Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) is a film by the British writer-director-producer team of Powell & Pressburger under the banner of The Archers, starring Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr and Anton Walbrook.
- "An unforgettable story of forty gallant years!" - Poster tagline
The film begins with a British Home Guard exercise during the Second World War, where Major General Clive Wynne-Candy is 'captured' by soldiers who have decided to stage the exercise using unfair tactics rather than fair ones, as they believe this is how the Germans would fight the war. We then see Candy's life in flashback.
As a young officer in London, on leave from the Boer War in South Africa, he decides to counter anti-British propaganda in Berlin. He does so against War Office orders, and is forced to fight a duel with a German officer, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff. They are both wounded, and with honour satisfied, they become fast friends.
Finally, we meet Candy as a Major General at the start of the Second World War. Now widowed, he has been retired from the Army, but takes on a new lease of life and new enthusiasm when he is appointed to be a senior commander in the Home Guard.
The progressively ageing Candy is played by Roger Livesey, turning from a gentlemanly young officer into a reactionary old 'Colonel Blimp', angry and confused by modern warfare. Deborah Kerr plays three roles, first as his lost love, then his wife, and then his driver, and Anton Walbrook is his close friend and occasional enemy, the German officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff.
It had a strong message for wartime audiences: the British code of 'fair play' was meaningless when fighting the Nazis.
The film was shot in four months at Denham Studios, and on location in and around London. Filming was made difficult by the wartime shortages. Powell wanted Wendy Hiller was to play Kerr's parts, but she pulled out due to pregnancy.
Further problems were caused by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who tried to stop the film's production. Churchill's exact reasons, and why he did not succeed, have been debated by film historians. Although it is strongly pro-British, the film is satire on the British army, with a sympathetic German character. It implicitly suggests Britain should 'fight dirty'. There is also a certain similarity between Blimp and Churchill.
Because of the British government's view of the film, it was not released in the United States until 1945, and then in a modified form. It was released as The Adventures of Colonel Blimp, or simply Colonel Blimp.
- "What is it really about?" C. A. Lejeune, The Observer, 1943.
- "Colonel Blimp is as unmistakably a British product as Yorkshire pudding and, like the latter, it has a delectable savor all its own." New York Times, March 30, 1945.
- "It addresses something I've always been profoundly interested in what it means to be English... it is about bigger things than the war. It takes a longer view of history, which was an extraordinarily brave thing for someone to do in 1943, at a time when history seemed to have disintegrated into its most helpless, impossible and unforgivable state." Stephen Fry, interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, 2003.
The film provoked an extremist (and unintentionally funny) pamphlet The Shame and Disgrace of Colonel Blimp from the obscure Sidneyan Society:
- "[A] highly elaborate, flashy, flabby and costly film, the most disgraceful production that has ever emanated from a British film studio."
- James Chapman (1995). The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp reconsidered. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 03/95 15(1):19 36.
- Ian Christie (1978). The Colonel Blimp File, Sight and Sound, 48. Includes the contents of Public Record Office file on the film.
- Ian Christie (1994). Introduction to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (script) by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, Faber & Faber, ISBN 0571143555.
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