The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

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Another month, another fine film viewed from my list of 12 Classics for 2016/ the Blind Spot Challenge.

This is a highlight of my movie year and one of the best films I’ve ever seen: a moving, beautifully structured, sprawling wartime epic documenting the military career and closest relationships of Clive Candy (Roger Livesey). From 1902 through 1942 we follow Clive through battle and heartbreak, along the threads of his longing for a romance as meaningful as the love he lost (Deborah Kerr, doing a fine job playing three women in Clive’s life), and his strong friendship with a German (Prussian) officer Theo (Anton Walbrook). It’s a joy to watch these well-developed, complex characters grow and change as they cross paths on the shifting emotional and historical landscape. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s skillful filmmaking and these actors’ excellent performances make their intertwined journeys warm, darkly satirical, painful and sweetly sentimental, and their situations, philosophies and conflicts pose serious questions about how far ideals like fair play, decency, civility and friendship can survive as societies and wars become more ruthless and less concerned with tradition, individuals or decorum.

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Clive’s fight with a young soldier kicks off this grand flashback, which includes such milestones as the gorgeously staged duel scene where Clive and Theo meet as enemies, subsequent meetings where their bond deepens, Clive’s marriage to the uncanny lookalike of the “one that got away,” Theo’s choice to leave his homeland for England, and more, all depicted with such truth and colour that the experiences and life cycles are made universal. Life seems so long and its possibilities limitless but we see here how it all goes by so quickly. The new generation doesn’t understand the cranky, loud old buffoon Clive spouting values that seem obsolete, but he still feels, thinks, acts like the vital young man facing decisions whose consequences have long since played out. I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen that captures so well and delightfully the feeling of nostalgia, the poignancy of time passing, the realization in a moment that it will change life’s course, as well as the recognition, decades later, of a moment that turned out to be a major crossroads.

Click here to see many more bloggers talk about their film discoveries in the Blind Spot Series hosted by Ryan McNeil of The Matinee.

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12 thoughts on “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)”

      1. I have it on my phone, and I watch it all the time. Besides being SO in love with Edith Hunter (sigh), it hits me well in the age that I am. There aren’t many masculine films that touch on the emotional lives of men, and that do it with both candor and humour.

        I am also a big fan of the time periods touched on…such a dream film.

        1. That is a great point, about the great way this movie looks at male bonding and emotions, with just the right amount of sentimentality and humour. It is a dream, and so universal, relates to all and how we feel when we realize time is flying…

  1. I completely agree. Like you said, I can’t think of another film that captures nostalgia and passing time quite like this one. Plus, it’s gorgeous to look at and would be worth it for that alone, even if the story (and acting and directing and costumes) weren’t utterly fabulous.

    You’ve made me itchy to see this one again.

    1. I will 100% be rewatching this soon, and so glad I finally saw it. Agree about the fabulous magical colour and look of it. It’s one of those films you just know from the opening scenes it will be special, and makes you cry like a kid who dropped their ice cream cone on the sidewalk.

  2. This is truly a great film, one I discovered for the first time this year as well. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about it. It’s probably the quickest 3-hour movie I’ve ever seen.

      1. It’s brilliantly constructed, just amazing… I really think this is one of those films that will mean different things to people depending on where they are in their lives (age-wise) when they see it.

        1. Absolutely, moves you most (I imagine) when you’re at the point in life when you become the “older” people and have more past to look back on! oh, nostalgia..

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