Studio: The Criterion Collection
Cast: Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook, Deborah Kerr
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Release Date: March 19, 2013
Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:43m:00s
Genre(s): comedy, drama
"When I was a young chap, I was all gas and gators with no experience worth a damn. Now, tons of experience and nobody thinks I'm any use." - Clive Candy (Roger Livesey)
This beautifully restored British comedy has a great deal to say about aging and war without ever losing its light touch.
Movie Grade: A+
DVD Grade: A+
bThe Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is one of several great films from The Archers, the production company lead by joint writer-producer-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, perhaps most famous for the Technicolor marvel The Red Shoes. Content aside, the team were undisputed masters of the three-strip Technicolor process, whereby each scene was shot using three strips of film. Each of the strips was tinted a different color which, when combined, created an incredibly vivid, if slightly unreal, color array. The Red Shoes is a masterpiece of brilliant color; Colonel Blimp, with itís broader palette, is even moreso.
Deceptively simple in plot, Colonel Blip is based, rather broadly, on a then-popular newspaper strip by cartoonist David Low. The strip sharply parodied a stereotypical aged British officer...fat, jowly, making pronouncements from the sauna. Powell and Pressburger begin the film in that same sauna, in a broadly comic vein, with Roger Livesleyís aged, half-naked Major General Clive Wynne-Candy made a fool of by young soldiers during a training exercise during the Second World War. From there, we track back through Candyís life and career, beginning in 1902 with the Boer War, through military conflicts, a lost love that Candy can never quite leave behind, and a German friend with whom Candy is sporadically on the opposite side in war. What starts out as a parody gradually evolves into a comedy of manners, and then develops a wistful edge. The film does all this without you ever really noticing, and itís in the contrast of styles that Blimp succeeds so spectacularly. Clive Candyís entire life is informed by our knowledge of the end: of a sweaty old man, half passed-out in a sauna, refusing to countenance the young soldiers there to show him what they can do. Likewise, though, that final act is tempered by the facts of his life, and a life which was probably familiar at the time to many a British veteran officer.
Candy is mocked for his outdated honor and sense of regimentation. When the lads bust in, Candy is aghast that theyíve gotten a jump on the training exercise when ďThe war starts at midnight!Ē, and itís clear that both the young soldiers and his best friend, the German exiled officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, find the idea of an honorable and civilized war preposterous. As should we, I think, but thereís also the sense that his very British composure and decency, even if naive, deserves to be celebrated or at least respected. Itís all rather well-mirrored in Candyís life-long quest to replace the girl that got away...his sense of propriety allows his best friend to marry his great love. He loses without a fight, but he does so in honor of his friendship. In love or war, do rules make them more decent and mitigate the horror? Or do they encourage conflict by shielding sensibilities from the worst? Itís a very old conversation that happens around the margins, though, and never interferes with the filmís deceptively light touch. Similarly, the film stresses a heartbreaking but incredibly humanistic reminder about aging: it happens to all of us, and any of us lucky to live so long will find ourselves and our ways the object of ridicule by younger people who may or may not have better ideas, but certainly will believe that they do. Weíve all been the former, and are all destined for the latter. Itís a vanishingly rare film that is able to say so much without seeming to say much at all. Above all else, itís one of the best and kindest films about aging.
t's no surprise, but Criterion has created yet another masterful presentation. This is one of the most beautiful films of all time, and the three-strip Technicolor process that gives the film such vibrant color also made it an absolute bear to save and restore (each frame is comprised of three pieces of film, each of which may have its own age-related problems). Thankfully, a combined effort lead by Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation restored the film to a condition at least as good as that of the original presentation, and that's the version that we're seeing here. The work is flawless and seamless, with none of the excessively scrubbed or over-sharp fingerprints of a difficult digital restoration. It's a masterful bit of work. There are several extras to note, as well. First is an Introduction to the Film from Martin Scorsese, the most famous booster of the Powell and Pressburger oeuvre. He discusses the influence of the film on himself as well as his own work. Optimism and Sheer Will is an interview with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker. She has the distinction of being both the widow of director Powell, as well as Scorsese's go-to collaborator for decades, and so has a great deal of insight. Carryovers from the last Criterion release include a 1998 audio commentary with Scorsese and director Powell, still alive at the time. A 2000 British documentary, A Profile of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp discusses the film in general, and there are two Stills Galleries. Finally, there's a rather lovely 30-page booklet in the box with an essay from film critic Molly Haskell.
Colonel Blimp is a wistful comedy of manners that manages to be both bitingly funny and wonderfully humane. This is a great presentation: a beautiful film flawlessly restored, and a great selection of extras.
Posted by: Ross Johnson - May 12, 2013, 2:51 pm - DVD Review
Keywords: officer, military, german, boer war