Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The
DirectorMichael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Release Date(s)1943 (March 19, 2013)
Studio(s)Janus Films (Criterion - Spine #173)
As a fan of the Powell and Pressburger team, I was gleefully excited when I heard about the release of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp on Blu-ray from Criterion. Their original DVD was long out of print and in desperate need of a good brush off. Heralded by many as one of, if not THE, greatest British film ever made, I looked forward to its eventual high definition release, and I was not disappointed.
For those who might be unfamiliar with them, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were filmmakers in Britain during the 1940’s and made some of the best films of all time in that time including A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes (a personal favorite of mine). But it’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp that they are most renowned for.
The film tells the story of three people during wartime and how their lives intermingle and change for the better or the worse over the course of time. Played by Roger Livesey, Colonel Candy begins his life as an ambitious young man being swept up into the British military and war, only to find himself at odds with his friend Theo, played marvelously by the always captivating Anton Wolbrook. Barbara Wynn, played by the beautiful Deborah Kerr, is the object of Candy’s affections. The three go through war, love and loss both together and apart, and we see how their humanity shines through in the end.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly what The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is about in only a couple of paragraphs, so I won’t try. I think a simple synopsis will do for the uninitiated. The magic behind the camera of the Powell and Pressburger directing and producing team has never been more prevalent or as affecting as it is with this film, and my explaining it can only do it a disservice. It’s a film that begs to be seen by all, both film fans and movie lovers alike. It’s also a favorite of many people the world over. The performances are amazing and the story touches you, stirring something up in your soul the way few films can do. It’s a colossally well-made piece of cinema that continues to live on long after the filmmakers that made it.
For the film’s Criterion Blu-ray release, a new 4K restoration print of the film has been utilized. The film was shot using the three strip Technicolor film process, which for those who don’t know, uses three strips of camera negative to capture three different color records on film: red, blue and yellow. Re-aligning the images together and restoring them was a massive effort, but the results are quite stellar. First of all, the color is spectacular. It’s rich and vibrant, and absolutely thick with detail. There’s also a very healthy grain structure to the film, with image detail that’s very deep. The detail in the suits of the soldiers, as well as the skin tones and textures are very strong. Brightness and contrast are also great, leaving little to be desired. The film’s soundtrack is the original English mono soundtrack. Dialogue is quite clear while the score is very well balanced. Although it does show its age, there’s never a point where you’ll be overly dissatisfied with it. Overall, it’s a fantastic A/V presentation that is absolutely gorgeous to the eyes and ears. There are also subtitles in English for those who need them.
For the film’s extras, you get a nice little bounty to cull through. There’s an audio commentary with director Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese; both a new video introduction and restoration demonstration by Scorsese; the documentary A Profile of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker entitled Optimism and Sheer Will; a stills gallery; and finally, a 24-page booklet with an essay by critic Molly Haskell. That reads as brief, but I promise you, you’ll spend some valuable time with this extra material.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s magnificent masterpiece The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp comes stampeding onto Blu-ray in a fantastic package that any film fan should be adding to their collection. It’s just a great film and this is a great release of it. I couldn’t recommend it anymore if I tried, so definitely pick this one up.
- Tim Salmons