Last night I watched a film that has been on my to-see list for a very, very long time. It’s a UK film called THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP. Now, some sources that I had researched refer to the movie as either the best or one of the best British movies of all time. Having now seen it and digested the experience it certainly is not the best British film I’ve ever seen (much less of all time). What I can say is that I enjoyed it immensely and it may actually rise in my estimation as time passes.
One thing that I came away with from watching the movie was that it is very strange. Almost a weird film. It begins as what I could only term as a farce–dialog and situation almost slapstick in some respects and with humor that spans from low-brow goofiness to almost Wilde-like.
At the end of this initial episode we are introduced to an old general (Clive Candy, portrayed by Roger Livesy) who is the principle character of the movie–and then are reintroduced to him in flashback as a young officer in London on leave from the Boer War some decades earlier.
COLONEL BLIMP was filmed in 1943 and was meant as a patriotic film for the public during the Battle of Britain when London was being regularly bombed by the German Luftwaffe. As a bit of gaudy nationalism is it effective and obvious without being terribly offensive in that respect.
On the other hand it is an excellent biography of a fictional character who could very well have been one of the old guard officers who has found himself made obsolete by a new form of warfare and against a modern opponent who is altogether more monstrous than anything previously encountered (the Nazis). The movie focuses on that career and on the strange happenstance of a friendship that arises between the British officer and a German officer–the friendship that carriers over for decades, though they mostly find themselves on opposing sides.
And then there is, of course, the love story. Deborah Kerr was–I think–only 22 or so when she made this film, and I was struck by her beauty. I don’t recall seeing her act at this age since my exposure to her were in films made in the 1950s and 1960s. In this movie she was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. And another sub-text of the story is that Livesy’s Clive Candy only realizes that he loves Edith Hunter (Kerr) after he has relinquished her to his German friend Theo before he understands that he has fallen in love with her. By that time it is too late, and so he ends up searching thereafter for a woman to match her.
For her part, Kerr plays three different roles in the movie–Edith Hunter and two other women that Candy sees as matching her in beauty and personality as the film progresses.
Livesy pretty much overwhelms the movie with his performance as Clive Candy. First as the headstrong young officer, and later as the career soldier moving up the ladder until he is a major-general. Although he was in his 30s when he made the film–and his youth and athleticism are evident in the sections in which Candy is young–he also makes you believe the parts of the film that portray him as first a mature, and then an aged general.
I don’t recall ever seeing Livesy in any US films, but his voice stood out the second I heard it in the opening moments of COLONEL BLIMP. So I’ve obviously seen him in British movies I’ve watched when I was a kid, but I couldn’t recall his face. However, that voice immediately reminded me that I’d seen at least some of his movies when I was much younger. Once you hear him speak you can’t forget his voice.
I was impressed enough with the movie that I’ll watch it again. But to my way of thinking it certainly is not the finest British movie I have ever seen. I don’t know why anyone would tag any movie with that label. But it is a great feature with an effective script, clever direction, and wonderful performances.
|Livesy as the young officer version of Clive Candy.|
|Livesy as the aged Major-General. The makeup was excellent, but even Livesy’s speech patterns and body movements displayed those of an old man.|
|Deborah Kerr as Edith Hunter. I think she was 22 years old when she made this movie and was absolutely gorgeous. I had previously seen her in movies like From Here to Eternity and The Innocents and had not been so impressed with her beauty.|