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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)



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With The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made a lavish, colorful epic before lavish, colorful epics came into fashion in the 1950s. Together, Powell and Pressburger were jointly responsible for some of the greatest British films of the 30s and 40s, and this is one of their finest efforts. It chronicles the life of a military man from the turn of the century right up to the middle of World War II, when the film was made. Most of the film is told in flashback, which is key to its effectiveness: by showing a glimpse of the man in his later years first (disrespected by a brash young upstart who mocks his pomp and bluster), we key in on what we're supposed to look for in the main story: How did this man become who he is?

The film is episodic, chronicling his life through a remarkable but plausible series of defining events, each of which is entertaining in its own right. Slowly but surely, the gap between the rashness of youth and the reflection of age is closed. So many films chronicle the life of a single character over a broad span of time, but few are as convincing and perceptive about how people change over time as this one. "With age comes wisdom," it is often said, for example, but this film recognizes that it is not necessarily wisdom that age brings but self-awareness.

Because the film is so spry and adventuresome and romantic, it may come as a surprise afterward to think back and realize that there are no battle scenes. The world wars are felt, rather than seen, remaining in the background but tangibly shaping the lives of the characters throughout.