The Way Ahead
The Way Ahead (also known as Immortal Battalion) (1944) is a British Second World War drama film directed by Carol Reed. The screenplay was written by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov. The film stars David Niven, Stanley Holloway and William Hartnell along with an ensemble cast of other British actors, including Ustinov in one of his earliest roles. The Way Ahead follows a group of civilians who are conscripted into the British Army and, after training, are shipped to North Africa where they are involved in a battle against the Afrika Korps.
|The Way Ahead|
|Directed by||Carol Reed|
|Music by||William Alwyn|
|Edited by||Fergus McDonell|
|Distributed by||General Film Distributors|
|115 min. / 91 min. (US)|
In the days after the Dunkirk evacuation in the Second World War, recently commissioned Second Lieutenant Jim Perry (Niven), a pre-war Territorial private soldier, is posted to the (fictional) Duke of Glendon's Light Infantry, known as the "Dogs", to train replacements to fill its depleted ranks. He is joined by Sergeant Ned Fletcher (Hartnell), a veteran of the British Expeditionary Force.
A patient, mild-mannered officer, Perry does his strenuous best to turn the bunch of grumbling ex-civilians into soldiers, earning himself their intense dislike. The conscripts also believe that the sergeant is treating them with special severity; in fact, he is pleased with the way they are developing and has his eye on some of them as potential NCOs. Eventually the men come to respect both sergeant and officer.
After completing their training, the battalion is transferred to North Africa to face Rommel's Afrika Korps, but their troopship is torpedoed en route and they are forced to abandon ship. Sergeant Fletcher is trapped by a burning vehicle sliding on the deck as the boat heels to one side but is rescued by Perry and Private Luke (John Laurie). The survivors are taken on board a destroyer and are sent to Gibraltar, missing the invasion.
When they eventually arrive in North Africa, the platoon is assigned to guard a small town. Perry appropriates a cafe as his headquarters, much to the disgust of the pacifist owner, Rispoli (Ustinov). When the Germans attack, Perry and his men fiercely defend their positions, aided by Rispoli. At one point, the Germans invite them to surrender – their response is "Go to Hell!" The besieged British soldiers fix bayonets and join other surviving units in advancing on the enemy, hidden in the smoke from explosions. At home, veteran "Dogs" appreciatively read about the men's bravery.
- David Niven as Lieutenant Jim Perry
- William Hartnell as Sergeant Ned Fletcher (as Billy Hartnell)
- Hugh Burden as Private Bill Parsons
- James Donald as Private/Corporal Evan Lloyd
- Leslie Dwyer as Private Sid Beck
- Jimmy Hanley as Private Geoffrey Stainer (as Jimmie Hanley)
- Stanley Holloway as Private Ted Brewer
- Raymond Huntley as Private Herbert Davenport
- John Laurie as Private Luke
- Penelope Dudley-Ward as Mrs Jim Perry (as Penelope Ward)
- Grace Arnold as Mrs Ned Fletcher
- Esma Cannon as Mrs Ted Brewer
- Eileen Erskine as Mrs Bill Parsons
- Peter Ustinov as Rispoli, cafe owner
- Reginald Tate as the Training Company Commanding Officer
- Leo Genn as Captain Edwards
- Renée Asherson as Marjorie Gillingham (as Renee Ascherson)
- Mary Jerrold as Mrs Gillingham
- Jack Watling as Sergeant Buster
- Raymond Lovell as Mr Jackson
- A. E. Matthews as Colonel Walmsley
- Lloyd Pearson as Sam Thyrtle
- John Ruddock as Old Chelsea Soldier
- A. Bromley Davenport as Old Chelsea Soldier (as Bromley Davenport)
- Tessie O'Shea as Herself
- Trevor Howard as Ship's Officer (uncredited)[Note 1]
- George Merritt as the Sergeant-Major (uncredited)
- Tracy Reed as the Perrys' Daughter (uncredited)
The Way Ahead was written by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov, and directed by Carol Reed. The three had originally produced the 1943 44-minute training film The New Lot, which was produced for the Army Kinematograph Service. The Way Ahead was an expanded remake of their earlier film, this time intended for a commercial audience. The two films featured some of the same actors, including John Laurie, Raymond Huntley and a 23-year-old Peter Ustinov.
The driving force behind the film was David Niven, a 1930 graduate of Sandhurst, who at the time was a major in the British Army working with the Army Film Unit and later served in Normandy with GHQ Liaison Regiment. Niven was the executive producer on The Way Ahead.
The last scene in The Way Ahead shows the soldiers advancing in a counter-attack. Instead of the film ending with the words "The End", it concludes with "The Beginning". In a film made and released during the war, this was an effort to galvanise public support for the final push in the war effort, with a perhaps not unintended reference to one of Winston Churchill's famous quotations: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
According to trade papers, The Way Ahead was a success at the British box office in 1944. According to Kinematograph Weekly the 'biggest winners' at the box office in 1944 Britain were For Whom the Bell Tolls, This Happy Breed, Song of Bernadette, Going My Way, This Is the Army, Jane Eyre, The Story of Dr Wassell, Cover Girl, White Cliffs of Dover, Sweet Rosie O'Grady and Fanny By Gaslight. The biggest British hits of the year were, in order, Breed, Fanny By Gaslight, The Way Ahead and Love Story.
In 1945, The Way Ahead (referred to as Immortal Battalion) was listed as one of the Top Ten Films by the USA National Board of Review.
As Immortal Battalion, film critic and historian Leonard Maltin noted: "Exhilarating wartime British film showing how disparate civilians come to work together as a fighting unit; full of spirit and charm, with an outstanding cast, and fine script by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov."
The final scene of the advancing soldiers was imitated for the closing credits of the long-running BBC sitcom Dad's Army. John Laurie appeared in both productions and his performance in the sitcom credits replicates this film.
- Trevor Howard made his film debut in The Way Ahead.
- Evans 2000, p. 199.
- McGee, Scott. ""Article: 'Immortal Battalion'. TCM. Retrieved: 9 July 2017.
- Maltin, Leonard. "Leonard Maltin Ratings & Review: Immortal Battalion'." TCM. Retrieved: 9 July 2017.
- Murphy 2003, p. 207.
- Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 231=232.
- Awards" 'The Way Ahead'." IMDb, 1945. Retrieved: 9 July 2017.
- Morgan-Russell 2004, p. 40.
- Pertwee 2009, pp. 55–56.
- Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
- Howe, David J., Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker. The Handbook: The First Doctor — The William Hartnell Years 1963–1966. London: Virgin Books, 1994. ISBN 978-0-4262-0430-5.
- Morgan-Russell, Simon. Jimmy Perry and David Croft. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-7190-6556-9.
- Murphy, Robert. Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939–48. London: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 978-1-1349-0150-0.
- Pertwee, Bill. Dad's Army: The Making of a Television Legend. London: Conway, 2009.ISBN 978-1-8448-6105-7.