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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: The Criterion Collection

"Colonel Blimp" was a character in a series of British political cartoons by David Low, meant to mock Conservative ideas and policies between the wars. Blimp — almost always found in situ at a Turkish bath, wrapped in a towel covering his round belly, his vast walrus mustache hanging like tongs — is always presented declaiming some comic and self-evidently contradictory or obviously revelatory remark to his auditor, a David Low surrogate. "Gad, sir. Eden is right. War is not inevitable and it never will be unless we do something about it." Blimp came to represent stodgy backwardness to young readers. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, one of cinema's great creative teams, decided that their first color film would be The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1945). It ended up a moving, funny, and constantly surprising story that is both based on the recognizable cartoon character and yet also a highly personal story reflecting elements of both filmmakers' lives. A form of propaganda that is embedded into a sweeping comic story of Britain's relationship with the military over 40 years, from the Boer war to the start of World War II, the film got into a little trouble with Churchill and the wartime Ministry of Information. Nevertheless, Powell and Pressburger, backed by J. Arthur Rank, made the film without government or military support. It follows the life and loves of General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), his friendship with a German soldier (Anton Walbrook), and his relations with a series of women (all played by Deborah Kerr). It is classic filmmaking, light and deep at the same time. Beautifully photographed in Technicolor by Georges Périnal (who worked with René Clair), and production designed by Alfred Junge, it is also very funny. Pressburger is a beautiful writer, and Powell was a Hollywood-level master of color, movement, camera placement, and actorial timing — a cross between Lubistch and Hitchcock. The Criterion Collection has done its (almost) always predictably fine feat of transference with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The disc offers a bright transfer of the full-frame film (1.33:1) that looks beautiful, while the restored audio is DD 1.0. The biggest supplement is the historically important audio commentary track by Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese, derived from the 1988 Criterion Laserdisc. Also on hand is "A Profile of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (24 min.), a much better than average "making-of" documentary. Among the interviewees are actor and writer Stephen Fry, author and Powell specialist Ian Christie, and Kevin MacDonald, who wrote a moving biography of his grandfather, Emeric Pressburger. Also here are a slide show of David Low's cartoons, about 90 black-and-white production stills, and a booklet with transfer notes and credits, and two essays. Keep-case.
—D. K. Holm

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