The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

One potentially bad habit of mine when writing these posts is referencing a different movie. A lot of the time it’s a film I’ve already talked about, but there are also a bunch of times where it’s something I haven’t made a post for. I keep all the references on a list and it currently sits at 272 movies and TV shows. Holy fuck! So let’s work through that backlog, but in a random way! I’m going to roll the digital equivalent of a 272-sided die and that’s going to be what we’re talking about today. As of writing this sentence, I don’t even know what it’ll be! So let’s roll and… #149! The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, as mentioned in the Viktor und Viktoria post! So let’s talk about this nearly 3 hour movie in the Criteron Collection.

The film follows Clive Wynne-Candy (Mr. Roger Livesey) through three wars: the second Boer War (1899-1902), World War I (1914-1918), and World War II (1939-1945). We open with him during WWII, then flash back to the turn of the century where he publicly insulted the German Army for spreading anti-British propaganda (which was most likely true considering the British used concentration camps during the Boer War, but whatever). He’s forced to duel German soldier Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) as a matter of honor. They fuck each other up, but end up best friends. The two meet Edith (Deborah Kerr), but Theo is the one who wins her heart. We then jump to the end of WWI where Candy is now a brigadier general. He meets a nurse named Barbara (Deborah Kerr), falls in love with her mainly due to her uncanny resemblance to Edith, and the two marry. After the war Candy finds out that Theo had been captured as a POW, and upon the two being reunited we see their differing views of war: Candy believes that honor is paramount in battle, while Theo is demoralized and believes that Germany will not be treated well. History proves him right as WWII starts to brew. Both Theo and Candy’s wives are dead by this point so a solitary Theo attempts to escape the rise of Nazism. He’s denied British citizenship but stays with Candy for a while. Candy, now an old and fat man, feels like the army has moved on without him. Things come to a head when Theo gives an amazing speech arguing that Nazis don’t give a shit about honor and if you limit yourself by fighting fairly, they’ll destroy you and there will be no rematch. Candy’s driver at this time is a spunky woman who goes by “Johnny” (Deborah Kerr) he hand picked out of 700 people; Theo sees the resemblance to his own late wife and is amused. Johnny’s boyfriend is an up-and-coming lieutenant who decides to break the rules of a military exercise: war starts at midnight, so he strikes first at 6PM, leading to an angry confrontation with Candy that kicked off the movie. Later Candy realizes that he hasn’t changed with the times, but acknowledges that the new troops are probably in good hands.

I suppose I should mention that Candy is never called “Colonel Blimp” in the film, but that the name was a reference to a comic strip in the 1930’s of a fat, pompous British soldier boasting while in a Turkish bath. So, basically 100% Candy at the beginning and end of the movie.

The thing I find more fascinating than what we’re shown is what the movie doesn’t show us. With the exception of Candy and Theo meeting their future wives and Candy observing the end of WWI, every major event in his life happens off screen. Several deaths are told to us through newspaper clippings, Theo losing his family is told via an emotional monologue, and the vast majority of the wars are just between scenes. This isn’t a story about the wars, but about the man who fought in them. The wars marginally matter because the concept of fighting honorably faded away with each new conflict, but the focus is on the soldier who didn’t want to change, not with him fighting in the actual trenches. It’s a war movie without much war!

And last but definitely not least, there’s my gay 1940’s crush, Anton Walbrook. He’s superb in this, giving two amazing speeches: one about wanting to move to England–the home of his late wife–and another arguing for treating Nazis as a fatal threat to the world. I don’t normally link to other sites, but here’s a YouTube link to the speech (skip ahead to 4:02) because it is sadly still relevant in the 21st century. Fuckin’ Nazis… Anyway, Theo’s bromance with Clive is the main relationship in the story (not to downplay Deborah Kerr’s three performances) and just sidesteps getting a “queer coded” tag by thiiiiis much. Based solely on his performance, I now absolutely have to watch The Red Shoes at some point.


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One thought on “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

  1. Pingback: Viktor und Viktoria (1933) | Chwineka Watches

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