MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp



THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (Also Blu-ray Special Edition) (Four Stars)

U.K.: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1943 (Criterion Collection)

There are three Deborah Kerrs in Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s strange and wonderful British war epic, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and like many young male moviegoers, I fell in love with all of them the first time I saw the movie. Kerr plays three parts, unforgettably, in “Colonel Blimp,“ — three women who appear in different stages of the hero’s long life — and the reason for the triplication is that she’s the eternal returning love of the main character, Clive Candy (played by Roger Livesey). Clive, a quintessential  British military man, falls in love with one Deborah as a young man, loses her, finds her, and then loses and finds her again.


As I watched the movie, at 12 or 13, my heart began to jump each time Deborah appeared again. (Those reappearances do have a magical quality, somewhat like Kim Novak’s sudden reentry into Vertigo), And I know I wasn’t alone. One of the movie-s co-directors, Michael Powell, fell in love with Kerr during the production. They had an affair, and you can read Powell’s  feelings from the way he frames and photographs her  — the special shine on the images, the glow whenever she comes on screen.

What a sweet, knowing smile she had; what lovely soft eyes; what warmly beautiful red hair.  How could  Clive  Candy, or any young man, possibly resist this irresistible young Scotswoman? She  was not yet the openly sexy Deborah Kerr of From Here to Eternity, rolling in the surf in a bathing suit with Burt Lancaster, or the earthy Australian  Mama Kerr of The Sundowners , trading double entendres with Papa Robert Mitchum — or the neurotic  and frightened Ms. Kerr turning the screws as Henry James’ haunted governess in The Innocents. This was an unexpectedly young (21), unexpectedly radiant Deborah, giving her most lovable performance (or performances), ravishing her  director and her audiences and me all at once.

If the audiences were in love with the actress Deborah, and her character(s), so was one of thee film‘s co-directors, Michel Powell. He  had an affair during production  with the young (21) Ms. Kerr, after casting her as a replacement for his original choice, Wendy Hiller (who became pregnant and had to drop out). And so, in the movie’s fictional world, did Clive Candy,  played with such memorable British charm, spirit and style by Livesey. So did the movie‘s third main character, German officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, played by that matchlessly elegant Viennese-born actor Anton Walbrook. We were all, it seems, in love with Ms. Kerr and her roles, and maybe you will be too.

But we also probably find Deborah — or Edith Hunter a.k.a. Margaret Wynne a.k.a.-Johnny Cannon — beautiful because of the way her costars look at her: the discreet and stoically held back joy and pain in the eyes of Livesey as Clive Candy (the movie‘s good soldier and its “Colonel Blimp”), and the suave delight in the eyes and smile of Walbrook as Clive’s life-long German friend and rival, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff. Candy, who speaks with an inimitable husky voice, is the very model here of the good, decent, heroic and admirable British military man, and Theo, whom he meets in Berlin near the turn of the century (at the same time Clive meets and falls for Deborah) is his opposite number, a good, decent, and honorable German officer, an integral man in an eventually evil society,  who fights for his country in one war, and flees it for the other.

The film begins in the present (1942, during the height of WWII and The Blitz ), when Clive and Theo are old men (but the third Deborah, military gal Johnny Cannon, is magically young). Then, after Clive has a shoving match in a Turkish bath (with his nemesis, Johnny’s somewhat obnoxious boyfriend) and falls into the water,  the movie Colonel Blimp flashes all the way back to 1902, the time of the Boer War, when Clive was young and vigorous and shining-eyed and just about to meet, in Berlin, both Edith (Kerr Number One) and his soon-to-be best friend, Theo. Edith is the woman with whom they both fall in love (and whom Theo marries) and who is reborn, in a way, after World War I, in Margaret, whom Clive marries. Finally, Deborah Number 3 is the sprightly, energetic World War II British Army live-wire Johnny Cannon, for whom Clive is now too old — but who delights him just by being alive.

Colonel Blimp was Pressburger’s favorite of all the  films he made, perhaps because it’s so uncommonly ambitious: nearly three hours long, and covering nearly half a century. Yet it’s also — thanks to supreme  visual artists like Powell, cinematographer Georges Perinal and designer Alfred Junge — uncommonly well-made and uncommonly Technicolor-gorgeous. It’s also unusually light-hearted and even cheeky for a film with such a serious subject, and such inner sadness, done in such tragic times.

