Sunday, September 20, 2009
Day 246: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) - Rank 3/5
Every review that's been written for this film in the past fifty years or so has been absolutely glowing. Critics hail it as an overlooked, under-appreciated classic, a breathtaking epic, etc. All this retroactive fanfare intrigued me, especially when you take into account the film's mediocre reception by the British media at the time of its release (Churchill sought to have the film banned from theatres for its portrayal of Nazism). However, I hate to admit it, but I failed to see what the hype is all about.
The comic character "Colonel Blimp" is seen in the guise of a mustachioed British general of prodigious girth, known as Clive Candy (Roger Livesey). He begins his anecdotal soliloquy/flashback after his temper is incited by a braggadocio young soldier who attempts to take the good general "prisoner" hours before a war game is slated to start. The tale visually waxes on in a nostalgic fashion from the point of view of a seasoned man, who has endeavored to live his life with the utmost chivalry, now disgusted with the disrespectful and rakish nature of "today's youth." Being a sentimental bastard myself, I can appreciate this theme within a three-hour epic that sprawls across three wars.
My issue is that I found Clive Candy more pompous than endearing at many points. For example, the film starts out after he returns from the Boer War after winning the Victoria Cross for gallantry. This accomplishment is left dubious as Candy decides to taunt a group of German officers out of personal spite towards one officer known to him. The incident grows out of hand, Candy ends up insulting all of the German officers and soon finds himself locked into a duel. I suppose that in 1943, audiences nodded in satisfaction as he gave those krauts what-for, but I couldn't help but note that the predicament he lands himself in is essentially his fault. Therefore, it's hard to sympathize with the fact that he's in trouble. Furthermore, twenty minutes is spent outlining the rules and regulations for the duel, and providing exposition behind Candy's German opponent. However, when the time comes for the actual sword battle, the camera pans up from the sparring pair and out of the building, eliminating the action and substituting it with the subdued sound of blades clacking as we watch Candy's suitor (Deborah Kerr), anxiously wait outside.
In fact, I was amazed that a three-hour Technicolor spectacle depicting the life of a war hero, a British general that's allegedly as gallant as they come, didn't feature a single action scene. A duel and three wars, but no battles to be found. Rather, we're only treated to moments in Candy's life when he lectured others on the proper way to conduct war, love and all things British. While it is a worthwhile theme worth addressing, I felt like the dead horse was severely beaten here. As a result, I found the film to be less a character study and more a caricature study.