1944              2nd World War drama




                                                                                                                                           stars

         the way ahead

    [ t h e   w a y   a h e a d  :  m o v i e  r e v i e w ]

    vhs dvd

    Classification: u

      In 1942 the director Carol Reed made The New Lot,
      a 45-minute film produced by the Army Kinema
      Corporation, aimed at helping recruits find their feet.
      And it was such a success that Reed subsequently made
      a feature-length version - The Way Ahead.

    One of the finest "in this together" flag-wavers produced in Britain during the Second World War. From Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov's (who also has a part in the movie) script, director Carol Reed, who had earned a reputation for social realism in the mid-1930s and had spent part of the war making army documentaries, creates a totally believable world in which a squad of raw recruits becomes an integral part of the local community as they go through basic training.

    David Niven is top-billed, but he generously enters into the ensemble spirit that makes this beautifully observed drama as uplifting today as in 1944. The film proves what a great actor Niven was for you couldn't envisage say a Larry "Me, Me, Me" Olivier toning down his ME-ness for the sake of the film and being far less obtrusive than his star's status might seem to justify.

    Though all the actors gel and are quite brilliant, I have to mention the sublime Stanley Holloway. You know, I have never seen him in a film where he isn't less than wonderful. Here, too, there is no exception. He leads the other soldiers in an evocative sing-along to the wartime song Lily of Laguna and it still sends a shiver down the British spine. It makes you want to discover more of his work. It is good to know he is not forgotten for the popularity of my Holloway page is testament to the fact that I am from alone in being capitivated by his work.

    And it is all the more remarkable that the film works so well when you consider that there is no story in the ccepted sense, and no love interest. There are momentary shots of femmes, chiefly wives, but no pin-up girls.

    Ustinov was only 21 years old when he co-scripted the film but the maturity of the finished product belies his years.

    Covering the period from early 1939 to the Tunisian campaign of 1943, The Way Ahead embodies how a totally unprepared, peace-loving people were suddenly catapulted into the mother of all wars which, thankfully, had not been seen before or since.

    If you only ever get one war movie or want to get under the skin of the 1940s British people then you're learn everything you want to know from this movie alone.

    Today the film leaves a residue of deep regret that the characters of Britain and the British have changed so drastically since then. It was only 60 years ago but it seems we're now in another world completely. And a far worse one at that.

    Unmissable.


    Trivia:

    The army released Niven for nine months to make this morale-boosting propaganda film.

    It was written by Major Niven, Major Eric Ambler, and a twenty-one-year old playwright, Private Peter Ustinov, who had just had his first success in the theatre with a play called House of Regrets - 'Best Play of the War', said the Daily Mail.

    Niv, Ambler and Ustinov were given a room at the Ritz Hotel in London to work every day on the script.

    Niv and Ambler had much more money than Ustinov and often rang room service to order a round of drinks, paying vast Ritz prices, which embarrassed Ustinov because he was earning only 14 shillings a week and could not afford to reciprocate. To raise some money to buy his round occasionally he sold the only valuable thing he owned, a Derain nude, to a dealer for 60 (about 1500 today). Years later he saw the painting again, by now exteremely valuable, hanging on a wall in Niven's house in Hollywood. David said breezily:

      'The best bargain of my life. I bought it off a dealer for 65 when we were all working at the Ritz.'

    A curious thing to me is why Niv's name is not on the writing credits of the movie.

    Filming started in August 1943 on Salisbury Plains and at Denham Studios.

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