The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

1943

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Critics Consensus

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96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 26

91%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 4,867
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Movie Info

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's much-lauded epic Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, which satirizes British traditionalism, stirred up impassioned hostilities and indignations among the Brits when released in 1943. It so infuriated Winston Churchill, in fact, that he refused to allow its exportation to other countries, particularly the U.S. When Blimp finally did premiere in the States in 1945, it screened in a drastically cut version. The sweeping story covers several decades. It begins at the tail end of the Boer War, when handsome young British officer Clive Candy, recently back from the battlefront, is infuriated by his discovery that Deutschland papers have played up the British atrocities in South Africa, propagandistically. He grows so irate, in fact, that he travels to Germany to address the problem. Once there, he meets an attractive British educator, Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr) who spends her days teaching English as a second language to German students. They grow close, but Candy so aggravates the local indigenes that he winds up in a duel with a German officer, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). The men wound each other and are sent to the same hospital, where they become friends. Candy - who doesn't yet realize he's fallen in love with Edith -- senses that Theo and Edith are attracted to one another, and encourages the couple's marital union. Candy subsequently returns to England, then falls for and marries Barbara (again played by Kerr), a nurse who bears a strong resemblance to Edith. She later dies, but Candy meets a third woman during WWII, Johnny (Kerr a third time), assigned to drive him from one locale to another during his campaigns. Meanwhile, Theo - disgusted by Nazi atrocities -- absconds to England, where he reencounters his old friend, now a prattering old shuffler rapidly approaching the end of his career and raving continuously about Nazi conduct (or lack thereof) in battle. Powell and Pressberger adapted Colonel Blimp from a comic strip; it became one of the hallmarks of their careers. ~ Sidney Jenkins, Rovi

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Cast

Roger Livesey
as Clive Candy
Deborah Kerr
as Barbara Wynne/Edith Hunter/Johnny Cannon
Anton Walbrook
as Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff
Roland Culver
as Col. Betteridge
James McKechnie
as Spud Wilson
Albert Lieven
as Von Ritter
Arthur Wontner
as Embassy Counsellor
Ursula Jeans
as Frau von Kalteneck
John Laurie
as Murdoch
Harry Welchman
as Maj. Davis
Reginald Tate
as Van Zijl
A.E. Matthews
as President of Tribunal
Carl Jaffe
as Van Reumann
Valentine Dyall
as Von Schonborn
Frith Branbury
as Babyface Fitzroy
Muriel Aked
as Aunt Margaret
Helen Debray
as Mrs. Wynne
Frith Banbury
as Babyface Fitzroy
Neville Mapp
as Stuffy Graves
Vincent Holman
as Club Porter, 1942
Spencer Trevor
as Period Blimp
James Thomas Lee Knight
as Club Porter, 1902
Dennis Arundell
as Cafe Orchestra Leader
David Ward
as Kaunitz
Jan Van Loewen
as Indignant Citizen
Eric Maturin
as Col. Goodhead
Robert H. Harris
as Embassy Secretary
Count Zichy
as Col. Berg
Jane Millican
as Nurse Erna
Thomas Palmer
as Sergeant
Helen Debroy
as Mrs. Wynne
Norman Pierce
as Mr. Wynne
Edward Cooper
as B.B.C. Official
Joan Swinstead
as Secretary
Wally Patch
as Sergeant clearing debris
Ferdinand "Ferdy" Mayne
as Prussian Student
John Boxer
as Soldier
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Critic Reviews for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (6)

