A group of conscripts are called up into the infantry during WWII. At first they appear a hopeless bunch but their sergeant and Lieutenant have faith in them and mould them into a good team. When they go into action in N. Africa they realise what it's all about.
David Niven ... Lieutenant Jim Perry
Stanley Holloway ... Pvt. Ted Brewer
James Donald ... Pvt. Lloyd
John Laurie ... Pvt. Luke
Leslie Dwyer ... Pvt. Sid Beck
Hugh Burden ... Pvt. Bill Parsons
Jimmy Hanley ... Pvt. Geoffrey Stainer (as Jimmie Hanley)
William Hartnell ... Sgt. Ned Fletcher (as Billy Hartnell)
Reginald Tate ... The Training Company Commanding Officer
Leo Genn ... Captain Edwards
John Ruddock ... Old Soldier
A. Bromley Davenport ... Old Soldier (as Bromley Davenport)
Renée Asherson ... Marjorie Gillingham (as Renee Asherson)
Mary Jerrold ... Mrs. Gillingham
Tessie O'Shea ... Herself (singer)
"The Way Ahead" is a wonderful addition to the History of film. I am sure the Director took the material given to him and changed it beyond recognition. What would normally have been a run of the mill propaganda film has in the hands of Carol Reed become a touching and poignant reminder of World War Two.
The acting is first class. David Niven adds the Hollywood dash and they're off to war. Surprisingly few people die in this war that Carol Reed is shooting yet he has obviously been given command of most of the British Army stationed in England. As the tanks, armoured cars and men featured are the real deal. The cast are, of course, professional seasoned actors. Quite old some of them.
The script co written with Peter Ustinov is intelligent and you do find yourself caring for these drafted men. The final advance is haunting.
The battle scene is impressive in it recreation and at points reminded me of the first reel of "Saving Private Ryan". Which only goes to prove that Directors have been shooting great Battle scenes for almost a century.
The "Way Ahead" is a good war film yet it has not dispelled a lingering and nagging thought. I have yet to see a war film where the British don't come across as crazy and eccentric.
I really can't understand some of the more negative comments from some reviewers from the USA about this movie. For me, it is far superior to equivalent American wartime propaganda movies (including enjoyable but hardly realistic efforts such as 7 Graves To Cairo and Sahara), and made and acted by a British cast who were serving servicemen as well (unlike a certain J. Wayne or H. Bogart). Carol Reed gives us on the surface a cliche ridden movie but his gritty visual style which would become his trademark plus a script that still gives depth to a by now familiar concept lift this way above other movies made at the time.
The soldiers don't look pristine and for most of the time, don't act heroically until the last 5 minutes. They're not an elite unit (as in Sands of Iwo Jima), they grumble, complain and stagger their way to the front lines but nor are they goofballs, pranksters or loveable rogues. They are ordinary men in difficult times, which was what the film makers wanted to show. They are not all broad stereotypes either; some, like the characters Davenport or Brewer, may on the surface seem like the upper class toff and the cheeky cockney but again, the way they interplay with the rest of the cast, they become more than just representatives of their class.
For an old war movie, I was impressed with the action. Early on, when the two old soldiers are talking about how much better it was in the army in their day, we get a juxtaposed montage of David Niven in training, showing how hard it is. A lot of the burning troop ship shots are done hand held, which adds to the tension. The Tunisia scenes look very authentic and see how Reed indulges in rapid cutting, disorienting explosions and run down and dirty art direction. The only film that comes close to achieving this kind of grittiness in the war years is "Guadalcanal Diary".
One of the very best war movies to be made while WWII was still in progress with almost no hint of propaganda and false or movie-like heroism on the part of the good guys a squad,not battalion, of British Tommies in the North African desert. Released in London on June 6, 1944 D-Day, the film was released in the USA a year later as "The Immortal Battalion, "The Way Ahead" couldn't have come at a better time with the Allies and Nazis in a life and death struggle on the beaches of Normandy.
The movie starts off with a number of British recruits well into their 20's or even early 30's getting the hang of military life which at first they greatly, like their first sergeant Ned Fletcher(William Hertwell), dislike. As the trooper are whipped into shape by the though as nails Sgt. Fletcher and their commanding officer the soft spoken Let. Jim Perry, Davd Niven, their slated to sail to French North Africa to participate in the invasion, in Operation Torch, of Vichy France's colonies Algeria and Tunisia. As things turn out the troop ship that their in gets struck by a German U-boat torpedo and sinks, with half the battalion lost, in the Mediterranean Sea.
With Let.Perry's unite now reduced to company size it's sent to Gibraltar for what seems like the remainder of the war. It's not until the battle of El Alamein starts to turn against the British Eight Army that Let. Perry's men are immediately sent to the front lines to stop the German Afrika's Corps advance. We , as well as Perry's men, finally get to see action as Let. Perry's men are outflanked and cut off by the advancing German troops as the battle of El Alamein rages on behind their backs.
Fghting for their very lives and almost out of ammunition the trapped and outnumbered British troops at the end of the movie tack on their bayonets and walk out of the safety of their barricaded and fixed position, the Rispoli Café, to confront the heavily armed Germans. And at the same time walk into the pages of history in both courage and valor under fire.
You just can't keep from holding back your tears in watching the movie knowing that almost all the cast will eventually end up killed or captured. The movie both didn't overemphasize the British Troops as well as downplay Rommell's Africa Corps. Both parties came across equally brave and effective in the fighting that takes pace in the film. Which is very rare in war movies were one side, the one who makes the film, is shown vastly superior morally as well as militarily over the other: The one that the side who made the movie is at war with.
P.S Look for both Actor Peter Ustinov as café owner Rispoli and Trevor Howard as the troop ships, that goes under the waves, officer in the movie.
* David Niven reports in his autobiography that the film was shown for many years for training at Sandhurst (the British Army's officer training school).
* The film was still used for officer training in Australia as recently as 1983.
* At the time the movie was made, David Niven, who plays a lieutenant, was actually a British Army major serving on operations in WWII.
* This started life as an Army training and instructional film, "The New Lot," written by Peter Ustinov and Eric Ambler and starring some of the cast that finished up in "The Way Ahead" (Niven came in later). The training film had upset some Army top brass with its frankness and was suppressed. It has recently re-emerged thanks to a copy found in an archive.
* Remake of the Army Kinematograph Service film "The New Lot"