Classic British War Film
- The Way Ahead review by GI
A British war film made during the Second World War to attempt to highlight the prestige of the conscripted army and consequently it's a flag waver but like many films similar to this it's actually a gloriously exciting, gritty and quite nostalgic war drama and vision of British life during the war years. David Niven, who gave up his Hollywood career to rejoin the Army when the war began was a Major when the film was made (it is said that Winston Churchill asked Niven make a film about the army) and used his film connections to make this, at first a recruitment film, but later turned into this feature film. Written by Peter Ustinov (who has a small role in it too) and Eric Ambler and directed by Carol Reed it follows a small group of men who are called up in 1941 and all hate the idea of being in the army. They go through their basic training under the tutelage of very tough Sergeant Fletcher (William Hartnell, who often played NCOs), who they grow to hate and their officer played by Niven. The training is of course nothing compared to combat in North Africa in which they inevitably find themselves via a series of adventures along the way. This is less a combat film, although the last scenes are quite realistic battle scenes, and more a story of good ol' British pluck. Yes of course its propaganda but it painted a picture the Government of the day wanted to ensure the morale of the country was maintained after four years of war had begun to erode it. There's a host of familiar British actors supporting including Stanley Holloway, James Donald and John Laurie (later to become Private Fraser in the TV series Dad's Army). A marvellous golden oldie of a film and one definitely worth seeking out if you love these old British war films, they certainly deserve a modern audience.
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- The Way Ahead review by Steve Mason
The Way Ahead was started out as a World War II army training film called the New Lot (1943) which was mostly shelved for not waving the flag hard enough. That script was reworked the following year by Peter Ustinov and the prolific Eric Ambler, shot with many of the same actors and transformed by Carol Reed into one of the great platoon films, and apparently still used for army training around the world up to 40 years later.
This sub-genre of the war film about the transformation of a group of civilians into an effective combat unit and sent out to fight is a common one, but I believe this film marks its apogee, partly because of the talent of those involved, and partly because the war was still on, and its outcome still uncertain.
The British war films of the fifties never quite recaptured the anxiety and the habit of sacrifice of those made at the time. The men in The Way Ahead were led by David Niven who had been a soldier in the thirties, rejoined in 1939 and crossed the Channel on June 6.
It is an understated and droll documentary style drama about the reaction of a varied group of men to a particular, unusual pressure, with little fuss and no patriotic rhetoric.
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