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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

September 26, 2010

160. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
UK, 1943

IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing


A chronicle of the professional and personal life of Clive Candy, a man who dedicated his life to the military.

Essential scene:

It’s 1902, and Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) must fight a duel after offending the German army. Here he meets Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) for the first time.

There has been a lot of official rigmarole leading up to this duelling scene. A book on duelling rules and etiquette has been given, a suitable duelling partner has been found. It seems as though both men don’t particularly want to participate but, due to loyalty to their countries, they agree to do so.

Finally, the day of the duel comes. Clive arrives at the large, cold gymnasium. He is wearing plain civilian clothing and has a relaxed manner. Soon after, Theo arrives with his seconds in a flurry of dramatic music. All are in full military uniform and walk with precision.

Clive: Wish I’d brought my uniform.

Theo’s seconds stand with the sabre after a long military process of standing in certain places and polite bowing. A soldier reads the rules in German and in English. Alternate close ups frame the men’s faces as they listen and properly look at each other for the first time.

After this tense build up, the duel finally begins. But the camera doesn’t stay there. It flies up into the ceiling and out of the roof in a travelling shot worthy of Orson Welles and we instead see the beautiful snow falling onto the building.


The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a multi-message film. It teaches us about the ever changing face of war and, even though our leading man is a dedicated soldier, the absurdity of it. Clive Candy’s closest friend is a German soldier, and he finds himself fighting against his best friend’s country in two wars. He would kill another German soldier but would trust Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff with his life. (Though I must note here that Kretschmar-Schuldorff did not become a Nazi in WWII.)

It also teaches us how transitory life and age is. First Candy is a bold young man who rebels against his elders and then he is the old man the youngsters are rebelling against. We have no choice but to be caught in this circle, even if we think “It’ll never happen to me!”

I still can’t make up my mind as to whether I enjoyed this film or not. I appreciated the fact they dared to show a German soldier in a sympathetic light, even though Britain was still at war. I thought the three wars were cleverly intertwined with Candy’s life journey and quest for true love. I was also impressed at how the three wars were portrayed without a single battle scene.

But while watching it I was very aware of how long it was. Hindsight is again a wonderful thing because I feel myself appreciating it more post-viewing.

Fascinating fact: Austrian-born actor Anton Walbrook, who played Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, was himself a staunch anti-Nazi.

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