Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) "so unambiguously [satirizes] the military mind-set that Prime Minister Winston Churchill tried to have it banned," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Newly restored by Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation and playing two weeks [starting Friday] at Film Forum in its full length, Colonel Blimp is as stylized in its florid palette, lavish mise-en-scène, and obtrusive musical cues as Powell and Pressburger's subsequent The Red Shoes. Beginning and ending in London under the blitz, the movie spans 40 years, tracking the career of General Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) from dashing young hero of the Boer War to the sort of walrus-mustached establishment fogy that political cartoonist David Low named 'Colonel Blimp.' … The filmmakers originally wanted Laurence Olivier, but it seems unlikely that so acerbic an actor could have delivered so warm a performance."
"Seeing Colonel Blimp strictly in the terms of for-the-war-effort propaganda is a terrible mistake," warns Jaime N Christley in Slant. "There isn't a jingoistic, early-to-mid-20th-century 'I dare say old chap' moment or sentiment in the film that Powell and Pressburger fail to elevate to a broader, frequently mythic, perspective. All the same, the wars portrayed in the film (the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars), depicted as they are indirectly, often through montage, are often merely a vehicle for the duo's more pressing concerns, being no less than an inverse of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five; instead of becoming unstuck in time, General Candy (Roger Livesey) remains stuck while the century seems to evaporate and transform around him, ungraspable, in a whirlwind of battlefield commendations and animal heads. Only two things seem to remain, besides the dependability of change and a world always seeming to ignite in violent conflagration: his dear friend Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook, in one the greatest performances from one of the screen's most dignified, charismatic figures), and Deborah Kerr, who plays three characters. For the audience, the idea of a triple-Kerr is a Buñuelian fantasy abstraction, but for Theo and Clive, it's nearly the only continuity they can depend on as the 20th century marches on, eventually without them."
For Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf, Colonel Blimp is "maybe the most wonderfully British movie ever made."
Alt Screen rounds up some of the best reviews that have appeared over the years, among them, Andrew Tracy's 2006 piece for Reverse Shot, which brings us to the clip above. As Candy and Kretschmar-Schuldorff begin their duel in 1902, "the camera, while observing them from overhead, pulls back into the rafters, and then (courtesy of a dissolve) into the sky above the wonderfully obvious miniature of the gymnasium, a miniature Berlin in the distance, false snow whipping the lens; reaching its peak, it descends back to the cardboard earth towards a toy hansom cab, in which Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr) anxiously awaits the outcome."
"The cinema's shift into propaganda mode did not so much squelch Powell's verve as channel it"
From this "virtuoso shot," Tracy himself pulls back for a broader consideration of Powell's style: "Britain's entrance into World War II exerted a far more wide-ranging and deep-seated effect upon British films than did America's cinematic outpouring post-1941. The cinema's shift into propaganda mode, however, did not so much squelch Powell's verve as channel it, and even develop it. The vivid documentary quality he brought to his remarkable 1937 film The Edge of the World (the beginning of his love affair with Scotland's Orkney Islands, crystallized in his 1945 masterpiece I Know Where I'm Going!) indelibly marked the rugged outdoor footage interspersed between the all-star theatrics of 49th Parallel (1941) and the flying sequences of One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942). And the taste for fantasy and artifice which he had first indulged in Alexander Korda's Wizard of Oz-baiting mega-production The Thief of Bagdad (1940), which became so pronounced with his official postwar classics A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948) (not to mention the surrealist dream sequences in 1949's fascinating war drama The Small Back Room), first surfaced in the midwar curio that is Colonel Blimp, one of the strangest epics, most bizarre propaganda efforts, and greatest films to ever emerge from the British cinema."