Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Mark Pack recently posted a recommendation, one which I was happy to endorse, to watch "The Best Man", which has been released for home consumption. (By the way, I apologise for an error in a comment I made on Mark's blog: Gene Tierney played a Washington hostess in "Advise and Consent", which has a similar background - and is also recommended.)

Another classic which has received a wash-and-brush-up is Powell and Pressburger's "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp". Some of today's star professionals contributed to a recent discussion on Radio 4's film programme. It has been said to be Britain's "Citizen Kane", but this is misleading. It is similar in its scope, and covers much of the same time period, but the background is entirely different. While the Welles film is dominated by the main character and explanation of his psychology, "Blimp" is as much concerned with events and attitudes to them. There is a recurring theme of hero Clive Candy's obsession with the various incarnations of Deborah Kerr, but there is no attempt at explanation.

I hasten to add that I was a babe in arms when the epic film was first released, but I did see what may have been its first restoration when it was shown on BBC-2 in the early 1970s. My recollections are based on this and a re-showing a few years later. What struck me the first time round was the creative use of Technicolor, which must have been an expensive investment for a British company at the time. The framing contemporary war-time scenes  are realistic (like the muted tones of Fred Zinnemann's "Julia", but few other Hollywood films until then) but in the flashbacks the colours are manipulated to reflect or perversely to contrast the current situation. If I recall correctly, there is a near-Expressionist World War One scene in heightened colour.

Apart from the production values and the outstanding performance by Roger Livesey in the star part (how fortunate that the Archers' original choice of Laurence Olivier fell through), there are also the ironic touches. The English governess that Candy loves and loses to his enemy, and later friend, the aristocratic Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff becomes an enthusiastic Nazi supporter.  Candy prides himself on Britain's honourable conduct of war, but he is unwittingly given key strategic information obtained by less than ethical means - and the opening scenes show him caught out by gamesmanship by his opponents in a war game.

I'm saving up my pennies.

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