Non-Linear Story Telling: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Non-Linear Story Telling: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

“The War starts at midnight.”

That phrase ostensibly opens and closes the two and a half hour feature that is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.  Today, the Powell and Pressberger feature isn’t all that widely disseminated. Nor was it overwhelmingly appreciated upon its initial release in 1943, England only, and then 1945 in the States.

The film received a bevy of unauthorized cuts and edits, going so far as to wrench an entire hour from the feature’s run time. In hindsight, though, it becomes easy to figure this film almost as enticing a departure from mainstream cinema as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Not as revolutionary of a story, Colonel Blimp still caused something of a ruckus due to its portrayal of various states of battle during war time. The British government couldn’t abide, thus those extensive cuts.

What the censors missed, though, was that these wars only served as a frame to tell a love story that spanned something like forty years. When the feature begins, viewers are introduced to a grand old gentleman, a military man named Major General Clive Wynne-Candy as played by Roger Livesey, whose work is in no small part a reason for the film’s success.

It’s this character, Wynne-Candy, who becomes the blimp referenced in the film’s title. But he’s not a blimp or mustachioed during the first World War as the movie quickly moves backwards in time to explain the character’s trajectory.

Wynne-Candy winds up being injured and falls in love only to have some German take his women. It’s no one’s fault as the staunch Britisher never expounded on his love in public. That’s how things, go. And that’s what the film aims to explain.

The rest of the film follows Wynne-Candy and this German fellow, Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff, through various stages of dispute, but ends in extolling friendship and the ability to change with the times.

No one enjoys feeling old and out of touch. But at some point, there’s really no avoiding it, unfortunately. The thing is, Wynne-Candy spends most of the second half of the film attempting to cloak himself in some sort of auld tyme revelry, going so far as to hire a drive who resembles his lost love.

When Theo comes to visit – read: escape Nazism – even he realizes what’s going on. The film doesn’t end sadly, but this is the restored version. So, even as the film apes some sort of Wellesian structure, the outcome isn’t as dour. And that, in the end, makes it supremely more palatable than Citizen Kane.