FT Top 100 Films

Martin Skidmore Says:

This film is among my all-time favourites, and I love it unreservedly, but it seems not to get too much attention these days. I think we undervalue Powell and Pressburger – their films aren’t like anyone else’s, and most of them aren’t like each other either (I’ll be covering the overlappingly-titled A Matter Of Life And Death in a couple of weeks). And I never see Roger Livesey on anyone else’s favourite actor lists either, but he’s great in a bunch of their films, not least this surprisingly rich role, based on a bumbling cartoon character (though he isn’t called Blimp in this but Candy), an old-time soldier with rigid and outdated values. Here the idea is taken further and hugely deepened: we see the roots of his morals in the Boer War and WWI, but we also get the character in WWII, and the demonstration of why they no longer work or apply. This is partly shown through talks with his old friendly-enemy, a German played by Anton Walbrook, who despairs at the Nazis removing the gentlemanly aspect of war. All of the characters are treated sympathetically and honestly – the aggressive young WWII officer who humiliates the protagonist, the German officer, and vitally Candy himself, portrayed with an extraordinary complexity and layering (many critics draw parallels with Welles’ debut just a couple of years before).

There are some magnificent scenes in it, best of all the swordfight duel with Walbrook in their youth, where after a tense build-up the camera immediately leaves the action for the snow outside, in a gloriously lovely and morally significant moment. It’s a great looking film, the earliest really thoughtful and beautiful use of colour in the cinema that I can think of. There is Deborah Kerr as the three ideal women for Candy, in the three main periods covered – note that she and Livesey were both unknowns at this point. They age Livesey, in his mid-30s at the time, beautifully, and he looks utterly convincing and right at all ages. It’s a morally daring film to have made in 1943, at the height of the war, and encountered fierce resistance from Churchill, was banned then cut for a release, and butchered for the US market, with 50 minutes removed and the scenes resequenced in chronological order, losing the punch of the magnificent opening scene and its brilliant move into the flashbacks. One extra neat trivia point: the first character to join the home guard in this film is played by John Laurie, who was Frasier in the home guard comedy Dad’s Army decades later.

Pete Baran is still on holiday