The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp Reviews
The three central performances, by Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr and Anton Walbrook, are remarkable and the Technicolor cinematography is beautiful. An absolute joy.
Powell and Pressburger were one of the greatest creative teams cinema ever had. The script is wonderful, with spiky, cynic dialogue, beautiful camera work by the great George Perinal (Black Narcissus) and top performances by Anton Walbrook and Deborah Kerr (I didn't much like lead actor Roger Livesey, except in the third part).
So it shows its age, but only just. This is grand filmaking that can rival Hollywood's biggest studios and it is impeccably written.
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
3 stars +