalities can't fight off the looming shadow of approaching obsolescence forever, or can they? From the celebrated cinematic duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' presents an epic story fuelled by high drama, tender romance, playful satire, and the bittersweet passage of time. A genuine masterpiece of filmmaking, the picture holds a secure place among the medium's most treasured classics, proving that some so called relics never become outdated., 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' presents an epic story fuelled by high drama, tender romance, playful satire, and the bittersweet passage of time. A genuine masterpiece of filmmaking, the picture holds a secure place among the medium's most treasured classics, proving that some so called relics never become outdated.
Very loosely inspired by David Low's original “Colonel Blimp” comic strips, the story follows the life of General Clive Candy [Roger Livesey], a traditional British soldier who gradually finds himself out of sync with shifting wartime philosophies. Told in a flashback structure, the narrative chronicles General Clive Candy's misadventures from 1902 – 1942, periodically checking in on the incorrigible gentlemen as he navigates growing British/German hostilities and two World Wars. All the while, General Clive Candy maintains a deep friendship with a German officer [Anton Walbrook], and continues to pine over a lost love [Deborah Kerr] whose face he repeatedly sees in different women throughout his life. With the old "chivalrous" modes of warfare being phased out, General Clive Candy will eventually have to change with the times, or finally accept his tragically and sometimes comically obsolete status.
Critics often speak of certain actors being born to play specific roles, and in the case of Roger Livesey's remarkable turn as General Clive Candy, that sentiment has never been more appropriate. One of classic cinemas most unique and memorable creations, the character is a headstrong, old fashioned relic whose persona brilliantly walks the fine line between satirical distortion and endearing sincerity. Bawdy and refined all at once, General Clive Candy comes to represent the whole of a dying breed, and Roger Livesey injects the epic role with a larger-than-life bluster that's perfectly counteracted by a surprising undercurrent of sensitive pathos.
Playing the part in three distinct time periods, the actor crafts a convincing, gradual transformation that hits all the right transitional beats. Everything from his distinct voice to the very way he carries himself, is flawlessly honed in to accentuate the role's impetuous elegance and gallant sense of outdated honour and his growing moustache, receding hairline, and expanding belly (all realized by some great make-up), only serve to further embellish the man's strong internal flair. Admittedly, when we first meet the character, already an old man, his look and manner seem exaggerated and over-the-top, but by the time the flashback structure comes full circle, Roger Livesey totally sells the performance, effectively revealing the beating heart that rests beneath General Clive Candy's farcical outer shell. A lesser actor may have overplayed the part, but Roger Livesey so effortlessly steps into the General's shoes, that it seems as if they were tailor made for him to begin with and as guided by the masterful hands of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the results are nothing short of iconic.
At the core of the runtime is an insightful examination of evolving (or perhaps devolving) battlefield strategies, pitting classic "gentlemanly" British militarism against the decidedly less honourable tactics of the first and second World Wars. An old soldier in the midst of a new kind of conflict, General Clive Candy refuses to let go of his increasingly anachronistic principles, and this leads to some legitimately provocative questions. The narrative's key thematic quandary challenges the protagonist's idealistic concept of "right is might" and forcing the character, and the audience, to consider a less admirable approach. If the opposition is unwilling to play by the so-called rules of engagement, must one then fight like the enemy in order to survive?
There are of course no easy answers, and this plot point actually proved to be very controversial during the film's production in 1942. In fact, the script generated heated opposition from the British military who did not take kindly to the implication that they might have to fight like Nazis in order to win the war. It's a complicated and morally ambiguous issue, and while the old-fashioned, broad storytelling style does limit some of the screenplay's depth and nuance, Emeric Pressburger handles the material with a skilful hand, and balances these weighty concepts with light-hearted farce and poignant humanity.
