The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp ★★★½

For me, this properly begins at the Turkish bathing pool, in which General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) gives a deep, underwater echo that recollects an experience of "forty years ago." There's a sinister tone in Clive's warbled diction—and knowing he's become a cantankerous grump, it fascinated me to see the distinctive character-arc that would follow. Even the transition between the older version who's scuffled below, and the younger one rising above, is seamlessly done.

Before that, Lt. Spud Wilson (James McKechnie) and his soldiers are situated by the barracks and share some fairly inane repartee. Its mix of quickfire British "witticisms", along with physical slapstick; as someone trips over Spud lying on the ground, didn't have me on-board with the jokey tone. Nor was I enthused when the climactic roundelay went back to this sequence, by utilizing a rote full-circle device. Considering I liked how the intro name-credits were used on a patched tapestry, this should've maintained its sense of lovable elegance.

As a good-natured Lieutenant during the Boer War, Clive meets dashing German army officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) and allures himself with the ne plus ultra ideal of a woman (played by Deborah Kerr in a triptych role). Through WWI and WWII, P&P depict Clive as an elated scout who alters into a disillusioned codger, to exemplify the aging process. This makes for an enriching, bittersweet life about how he was once young, and the course it took for him to feel old.

Still, for a fictional biography that spans four decades (and clocks at nearly three hours), I wish that P&P could've made this wartime story a lot weightier. What I gathered is mainly a genial friendship between Clive and Theo, with Kerr's bewitching embodiment of Edith/Barbara/Angela that feels dear to Clive's heart. Which is all charmingly fine, for what it is, accompanied by the beating heart of Livesey's humanistic performance. He's impishly playful during the 1902 segments, and as the four decades pass, reveals a rigid stringency that almost seems like another actor.

All of these bonds are nicely enamoring, and each backdrop is filtered through peppy Technicolor, but rarely evades the pleasantries of this cruisey gear. In fact, the only exception is Theo's incendiary close-up monologue that decries Nazi Germany, which Walbrook delivers in unshakable composure. If more moments were eviscerated like so, I would've been more impressed, yet they're a tad too fleeting. It's the passage of time which Colonel Blimp excels at—yearly montages via a plaque of animals heads, to convincing make-up work for the 40s, and acknowledging those absorbed, carefree moments that Clive clings onto from long ago. "What’ll I do if I don’t hum?"

Had this dug into the ruminative aspects of Clive's outworn, military honour ("War starts at midnight!"), instead of treating his persona with wisecracks, this could've hit a much stronger plateau. From then on, its trajectory is warmhearted; by detailing the tender relationships in Clive's life. That's all kindly, sure, but it's the cumulative arc of someone who's been both affable and bullheaded, which makes this life a worthy one to be invested in. A tad nimble for me to acknowledge "classic" status, but it does understand the wondrous course of transformation. It's only apt to revisit this as I get older.