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Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The (1943)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The (1943)
35mm, Technicolor, 163 mins
Written, Directed &Michael Powell &
Produced byEmeric Pressburger
Production CompanyArchers Film Productions, Independent Producers
PhotographyGeorges PĂ©rinal
MusicAllan Gray

Cast: Anton Walbrook (Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff), Deborah Kerr (Edith Hunter/Barbara Wynne/Angela Cannon), Roger Livesey (General Clive Wynne-Candy), Roland Culver (Colonel Betteridge), Harry Welchman (Major Davies)

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The life and loves of Colonel Wynne-Candy from dashing and brave young officer in the Boer War to foolish and old-fashioned old man in the Second World War.

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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was Powell and Pressburger's second feature for their new Archers production company, following "...One of Our Aircraft is Missing" (1942). The film was their most ambitious collaboration so far, loosely inspired by a popular cartoon series by David Low, lampooning the military establishment as personified by an ageing, buffoonish officer.

This was the first time that the duo had been able to make use of colour stock (although Powell had had a taste of Technicolor with Thief of Bagdad (1940)), and the film is notably short of the creative use of colour in their films after A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

Beginning in the present day with young officer Lieutenant "Spud" Wilson (James McKechnie) showing demonstrating his ambition and understanding of modern warfare when he steals a march on the ageing, complacent Colonel Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), during military exercises.

In flashback, the film follows Wynne-Candy's life and loves over forty years, from his beginnings as a dynamic and decorated young officer returning triumphantly from the Boer War, taking in the Great War, his long friendship with a German officer, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) and his attempt to find a replacement for the love he lost to his friend. Returning to the present, we find Wynne-Candy a confused and frustrated old man, unable to come to grips with the horrific realities of modern war.

Pressburger's script portrays, with a mix of sympathy and exasperation, a well-meaning but hopelessly out-of-date old man, who stubbornly fails to recognise the nature of the enemy and the cost of failure. The film is an implicit criticism of an officer class which insisted on seeing the war as a game, fought according to 'gentlemen's rules'.

The film so incensed Winston Churchill - who saw it as unpatriotic and a threat to morale - that he tried to have it banned and, when he failed, did his best to spoil its success overseas. Nevertheless, Blimp was a great success.

Roger Livesey, until then an all-but unknown contract player for Alexander Korda, managed to convey Wynne-Candy's development over forty years with the help of little more than make-up and a shaven head. In an early sign of the playfulness which would increasingly characterise the Archers' films, all three of the women in his life were played by the 21 year-old Deborah Kerr.

Mark Duguid

*This film is the subject of a BFI Film Classics book by A.L. Kennedy.

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Video Clips
1. 'War starts at midnight' (4:39)
2. Duel scene (4:03)
3. 'Enemy alien' (6:37)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Cardiff, Jack (1914-2009)
Culver, Roland (1900-1984)
Gray, Allan (1902-1973)
Junge, Alfred (1886-1964)
Kalmus, Natalie (1887-1965)
Kerr, Deborah (1921-2007)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Livesey, Roger (1906-1976)
Macnee, Patrick (1922-)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Pressburger, Emeric (1902-1988)
PĂ©rinal, Georges (1897-1965)
Unsworth, Geoffrey (1914-1978)
Walbrook, Anton (1896-1967)
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