Expanding its range beyond just warfare, the movie also becomes a playful satire focused on the amusing minutia of manners and protocol. Through an elegant silliness, the filmmakers cleverly poke fun at the inherent absurdities of polite conflict. Furthering this end, Emeric Pressburger's dialogue is full of hilariously dry observations and densely packed, witty conversations. As a whole, a certain prim and proper quirkiness permeates throughout the runtime, and even the most minor characters are all layered with a sly sense of sardonic personality.
The film's influential duel scene is a particularly good example of this sharp satirical style. As General Clive Candy gets ready to do battle against a German soldier he has offended, his superiors meet the opposition to discuss the complicated ins and outs of their duel. While both parties go over the ridiculous rules and regulations, they maintain an almost absurd level of cordial civility, discussing the potentially deadly conflict as if they've merely gotten together for tea and crumpets. Likewise, the actual preparation for the battle follows in similar suit, and after showing an extended sequence detailing the pre-duel rituals, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger then completely subvert expectations by quickly transitioning away from the actual fight. The filmmakers realise that the battle itself isn't what's interesting; it's the complicated groundwork and paradoxical courtesy that's really fascinating and incredibly entertaining.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, is a quietly staged scene that features a soft spoken monologue beautifully delivered by Anton Walbrook. As Theo mourns over his great losses, Powell opts to present a large chunk of the sequence as one undisturbed shot, gracefully pushing the camera in and out to emphasize the emotional arc of the character's words. It's a carefully understated bit of direction that subtly enhances the mood, while still allowing Anton Walbrook's heart-breaking performance to take centre stage. The movie is littered with similarly delicate or alternatively brash stylistic choices, and together they help to create an irresistible sense of motion picture wonder.
Widely revered as one of the greatest British films of all time, 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' easily lives up to its lofty reputation. A melancholy lamentation on changing times, a thoughtful rumination on war-time ethics, a touching romance, a hilarious satire, and a thoroughly ambitious character study all rolled into one stunning Technicolor marvel, this really is one of cinema's crown jewels. General Clive Candy is a masterful creation, and Roger Livesey delivers a performance so assured in its blustery bravado and heart-warming intimacy, that it feels both larger-than-life and perfectly natural all at once. Through the decades spanning tale of a stubborn general's trials and tribulations in love and war, the film tells the epic story of a young fool who becomes a grand old man or perhaps, a grand young man who becomes an old fool. After all, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's charmingly satirical world, I'm not so sure that there's a difference.
Winston Churchill, who detected a lot of himself in the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger version of “Colonel Blimp,” was outraged by the film. Given the gentle handling of Anton Walbrook's character, there was even concern that the picture was pro-German! Winston Churchill's Minister of War, Sir James Grigg, tried to nip the entire enterprise in the bud, when after reading the screenplay, he refused to loan Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger any form of military gear for filming. That however didn't stop the producers. As Michael Powell later wrote in his autobiography: "I have often been asked how we managed to obtain military vehicles, military uniforms, weapons and all the fixings after being refused help by the War Office and the Ministry of Information. The answer is quite simple: we acquired them by whatever means possible" Apparently, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger had enough friends in high places to scrounge together everything they needed to make the film.
Blu-ray Video Quality – ‘The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp’ is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. On widescreen televisions, black bars will appear on the left and right of the image to maintain the proper screen format. The digital master presented here was made from The Foundation’s 2012 restoration. For the restoration, the original 35mm three-strip Technicolor negatives were scanned at 4K resolution on an Imagica wetgate scanner at Point360 in Los Angeles, California. But I can tell you that the 1080p image transfer is absolutely stunning and is remarkably pristine, very fine detail, and vibrant, this is a very impressive and wonderfully faithful video presentation. The print has been painstakingly restored, and outside of some very minor specks and colour pulsing here and there, the source is nearly immaculate. In fact, there are several stretches (particularly the opening motorcycle scene) that appear so spotless and clear that they almost look like they could have been shot yesterday. Though not as prominent as I was expecting, a very light layer of grain has been preserved. If DNR was applied to the image, its use was judicious, and has not resulted in any negative detail damaging side effects.