Audience Reviews for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

  • Mar 10, 2013
    I love how this film's title just goes right ahead and spoils the fate of its titular character, or at least I would if this title was actually spoiling anything by bringing up the death of a character who is mentioned in the title, I don't know, for some kind of symbolic purpose or some junk like that, but actually hardly has anything to do with this film. Eh, whatever, I hear the real Colonel Blimp... who is actually a cartoon and not really real, was a jerk anyways, so it's not like the demise of this British Blimp is as tragic as the 1937 demise of a certain German blimp-like airship ("Oh, the humanity", and morbid sense of humor of Led Zeppelin!). Seriously though, you know a film has gotten really British when it starts randomly crowbarring in allusions to British media into its title, which of course makes it a shame that co-director Michael Powell couldn't achieve his ambition of further Britifying this film by getting the quintessential British thespian, the late, great Mr. Laurence Olivier, who was sadly too busy off being in active duty in the Fleet Air Arm during WWII. Yeah, that whole defending your nation with your very life thing can be a real bother sometimes, especially when you look at the fact that Olivier's efforts in the war were about as celebratory of Britain as his being in this film would have been, what with this film's being, according to Powell, "100% British"... outside of the French cinematographer, Hungarian writer/co-director, score by a Pole (Shoot, during WWII, where else in the world was Józef ?migrod-oh, I'm sorry, I mean, "Allan Gray", going to go?), and costume designs by a Czech. Yeah, maybe Powell should have punched in the numbers again, because this film doesn't quite sound 100%, tea-sippin', funky teeth-havin', near-superfluous monarchy celebratin', pip-pip-cheerioin' British to me, or at least it doesn't on paper, because when you see the final product, it's pretty much something that would make Colonel Blimp himself say, "Now that's just too British", then guffaw a couple of times, tip his hat, and ride off into the distance in his AC Cobra. I don't know how he would have had an AC Cobra in the 1940s, but he probably had it. British stereotype jokes aside, this film is indeed a good one, and yet, with that said, it's spoiling the death of a character who has nothing to do with anything is the least of its worries, as shocking as that may be to hear. I'm not asking for a grandly well-rounded mythology or anything like that, because regardless of what the sprawling 160-minute-minute might lead you to believe, this isn't exactly the richest of epics, yet development feels a bit too hurried in plenty of spots, much like certain other story aspects, which move along much too quickly, thus thinning out expository effectiveness at the hands of hurrying, of which, there is much too much for momentum to stay as tight as it should be. There's enough engagement value throughout the film to compensate for a lack of slow-down, but a major issue with the final product is nevertheless its constant foward momentum, which doesn't claim the entirety of the film, but keeps the final product flowing along too ceaselessly for you to find enough time to fully meditate upon exposition, let alone the transitions of the many plot layers. Again, this film isn't too rich of an epic, so it's not like its hefty plot is all the intricate, and that's partially why it's not quite as uneven as it could have been, but make no bones about it, this lengthy character study isn't exactly all-out straightfoward, as it very much and all too often reminds you through the usage of the aforementioned constant foward momentum to thin out layer transitions, almost to the point of obscurity, thus leaving you to near-inorganically jar back and forth throughout this story, sometimes through subplots, sometimes through whole story segements, often through tone, and consistently enough for the final product to come off as inconsistent, if not just plain convoluted. If you find the film convoluted, then chances are that you won't find it too exceedingly difficult to follow, but you would still be hard pressed to fully keep up with the final product, whose somewhat intricate plot is driven into consistency issues by pacing and structure issues that hurry the final product along just enough to ironically remind you of just how overblown the film is, at least on paper. There is just enough meat to this film's basic story concept for a reasonably lengthy runtime to be not only just, but all but commanded, yet at about 163 minutes, the final product finds itself overblown with excess plot layers and material that the film could have done without, or at least made work reasonably well if it wasn't so desperate to make up for time, well, tacked on by tightening up plot slow-downs, until what you end up with is a film that is mostly mere momentum, and therefore kind of aimless. There is enough that is done very much right in this film for it to reward in the long run, but this somewhat promising project falls short of what it could have been, thanks to its being both too bloated for its own good in story concept, and too tight for its own good in storytelling execution, thus leaving unevenness and aimlessness to ensue just enough for the final product to run the risk of slipping into underwhelmingness. Of course, the axe that is underwhelmingness that hands over the final product's head is never brought down, because as flawed as the film is, it accels just enough to compel and reward, or at least impress on a technical level. Even outside of the fact that this period piece only goes as far back as about 41 years prior to this film's release date of 1943, production designs aren't exactly all that outstanding, but when production value is, in fact, considerably played upon, while it's not phenomenal, it is impressive in its providing a visual reinforcement of time progression in this life study, which is further sold upon you by some, for their time, very impressive aging makeup effects, so the film is technically commendable, as surely as it is musically commendable, for although Allan Gray's score work isn't all that unique or remarkable, it is lively, with enough sweep and spirit to musical style and substance to do much as a supplement to the entertainment value that keeps consistent with this film, even when the other aspects fail to keep fully focused. The film's musical artistry is