Movies for Grown-Ups: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
December 8, 2011 - 12:30 am
Candy’s heart is broken when Edith marries Theo and throughout the film he searches for another “Edith.” He finds not one, but two. And yet…
Like a Gone with the Wind for guys, Colonel Blimp spans decades of conflict and peace, love and loss, success and failure, with the added attraction of sly, dry British humor to provide much needed comic relief. (It’s been known to make grown men cry.)
The film keeps us unbalanced throughout. We’ve just finished cheering Candy’s noble paean to fighting wars “honorably and fairly,” the British way, when his now shattered, now German friend Theo tells him that such grand principles, if used to fight the Nazis he knows only too well, will help the enemy destroy the very civilization Candy has sworn to preserve.
The Battle of Waterloo may very well have been “won on the playing-fields of Eton,” but Theo tells his friend those days, their days, are long gone, if they ever really existed at all:
“This is not a gentleman’s war.”
It’s a justly famous sequence (and one I’ve posted a few times on my blog since 9/11):
Theo: I read your broadcast up to the point where you describe the collapse of France. You commented on Nazi methods — foul fighting, bombing refugees, machine-gunning hospitals, lifeboats, lightships, bailed-out pilots — by saying that you despised them, that you would be ashamed to fight on their side and that you would sooner accept defeat than victory if it could only be won by those methods.
Candy: So I would!
Theo: Clive! If you let yourself be defeated by them, just because you are too fair to hit back the same way they hit at you, there won’t be any methods BUT Nazi methods! If you preach the Rules of the Game while they use every foul and filthy trick against you, they will laugh at you! They’ll think you’re weak, decadent! I thought so myself in 1919!
Theo: [he pats Clive's shoulder] You mustn’t mind me, an old alien, saying all this. But who can describe hydrophobia better than one who has been bitten — and is now immune.
The entire movie is a paradox, down even to its production in early 1940s Britain. It was shot on Technicolor stock in war time, when such stock was exceedingly difficult to obtain. The result, especially in a good print, is appropriately jewel-like. (Actor and author Stephen Fry who, like Mamet, calls Colonel Blimp his favorite film, notes that it looks like it was shot in the 1960s rather than the 1940s.)