"You laugh at my big belly but you don't know how I got it! You laugh at my mustache but you don't know why I grew it!"
— Major General Clive Wynne-Candy
A film whose protagonist is alive when the credits roll, is not a colonel, and is not surnamed "Blimp". Despite this triple deception, it is very good.
Opening in 1943 in the midst of World War II
, a group of enterprising British soldiers decide to launch planned war games early, contemptuous of the Home Guard's order that "the war starts at midnight" (they reason that the Germans wouldn't work like that). They capture the Home Guard's commander, Major General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesy), while he's in the Turkish bath, and mock his protests and his fat belly. An enraged Candy segues into the story of his life. Flashing back 41 years to 1902, we see a young Clive Candy, newly returned from the Boer War
and wearing his new Victoria Cross. A visit to Germany to refute anti-British propaganda leads to a meeting with Miss Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr
) and a duel with Prussian officer Theodore Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). Over the next forty years, Clive and Theodore will meet several more times, including in World War One
, and Clive will always be on the lookout for other women like his idol, Edith.
The film was released in 1943 in the United Kingdom, at the height of World War II
, and two years later in the United States (in heavily edited form
). It has subsequently been considered one of the finest British films. It was the fourth collaboration between writer-directors Michael Powell
and Emeric Pressburger in their production company, The Archers. The duo would go on to make several more films, including The Red Shoes
and Black Narcissus
. Also notable for being the breakout part for British actress Deborah Kerr
, who was only 21 when the film was made.
Contains examples of:
- Acting For Three: Deborah Kerr plays three roles: Edith Hunter in 1902, Barbara Wynne in 1918-1919, and Angela Cannon in 1939-1943.
- All Germans Are Nazis: Averted! One of the main reasons Churchill disliked the film was the character of Theo, a sympathetic German (though explicitly anti-Nazi). He remained in the story thanks to Powell and Pressburger's artistic commitment.
- Big Name Fan: David Mamet has called it his favourite film, and Livesey and Walbrook his favourite actors (the duel scene being his "idea of perfection").*
- Bittersweet Ending: A lovely one: Clive has lost the war game to Spud and his own approach has been shown up as outdated, but he's accepted that he himself can't change and that officers like Spud are what the war effort needs, so as Spud and his men march past, he salutes them, grinning.
- Deconstruction: The original Colonel Blimp character, created by left-wing cartoonist David Low, was meant as a satire of conservative Army officers, but Powell and Pressburger deconstructed it by examining how the character would have got that way in the first place—of course, giving him a rich and interesting early life made him much more sympathetic.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Sort of. Clive and Theo become lifelong friends after their duel, but the film never tells us who won (or whether either of them did). Later, Clive takes this attitude toward Germany after the 1918 Armistice.
- Dramatically Missing The Point: Given that, unbeknownst to him, Van Zijl has used the threat of torture to get information from the captured Germans, Clive draws an entirely erroneous moral from the Armistice:
Clive: Murdoch, the war is over. The Germans have accepted the terms of the armistice; hostilities cease at 10 o'clock. It's nearly that now. Murdoch, do you know what this means?
Murdoch: I do, sir. Peace. We can go home. Everybody can go home.
Clive: For me, Murdoch, it means more than that; it means that right is might after all. The Germans have shelled hospitals, bombed open towns, sunk neutral ships, used poison gas, and we won—clean fighting, honest soldiering have won.
- Executive Meddling: In this case, executive branch meddling. Winston Churchill hated the film so much that he attempted to stop it from being made, forbid the use of government property for the army scenes, and withheld it from release outside the UK for two years.*
- Good Is Old Fashioned: Candy thinks of war as a gentleman's game with rules, but he lives into the age of Total War, where this is outmoded.
- Honor Before Reason: Candy would rather lose the war than win by stooping to "dirty" methods. Theo points out that if the British did that, the only methods left in the world would be Nazi methods. The fact that the government doesn't share Candy's view leads to his being retired from service again.
- Killed Off for Real: Barbara, Murdoch and Edith.
- Long Speech Tea Time
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Candy is idealistic, Theo and most other people are cynical.
- Spiteful Spit
- Star-Making Role: First got Deborah Kerr noticed.
- Token Enemy Minority: Theo.