Candy is the center of the movie, and when he’s an elderly gent (back in the present), heading up home front efforts, he indeed looks like Col. Blimp, the famous Punch Magazine caricature by David Low of a crusty old upper-class British military officer with baleful eyes and a walrus droopy mustache. So it’s a bit of a shock when the flashback begins and we see Clive as a young and shining-eyed young soldier, falling eternally in love (but being a gentleman about it) with Edith Winter (Deborah Number One). He and Theo meet as future combatants maybe should, in a duel — which, ironically, they are supposed to be fighting  over Edith, a cover-up for the real reason, which is military and political. This is the beginning of a lifelong comradeship between two soldiers who are, unfortunately, on opposite sides for most of their lives — and of their love for the woman who keeps coming back to them, at various ages and times..

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was the first official production of Powell and Pressburger’s legendary film company, The Archers, and it’s a treasure of a film. It celebrates (while also gently satirizing) something you wouldn’t think would still work as an object of admiration with sophisticated film audiences, even in the middle of a war: the old British military ethos and traditions of the Edwardian era. By focusing on Clive Candy, following him from youth to age, contrasting him with Theo, revealing his great love for Edith, and packing it all into Livesey’s wonderful performance, Powell (who was primarily the director in the Archers’ collaboration) and Pressburger (primarily the writer) make the movie into something romantic, psychological, epic and marvelously bittersweet. They also provided a classic showcase for the three great and immensely likable actors — Kerr, Livesey and Walbrook — who play together so beautifully and who together bring a heart of romance to the myth of the Good Soldier..

It’s peculiar perhaps that a movie which is so obviously one of the screen’s great celebrations of male friendship in wartime should be so wrapped up in the impossible love inspired by a red-headed Scottish actress? But The Archers courted and cultivated the unusual. None of their films are quite “as they should be.“ Colonel Blimp, is a pretty  strangely constructed story:  one that often glides away just when we think the main action is about to commence, When  Clive and Theo meet for their grand, memorable duel in the upper hall of  a fencing academy, the camera pulls up, up, and magically away through a skylight out into a snowy  night, where we then continue to glide away from the action.

Clive and Theo ceaselessly call each other their best friend  though, as far as we know, they hardly meet or see each other after their first encounters and instant comradeship in Berlin  (when Theo can barely speak English) or between wars, or until Theo finally moves to England in the ’30s to escape Hitler (just as Pressburger moved from Germany in 1933 to escape the Nazis.) Yet we accept their friendship even though, for most of their lives, so little of it is shown or implied, just as we accept the duel we don’t see, and the wars, which we largely don’t witness either. Like Jean Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece Grand Illusion — which probably influenced it — Colonel Blimp is a film about the effects and repercussions of the war and the personalities and drama of the warriors (and the warrior‘s rest), rather than about the war itself.  (Blimp’s fractured chronology, by the way, suggests another probable influence, Citizen Kane.)

Powell and Pressburger had been collaborating as director (Powell) and writer (Pressburger) for several years  on smart spy thrillers like Contraband and The Spy in Black, when they formed The Archers. And they made The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp as their first film — despite the disapproval of both the British War censors and, in the government, of the formidable Winston Churchill. (Churchill so disliked the script, he was responsible for denying The Archers the services of Laurence Olivier, their original choice for Clive.)

It was a project of vaulting ambition and unusual difficulties, and the Powell-Pressburger team brought it off masterfully — or so we now think, despite the fact that Colonel Blimp had little commercial or critical success on its first release, and was available only in severely cut versions for years afterward.  But something about the movie lodges in your mind and arouses deep feelings, quickens your pulse the way Kipling can in ‘Gunga Din.“ No small part of  that powerful effect comes from the three Ms. Kerrs, who, as far as I’m concerned, can keep eternally returning to Colonel Blimp and to Clive Candy, and to Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, and to me, forever.

Extras: Video Introduction by Martin Scorsese;  Commentary by Michael Powell and Scorsese;; Documentary A Profile of the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (2000); Restoration demonstration by Scorsese; Interview with Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, Powell’s widow; Galleires of production stills nd Dvaid Low’s original Colonel Blimp cartoons; Bookley with an excellent essay by Molly Haskell

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


awesome stuff. OK I would like to contribute as well by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to modify. check it out at All custom premade files, many of them totally free to get. Also, check out Dow on: Wilmington on DVDs: How to Train Your Dragon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Darjeeling Limited, The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov, The Hangover, The Human Centipede and more ...

cool post. OK I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to customize. check it out at All custom templates, many of them dirt cheap or free to get. Also, check out Downlo on: Wilmington on Movies: I'm Still Here, Soul Kitchen and Bran Nue Dae

awesome post. Now I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some beautiful and easy to modify. take a look at All custom premade files, many of them free to get. Also, check out DownloadSoho.c on: MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon