The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
“It all came from this scene in One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942) - the scene between the old man and the young man in which he says, ‘You don't know it but in 40 years you'll be just like me'.... The fact is that Colonel Blimp (a jingoist cartoon character created by British artist David Low) was a symbol of British procrastination and British regard for tradition and all the things which we knew and which were losing the war.” --Michael Powell, interviewed by Kevin Gough-Yates.
Called “defeatist” by its critics, pronounced “disgraceful” by Winston Churchill (who tried to terminate production, attended the film's premiere, and then issued multiple memoranda attempting to halt its export), The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp provides a sardonic course in British military history via its Blimpish hero, Clive Candy (played by Roger Livesey), who describes through flashbacks how the years have mellowed him from the hothead he likes to think he was at the time of the Boer Wars to the lukewarm, harmless bumbler he in fact is in 1942. (“...instead of having a vicious, slashing, cruel, merciless Colonel Blimp, we had a dear old bumbler and of course everybody loved that. It blunted the message a good deal.” --M.P.) Deborah Kerr plays the love interest of three separate periods in Clive's life, and Anton Walbrook is excellent as the Prussian officer who becomes a refugee from Nazi Germany - an interesting creation of Emeric Pressburger, himself an “enemy alien” in England.
As for its blunted message: Blimp, one of the films which helped earn Powell his Tory reputation, reflects more the complexity of his relationship to the British character and politics; thus, in the same article, David Thomson can call Clive Candy the embodiment of “all those aspects of Englishness cherished by Powell: Tory values, a stiff upper lip, and a fond heart...,” yet call the film “outrageously original and a heartfelt statement against wartime stress on realism and obedience” (Boston Phoenix).