commendable, and when it comes to visual artistry, the film was outstanding at the time, and remains quite impressive today, as Georges Perinal puts then-underused Technicolor cinematography to very good use by delivering on about as much crisp definition as he could, complimented by rich coloring and striking lighting, thus making for a film that is consistently quite attractive, with moments that are stunning even to this day. The film wasn't exactly a sweeping revelation in technicality, but the technical value behind this film ranges from commendable to remarkable, even by today's standards, and such technical proficiency does quite a bit to get the film by as reasonably entertaining, while Michael Powell's and Emeric Pressburger's writing efforts help in getting the film by as genuinely compelling. This film's story concept isn't exactly all the original, it's certainly not quite as tight as it probably should be, but there is plenty of potential within this effort, and much of it is done justice to by the script by Powell and Pressburger, whose humorous touches often throw inconsistency within the film's tone, - especially when the film begins to grow more and more straightfaced, though never to where the threat of jarring shifts into humor is kept completely at bay - but are just as, if not more often effective, with charming wit and clever timing that livens up a story whose characterization touches are just as commendable, because even though this film stands to be more developed, it is able to flesh things out just enough to sustain your investment within a engaging roster of memorable characters. The storytelling of this film is sloppy, as is the story itself, to a certain degree, but there is enough value and inspiration behind the weaving of this tale for you to be compelled through and through, and that alone leaves the final product to reward as a character drama, with icing on the cake being strong performances, though not from everyone. Deborah Kerr may have been pretty and all, but she's hardly up to par with the rest of the cast in this film, being handed three role, each one of which underwhelm when it comes to the long run, with the Angela "Johnny" Cannon character's portrayal being mediocre, the Barbara Wynne character's portrayal being dodgy, and the Edith Hunter character's portrayal ranging from obnoxious to nearly unwatchable, so it's not like this film's characters are across-the-board worthwhile, but when it comes to the other members of this cast, there's plenty to commend, with the unevenly used Anton Walbrook charming as the intially confused German who knows very little English, and eventually grows into a wise but worried old man who Walbrook portrays with engrossing subtlety and grace, while Roger Livesey carries the film, maybe not as much as Laurence Olivier probably would have, but just enough to absorb the charisma and layers that define our lead Clive Candy character as a spirited and skilled military man who will face many changes as he ages through new, life-affecting experiences. The film stands to be leaner and meatier, because as things stand, the final product stands at underwhelmingness' doorstep, yet it doesn't quite fall through, going sustained just enough by inspired technicality, storytelling and acting to earn your investment and reward in the end. Overall, hurried bits in storytelling thin out development, and back up the long periods of near-exhausting foward momentum that drive unevenness into and convolute the film's progression, reflect just how bloated this story is on paper, and create some sense of aimlessness that almost drive the final product out of genuinene goodness, which is ultimately sustained, partially thanks to a fine score and such impressive technical touches as nifty production value and lovely cinematography, and largely thanks to the generally inspired story structuring, writing and acting - particularly that of the show-stealing Anton Walbrook and show-carrying Roger Livesey - that make "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" a worthwhile comedy-drama character study, which may have its problems, but is ultimately worth your time. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Feb 21, 2013
    The satire was a little lost on me. Perhaps it was the fact that I saw a particularly lousy copy and the only one I could find had a descriptive voice droning on in between the action. It was badly timed with a release during the war and Churchill was ticked. Seems harmless by today's standards. Maybe a bit too harmless.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 16, 2013
    Before I say anything of, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, I must credit this film with the greatest production design/ makeup I've ever seen. The restored version of this bursts with color. Comparable to The Tree of Life, filmed almost seventy years later, in the outstanding mixture of coloration. The film follows the three world wars that Clive Candy has been a part of, and what happens in between. I found the film was a bit too choppy at parts, and over extended the less important parts of a scene, and then kept the interesting part cut off. It was most certainly style over substance, but the style was near flawless. 3 stars +
    Daniel D Super Reviewer
  • Nov 18, 2012
    I'm amazed that this film was allowed to be made during the 2nd World War as it does a good job satirising the traditional code of conduct still in force by the old guard of the British establishment. However perhaps younger minds recognised that this was neccessary in a war where the enemy no longer played by the rules! The film is very long, especially for its day, but it is also an engrossing look at one man's course through the latter part of the 19th Century through to the middle of World War II. The fact that when we first meet Candy he comes across like a pompous old fool is exactly the point. We jump to the same conclusion that the young soldier does, Powell and Presburger aren't trying to present Candy as a hero, rather a gentleman soldier who doesn't move with the times. By the end the audience recognises that it would be lovely if a 'gentleman's code' still existed but that war, no matter how 'played', should never be considered a game and that the price on both sides is just too great. Watching it now there is a great nostaglia for all things British but also a sadness that almost 80 years on not much has actually changed.
    David S Super Reviewer

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