The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Blu-ray)
Directed by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 163 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: March 19, 2013
Review Date: March 10, 2013
Over a forty year period, Major General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) lives through three wars (Boer plus the two world wars), finds and loses the love of his life (Deborah Kerr) only to find alternate representations of her turning up later in life when he most needs her, and finds his greatest friend Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) coming into his life initially as an enemy.
The entire conceit of the film’s screenplay covering forty years in a man’s life through flashbacks which eventually come full circle and focusing on odd moments in the life rather than in what a traditional script would seem highlights (we don’t see the duel for more than a few seconds that leads to the two men becoming best friends; we see Candy glimpse the girl of his dreams, but we don’t see him woo or wed her; we read about her death but don't suffer the agony of loss with him) is simply brilliant and one-of-a-kind. Additionally, the script and Powell’s sensational direction cover the passages of time through very unique methods: showing den walls being covered with mounted heads from big game hunting safaris over decades, flipping through pages in a photo album, looking at covers of Picture Post magazine). The movie is a continual marvel of invention and the unexpected. The friendship between the two men is a deep and genuine one, but many of the encounters in the film find them at odds with one another. And in representing England and parts of Europe over the course of four decades, the movie captures a sense of time and place wonderfully, even more so knowing it was shot in a studio while England at the time was engaged in some of the darkest days of World War II.
Enough can’t be said about the two leading male performances. Roger Livesey ages quite believably over the course of the movie’s four decades from the fiery, impetuous youth of 1902 to the rooted-in-the-past Colonel Blimp of the title in the World War II sequences, and his speeches and conduct with others in his sphere are wonderfully hearty and beautifully performed. This is probably the finest performance in the film career of Anton Walbrook. He is a proud German officer who must suffer the indignities of losing the First World War and then watch evil-incarnate conquer the Germany he loved so much that he seeks refuge in England where his wife was originally from. The speech he delivers late in the film as he recounts the disappointments of his life that led him to Great Britain is among the great film performances delivered in a very still, emotionally controlled but very heartbreaking way. At the age of twenty, Deborah Kerr wasn’t quite accomplished enough to pull off these three women and make them appear to be different people. She’s lovely and secure in her acting, but the original choice Wendy Hiller might have been able at this point in time to have brought a trifle more to these roles. John Laurie’s wonderful Murdoch, Candy’s sergeant-at-arms who goes into private service as his valet, is a most welcome presence. James McKechnie’s headstrong Spud Wilson gets to play a young Candy doppelganger in the film’s beginning and ending sections.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. While some may think that the restoration has cleared away too much grain, the image is a phenomenal one with the vivid Technicolor coming through loudly and clearly without any fringing and with luscious depth to the hues (reds are particularly eye-popping) and marvelously vibrant flesh tones. Sharpness is superb throughout, and black levels are deep and dark. The film has been divided into 30 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is quite remarkable for a film of this age, but the engineers responsible for the restoration weren’t able to clear away all the cobwebs. There is some low-level hiss to be heard on occasion, some occasional scratchy noise and a bit of flutter, too, though most of the time with the activities on-screen, these slight anomalies are drowned out. The high end can be a little shrill at times, too, with maybe a tiny bit of distortion. However, dialogue is always easy to hear and understand and is never overpowered by sound effects or the background score by Allan Gray.
The audio commentary is by director Michael Powell with contributions from director Martin Scorsese. Powell was quite aged when he recorded this, so his thought processes and speech patterns are sometimes slow and take patience. Of course what he has to say is far more important than how he says it, and it’s thus a most important bonus on the disc. There are numerous silent gaps, however.
Martin Scorsese’s introduction to the film (which should be watched after you’ve watched the movie if you’re a first timer) includes anecdotes also included in the commentary where he describes his various attempts to see the finished, complete work over many years and its influence on his work, in particular Raging Bull (with clips from that movie to illustrate his points). It runs 13 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
“A Profile of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” is a 2000 documentary on the film featuring comments on its magnificence by film historian Ian Christie and actor Stephen Fry. It runs 24 minutes in 1080i.
A restoration demonstration is discussed and illustrated with many before and after clips by Martin Scorsese. It runs 4 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
“Optimism and Sheer Will” is a 29 ¼-minute interview with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who is also Michael Powell’s widow). She discusses her first meeting with him at the Museum of Modern Art, and analyzes the things about the film which she finds the most thrilling and memorable. It’s in 1080p.
There are three step-through stills galleries. The first includes black and white stills, publicity portraits, and behind the scenes shots from the film while in production along with some color publicity materials. The second is a gallery involving David Low who was the creator of Colonel Blimp while the third is a series of single panel Blimp cartoons.
The enclosed 26-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some beautiful color stills from the movie, and film critic Molly Haskell’s celebratory essay on the movie.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
One of the great creations of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is magnificent filmmaking. This superb Criterion release contains the new restoration of the film with some really interesting bonus material. Highly recommended!