The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - British Empire Film, Romantic Drama, Period Film  |   Release Date - Jun 10, 1943 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 157 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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By today's standards, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp seems a brilliantly written and executed character study with period overtones -- "the British Citizen Kane," as one critic described it in recent years. But the 163-minute movie was one of the most controversial productions in England during the war, and the disputes over its content and distribution overshadowed the film's virtues for nearly 40 years. Powell and Pressburger, also known as "The Archers," had already courted controversy in 1941 with their propaganda movie 49th Parallel. Blimp seemed as if it was designed to engender displeasure from the government: Anton Walbrook, who was the leader of the anti-Nazi Germans in 49th Parallel, plays an even more sympathetic expatriate German in this movie; the title character, who represents the epitome of the British officer class of the First World War, is depicted as a well-meaning but doddering old buffoon, incapable of dealing with the Nazi threat; and the hero, Clive Candy (brilliantly played by Roger Livesey), makes his name on a civilian escapade during the Boer War, just as Prime Minister Winston Churchill had. The movie seemed certain to attract official censure, and it did. Powell and Pressburger were denied the use of military equipment or personnel while Blimp was in production, and the government voiced its further strenuous objections to the parties financing the movie. Once it was completed and released, the film was denied an export license to the United States until almost two years after the war, by which time it had been shorn of nearly an hour of material. It took 40 years for the uncut version to reach America in its original Technicolor splendor. After the wait, audiences found a movie that seized upon many of the structural elements found in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, with its back-to-front-to-back narrative path. The Archers took the class satire and social consciousness found in the best work of Noel Coward -- as well as in the original David Low cartoon whence the Colonel Blimp character originated -- and turned those elements into something uniquely theirs, a film very wry and dry in its tweaking of British sensibilities, universal in its observations on life, love and longevity in the middle of a world war.