From the moment the film begins, it's readily apparent that one is in for a real visual treat. The main title sequence depicts a series of sewn tapestries, and the image proves to be impeccably rendered, revealing every tiny thread of needlework in the textiles. From there, clarity remains strong and consistent throughout, delivering the Archers' gorgeous visuals with life-like dimension. Fine details are often so apparent, that limitations in the production's make-up and effects are actually exposed (one can clearly see the pasted on edges of Roger Livesey's receding wig, for instance). The Technicolor cinematography shines beautifully, with rich saturation and bold primaries and especially the reds and blues. With that said, there are a few scenes that look comparatively dull and faintly washed-out. Contrast is steady throughout, with inky blacks and even whites (though the final shot is a little blown out). As further enumerated in the included restoration demonstration, the Film Foundation has really done a brilliant and astounding job here. Damage has been dutifully cleaned away while still preserving the movie's cinematic integrity, repairing this timeless classic back to its original vibrant glory. While there are some very minor flaws here and there, this is a true standout release, and pure demo material for classic cinema on Blu-ray. And if you have always been curious to know what a real Technicolor image is like, well this is definitely up there at the top and you would think the film was made in the 21st Century, it is that stunning.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The audio soundtrack was digitally restored from the original monaural optical soundtrack by Audio Mechanics in Burbank, California. It is presented in a 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio track with optional English subtitles. Though limited by its age, this is a very solid mix that's free from any major technical issues. For the most part, dialogue is clean and reasonably full. Likewise, effects work and music are handled well within the single channel, maintaining a proficient dynamic range. With that said, when there is a lot activity in the track, there are a few instances where frequencies start to muddle together a bit, making speech just a hair difficult to discern. This is particularly true of an early scene between General Clive Candy and Edith in a café where some of the background sounds can make it a tad hard to hear their conversation. Thankfully, this is a very minor concern, and the majority of the presentation is quite strong for its age. Background hissing is audible in the main title sequence and several scenes throughout, but does not prove to be a major distraction. Modest but technically sound, the mix is faithful and fitting, preserving the film's sharp dialogue and wistfully romantic musical theme.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
NEW digital master from the Film Foundation's 2012 4K restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition.
Audio Commentary: Commentary featuring director Michael Powell and filmmaker Martin Scorsese: Recorded in 1988, this is a welcome but not quite exceptional track. The audio transitions from Scorsese to Powell throughout, but sadly they appear to have been recorded separately, and there is no actual back and forth between the two. Scorsese elaborates on his great love for the movie while frequently analysing the director's visual style and influence on his own works. Powell actually takes over the brunt of the commentary, and while his speech is slow and a tad slurred and he was 83 at the time and sadly would pass away just two years later. The famed filmmaker offers relevant bits of production trivia, describes how certain shots were accomplished, commends his various collaborators, and points out the amusing hats that Deborah Kerr wears. He also addresses the British government's opposition toward the film, and talks mostly of their concerns up to misunderstanding. There are a few lengthy gaps in the track, but it's still a worthwhile and enlightening listen.
Special Feature: Introduction by Martin Scorsese  1080p] [16:9] [14:00] Presented with 2.0 Dolby Digital audio sound, this is a video introduction with filmmaker Martin Scorsese that was recorded in 2012. After a quick preamble, Martin Scorsese launches straight into production trivia, detailing the casting process and the difficulties that arose due to the British government's resistance to the script. The film's various butchered edits are also addressed, and Martin Scorsese shares a story about how the film's famous duelling scene directly inspired an important sequence in 'Raging Bull.'
