It can sometimes be difficult to find the relevance in a Technicolor melodrama. Nothing looks quite realistic enough, the soundtrack is forever swelling, and the acting is so damned heightened. However, writing off a film that employs these qualities would be a great disservice, since underneath all of that posturing and pronunciation often lays a great observation on the state of the world.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP is the story of Major General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey). The film begins with him being surrounded by his own men during a training exercise. He is found in a Turkish bath during the run-up to World War II and has his orders challenged. We then go back in time to discover the history of this supposed “Colonel Blimp”
We learn that Wynne-Candy is a highly decorated veteran of at least two wars who has lived, loved, and lost a great deal during his life. While on-leave from the Boer War, he starts a round of insults with an entire German unit. Rather angry, they petition the British army to have Candy answer for running his mouth by submitting to a duel by sword. Candy survives, but is deeply wounded. Bringing him back to health will require keeping him in hospital for months…right across the hall from his duelling opponent, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook).
The two form an unlikely friendship, which even prompts Candy to back off a woman he cared for, but who he learns Kretschmar-Schuldorff is in love with. Their friendship is tested as their native lands clash again and again in the first half of the 20th century.
How does one stay friends with the enemy. What’s more, how does one remain an effective soldier when the rulebook of soldiering continues to be rewritten?
In considering a man of Candy’s age and stature, we sometimes forget just how much they have seen come and go through the years. How many great loves have they lost? How many dear friends? How many family members? What events have they survived that might have taken all of the above in one fell swoop? In that respect, seeing Deborah Kerr play the various women becomes understandable, since some like Candy take great pains attempting to replace what they lost.
But then there is the character of Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, and what he represents from the other side of enemy lines. There are few moments more sobering than his recounting of what is going on in a defeated nation, and later what he is facing in the rise of a totalitarian regime.
History is written by those victorious, making it almost unfathomable to consider the guilt, anger, frustration, shame, and distrust instilled into those that survive a losing effort. Seeing the simmering frustration on the face of Walbrook is a stark reminder that we are not fighting faceless drones – they are women and men who are just like us, only flying a different flag.
What might we feel if the nations we call home were on the wrong side of history?
Watching a story set in the first half of the 20th century now feels like ancient history. Everything from the club band proclaiming their song selections with displayed numbers to insults between nations being settled by one-on-one duels.
However, it’s that last detail that leads to the way this film feels so vastly of a different world. After all, this is a story where combatants from warring nations actually looked each-other in the eye and knew one-another.
Let us put aside the fact that each passing year finds us witness less conflict between nations, and more conflicts between ideals. We have entered an era where opposing soldiers barely get a good look at the eyes of the enemy they are trying to kill, let alone get in close enough to know their enemy. Perhaps that’s why when we get a film like AMERICAN SNIPER, the mirror of a character like Chris Kyle is barely more than a shadow.
Would any of us buy a modern story where an allied soldier and an Islamic radical formed a bond after an engagement? Of course not because modern conflict is about ambush, long-range engagement, and ideology…nothing resembling proving who the better warrior is.
Is it possible that our world order would change if our combatants met each other? If they had to settle proclaimed insults by hand-to-hand combat? If thy had to receive treatment for their wounds in the same ward?
One has to believe so.
While so very much happens in the core of this film’s plot, I can’t help but come back to its framing device…when a young, cocky soldier takes dead aim at what he believes to be a pompous, stuffed-shirt of an officer. He believes – like many of us do – that a person at the top just walked into that position and got comfy. After all, so many do.
Like this young hotshot, many of us think we know better than our superiors. We haven’t the foggiest clue how they got to where they are, or who they were before we came along. Odds are we’d be shocked to learn about the challenges they faced, and just how much they sacrificed to get ahead.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for May so far…
Rebecca watched BICYCLE THIEVES
Coog watched THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Jordan watched 8 1/2
Erin watched I REMEMBER MAMA
Keisha watched THE PRODUCERS (1967)
Wendell watch STREET FIGHTER and STREET FIGHTER 2
Donald watched IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER
Joshua watched THE BAD SLEEP WELL
Kristina watched THE BIG PARADE
Natasha watched WARRIOR
Jay watched RAGING BULL
Brittani watched FUNNY FACE
Steven watched YI YI