by Allan Fish
(UK 1943 163m) DVD1/2
War starts at midnight!
p Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger d Michael Powell w Emeric Pressburger ph Georges Périnal, Jack Cardiff (and Henry Haysom, Geoffrey Unsworth) ed John Seabourne m Allan Gray art Alfred Junge
Roger Livesey (Maj.Gen.Clive Candy), Deborah Kerr (Edith Hunter/Barbara Wynne/Johnny Cannon), Anton Walbrook (Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff), John Laurie (Lce.Cpl.Murdoch), Roland Culver (Col.Betteridge), James McKechnie (Spud Wilson), Albert Lieven (Von Ritter), Arthur Wontner (Embassy Counsellor), Ursula Jeans (Frau Von Kalteneck), Muriel Aked (Aunt Margaret), A.E.Matthews, Valentine Dyall,
There is something about the most ambitious of Powell and Pressburger’s wartime masterpieces that is rather nostalgic, even after all these years. Sixty years on, it seems to belong to another age, an age and way of life also encompassed in a more insular way by TV’s later Upstairs, Downstairs. Just as that series presented all that was most peculiarly English about us in the first third of the twentieth century, so does this 1943 masterpiece. Yet it does so much more that that, for it encapsulates the very soul of not only England but what it is like to recognise your own nationality. I am certainly no patriot, but even I feel my heart warmed by the timelessness of this film, a feeling increased by the fact that, in one of its numerous subtexts, it is not a patriotic film at all, but rather a study in the triumph of the human spirit, overcoming tragedy, heartache and more besides through inherent decency and affection for one’s friends, whatever their nationality.
Make no bones about it, Blimp is P & P’s masterpiece, a film of such wonderful richness and depth of feeling as to make grown men shed tears like small girls parted from a beloved pet. Roger Livesey’s Clive Candy is a stick-in-the-mud, a traditionalist, someone to whom the modern buzz business phrase “going forward” is an unthinkable act of disloyalty to the past. Yet for all this he’s a figure of affection, a figure for the ages, bridging the gap between C.Aubrey Smith’s retired general of The Four Feathers and Arthur Lowe’s Captain Mainwaring (a fact wonderfully illustrated in retrospect when John Laurie, later immortalised as the “all doomed” Private Frazer, says he’s joined the Home Guard). To him, war was still to be practised on the playing fields of Eton, but eventually he comes to realise that such a viewpoint is as outmoded as his very being. In one of the most moving scenes in British cinema, he returns home to his friend, Anton Walbrook, who tells him that losing a war honourably is not better than winning it dishonourably, that the time for turning the other cheek is gone and that we must use whatever means necessary to preserve freedom, however Machiavellian it may seem.
Powell and Pressburger took many risks in the making of the film; having a central character who became an object of ridicule in the framing scenes during World War II was seen to be disrespectful to the military and to the Home Guard and daring to have a German best friend who is actually the heart of the film was seen as almost treason in the eyes of the Churchills of this world. But the fact was that the film is not about patriotism, it is about friendship above all else. Candy loves the woman who becomes engaged to Theo but says nothing about it because he is a gentleman, but he remains obsessed with her, as his later ill-fated marriage and young driver testify (all three women were played by a radiant Deborah Kerr). Yet the film could not work without the warmth generated by Roger Livesey for the character and it is a great performance, ably supported by the masterfully subtle Anton Walbrook, whose speech to the naturalisation committee about his Nazi son is one of the most heartbreaking ever put on celluloid. Nor must we forget the gorgeous colour from those maestros Périnal and Cardiff. Yet the real triumph here is Pressburger’s managing to capture the very essence of Britishness in a script and film that dared to show a good German in wartime. It remains probably the British cinema’s greatest coup and, for me, its crowning romantic glory, my love for which will always be “very much.”