Special Feature Documentary: A Profile of ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’  [1080i] [24:00] Presented in an upscale image, and this is a documentary produced in 2000 that chronicles the film's production and impact. Participants include filmmaker and grandson of Emeric Pressburger, Kevin Macdonald ['The Last King of Scotland'], and actor Stephen Fry, who all discuss the film's characters, plot, and style. Legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who served as a second unit cameraman on the shoot, is also featured, and reveals how his work on the film's famous trophy head sequence got him the job as DP on the Archers' next film.
Special Feature: Restoration Demonstration [1080p] [16:9] [5:00] Here, Martin Scorsese returns to walk us through the picture's impressive restoration. The filmmaker discusses the original Technicolor process and then details the digital techniques used to repair the source prints. Before and after shots are also shown, revealing the hefty damage, wear, and other visual anomalies that were carefully cleaned away.
Special Feature: Optimism and Sheer Will [1080p] [29:00] In this lengthy and informative interview recorded in 2012, Academy Award® winning editor and widow of Michael Powell, Thelma Schoonmaker, describes how she met the director and discusses the film's long-lasting themes.
Special Feature: Stills Gallery [1080p] Featuring an extensive gallery of rare production stills, behind-the-scenes production stills, and promotional materials is included. Some relevant facts and bits of trivia are also provided in between the various images.
Special Feature: David Low's Colonel Blimp [1080p] Two galleries, titled "David Low and Colonel Blimp" and "Cartoons," offer examples of cartoonist David Low's original Colonel Blimp comic strips, which served as a very loose inspiration for the film.
BONUS: A beautiful 26 page booklet, which contains cast and crew lists, some beautiful colour stills from the film, and featuring a new essay on "The Life and Death and Life of Colonel Blimp" by critic Molly Haskell, who gives a celebratory essay on the very in-depth information and especially on the background of this 1943 masterpiece, and will give you lots of valuable insights, especially with this extra excellent written material.
Finally, this new Blu-ray edition of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ doesn't just miraculously restore the visual beauty of this great film (perhaps as great, in its own very British way, as Citizen Kane did in America). It also comes loaded with context that reminds us of its decades-long slog through the desert of severe, sloppy editing-down and messy, incomplete, technically deficient prints, reminding us how fortunate we are to have it at all, let alone in a version as complete and gorgeous as this. The film itself is, of course, a treasure and the intimate-epic story of General Clive Candy (the wonderful over the top Roger Livesey), one representative scion of a stiff-upper-lipped, ultra-civil Englishness who ever more clueless and touchingly, maintains those values through two World Wars that prove (or at least render) them obsolete, all while he pursues his Ideal Woman (Deborah Kerr, in three roles) and becomes unlikely, lifelong friends with the "enemy" in the form of his less-fortunate German opposite number Anton Walbrook. This was Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's first Technicolour film, and its supremely well-integrated and imaginative use of the Technicolor images and such, that it's hard to decide whether its look, the cleverness and affectionate humour around the principled but blowhard-ish Colonel, and its surprise layers of deep emotional impact, or its brilliant structure, and definitely done not for show, but to most effectively bring out and develop the senses of melancholy and loss that come with the passing of time over a whole life) are its highest achievement. What is certain, though, is that whether you appreciate one of those qualities more on this viewing and another of its many accomplishments on the next, there will always be a happily anticipated next time watching it for as long as you're around to revisit the classic films in your collection, of which this Blu-ray is an essential part. ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ is a long-lived masterpiece whose riches at every level are well-nigh inexhaustible. On top of all that, I never really got to see this either in the cinema or on British Television, especially with this type of film; they always put it on a Sunday afternoon. Well I am so glad I waited for this ultimate Criterion Blu-ray disc, as it is the most awesome Technicolor film I have seen in a very long time, apart from the awesome my 3D Blu-ray presentation of `The Wizard of Oz.' So if you want to see perfection of not only amazing stunning images, but also the first class English and European Actors, so much so I am so proud I have now added this to my ever increasing The Criterion Collection Blu-ray library, as I know you will get a 100% perfection, that will blow you away. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom