#64 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Watched: December 13 2016

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook

Year: 1943

Runtime: 2h 43min

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An epic masterpiece in glorious technicolo(u)r, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp follows soldier Clive Candy (Liveley) through three wars and the untimely deaths of many African animals.

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So many dead African animals…

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During World War 2, Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy, commander in the Home Guard, is “captured” in a Turkish bath by overzealous soldiers who cannot wait for the actual exercise to begin. A scuffle ensues, Wynne-Candy is assaulted and insulted by the young leader, and we are then treated to a two-and-a-half hour long flashback of the aging soldier’s life.

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Meanwhile, the poor man has to sit around like this

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It begins during the Boer War, when young Candy is on leave and hears of some anti-British propaganda being spread in Germany. After being told clearly by his superiors to leave it alone, he goes off to Berlin to see Edith Hunter (Kerr), the British governess who brought the offence to his attention. Because why listen to your superiors?

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After some (hilarious) musical bullying in a restaurant, it all escalates into a proper duel. As is tradition.

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For offending the entire German army, Clive must fight a duel with Theo Kretschmar- Schuldorff (Walbrook) which leads to injuries for both fencers. They end up in the same hospital for convalescence, where they strike up a lifelong friendship together with Edith. As Clive recovers and prepares to return to England, he finds that his two friends have fallen in love and celebrates their engagement with them. It is only after he leaves he realises that he too is in love with the governess.

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Who wouldn’t fall in love with a woman who uses an entire bird as a fashion accessory?

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The two men go their separate ways, but keep in touch. World War 1 begins, and both soldiers are fighting, though obviously on different sides. On the last night of the war, Clive sees nurse Barbara Wynne (also Kerr) who is the spit of Edith (naturally) and once home, he tracks her down and marries her. Probably healthy.

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“Of course I love you for you, my dear! Your money and your striking resemblance to my sort-of almost ex-girlfriend are completely irrelevant!”

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After 1918, Theo is a prisoner of war in England for a year before he’s allowed to return home, defeated and defiant as many Germans at the time. However, his attitude changes during Hitler’s regime, and he eventually seeks refuge in England.

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Old, disillusioned and broken, Theo once again teams up with his old friend.

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The second World War is a difficult time for the now aged Clive, and his attitudes to war and how it should be fought give him a dismissal from the military where he has lived his life. The friendships of Theo and Clive’s driver (and confidant) Johnny Cannon (Kerr again) help him find new new purpose and brings us right up to the start of the film.

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It gives Clive a chance to get up from the bath and restores his dignity as well

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This was a wonderful film and despite its long run time it flies by. All major actors give great performances, and the glorious technicolor really does justice to the soldiers’ uniforms as well as Deborah Kerr’s amazing hair. We loved the clips showing the passage of time between wars, and the handling of Barbara’s death through newspaper clippings was oddly emotionally effective. There are some very good comments on a then ongoing war which are still good observations 70 years on.

The friendship between Clive and Theo is beautiful and the characters are wonderful as well. They’re both flawed, yes, but they are likable and human, which made us very invested in the outcome. We loved it, and it’s well worth the three hour run time.

What we learned: Oh, so many things! Old people have lived long, full lives. Never go off at half cock. Avoid politicians like the plague. Political ideas are best discussed by drinking beer and fighting duels. You so rarely see a good fencing duel nowadays. Only part of the title is true.

Next time: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

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#63 Shadow of a Doubt

Watched: December 12 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn

Year: 1943

Runtime: 1h 48min

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Young Charlie Newton (Wright) is depressed and feels sorry for her mother whose life is in a rut. She needs some action in her life – a break from the routine. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the family receives a telegram from uncle Charlie (Cotten), her mother’s brother and young Charlie’s favourite uncle, informing them that he is coming to stay for a bit.

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“Now for some non-suspicious-looking sending of telegram. Nailed it!”

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The big city uncle arrives in the small town of Santa Rosa and lavishes his family with presents and the glamour automatically associated with New York businessmen. However, very soon a pair of “surveyors” show up wanting to photograph and interview the family, especially the newly arrived uncle. Young Charlie starts to get suspicious, not only because of the hostility her older namesake shows the surveyors but also because he hid a newspaper clipping about “the Merry Widow Killer,” a serial killer preying on rich widows, from the family.

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“And now some non-suspicious-looking standing on stairs. Nailed it again!”

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The surveyors turn out to be investigators who suspect Uncle Charlie of being the killer, although they have another suspect as well. One of the investigators, Jack (Carey), takes Charlie the Younger out and eventually talks her into helping them as long as they do not make an arrest in front of her mother, as she’s afraid the shock (and shame) would devastate her. The tension between uncle and niece builds as strange “accidents” start to befall her and she suspects dear uncle Charlie might be trying to get rid of the one family member who know of his (possible) double life.

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“Finally, some non-suspicious-looking grabbing of niece. Man, I’m really nailing it all today!”

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As always, the tension and suspense are really intense in this Hitchcock thriller. The relationship between the two Charlies is creepy – first because of the slightly incestuous undertones and later on the way he manipulates her and takes advantage of her love for her mother. Besides their relationship though, the family is really quite lovely. Even the younger children have clear and defined personalities, and we loved the father and his friend’s never ending murder plans for each other. Charlie the Younger is at once too smart and too naïve for her own good and could probably learn a thing or two from her bookish little sister once in a while.

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“Two people can play the suspiciously-coming-down-the-stairs-game!”

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Eventually, Charlie learns from her uncle and starts using his own manipulative tricks against him. In fact, throughout the film she goes from naïve and sweet school girl to a grown woman in charge of herself and her own fate. Some murderous cinematic bildungsroman there! And we loved it!

What we learned: families always spoil the youngest. Also, it’s important to include Veronica Lake in your evening prayers. Childhood head trauma always leads to criminal behaviour.

Next time: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

#62 I Walked with a Zombie

Watched: December 11 2016

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Frances Dee, James Ellison, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett, James Bell, Christine Gordon, Theresa Harris

Year: 1943

Runtime: 1h 9min

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The second Lewton/Tourneur collaboration on the list after Cat People, and every bit as good as its predecessor. I Walked with a Zombie follows Canadian nurse Betsy Connell (Dee) who takes a job nursing Jessica (Gordon), the wife of Paul Holland (Conway), a plantation owner on Saint Sebastian in the Caribbean. Jessica never recovered from a fever and spends her days in a daze, unable to say anything or do anything of her own free will.

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Judging by that waist, she is sadly also unable to eat.

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Betsy’s patient lives on the plantation with her husband and his slightly alcoholic half brother Wesley Rand (Ellison), as well as several black people who are descendents of the slaves Holland’s forefathers brought to the island. Betsy soon learns, through song format no less – the best way to learn anything, that Jessica had an affair with Wesley before she fell ill, and that the two of them even planned on running away together.

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“If there’s anything else you’re wondering about, I’m sure I have a song explaining that as well. Have you heard my one about the periodic table of elements?”

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After talks with the local doctor (Bell), Holland’s mother (Barrett), and maid Alma (Harris), Betsy starts to suspect that perhaps Jessica’s illness isn’t natural at all, but that Voodoo may be at the heart of the problem, especially after the good doctor introduces her to the term “zombie.” She also finds that she has fallen in love with Paul (for some reason) and she finds that the best way to make him happy is to restore Jessica to him. How selfless. The nurse gets instruction from Alma on how to get to the houmfort (where they do all the voodoo-stuff for those not familiar with the term) and decides to give it a try.

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Bombie Zombie lets them pass as they bear very little resemblance to Scrooge McDuck

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Like Cat People, the resolution to I Walked with a Zombie is ambiguous. The audience cannot be certain whether Jessica is really a zombie or not, and that’s part of what makes the film work so well. However, it’s not the only thing by far. The atmosphere is utterly creepy throughout, helped by the drums and chanting often heard in the background. Jessica’s introduction (and pretty much all subsequent appearances) is chilling and there’s a sinister vibe to Betsy’s entire experience, from the boat trip to the end.

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Nighttime visits by apparently zombified locals are surprisingly common on this island

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The island’s history of slavery is an important plot point as well, as is Betsy’s complete lack of understanding of the problems brought on by this (her reply to her driver’s story of how his people was brought to the island is “well, they were brought to a beautiful place”).

There’s beautiful use of light and shadow for those of you who are visual fanatics. As well as wonderful costumes for those of you who are more fashion oriented. And creepy voodoo rituals and sort of incestuous undertones for the more horror minded. In short, there’s something here for everyone!

What we learned: if a vital question in your job interview is whether or not you believe in witchcraft, consider the position carefully.

Next time: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)