The Way to the Stars (1945) Johnny In The Clouds WWII Bomber Base Drama

The Way to the Stars (1945) Johnny In The Clouds poster film movie anthony asquith

Called The Way to the Stars in the UK and Johnny in the Clouds in the USA. This outstanding World War Two drama focuses on the lives of RAF bomber pilots during the course of the war. It shows the progression of new and improved aircraft being tested and flown into battle. Whilst following the day to day routine of the pilots responsible for flying them awaiting their next mission. Moving through the years of 1940 to 1944. It was released in the UK in June 1945 a few months before WWII had finished and overseas in the US during November.

The Way to the Stars (1945) David Archdale Michael Redgrave Peter Penrose John Mills

The film follows rooky pilot Peter Penrose (John Mills) as he arrives at the RAF Station Halfpenny Field airfield. With just 15 hours flight time under his belt in the Bristol Blenheim, he’d been assigned to join the bomber pilots of 720 squadron. On meeting his superior Flight Lieutenant David Archdale (Michael Redgrave) he soon discovers he will tallying up those hours, real fast.

Peter Penrose –I’m afraid I’m strictly amateur.
Flight Lt. David Archdale –There aren’t any amateurs and professionals anymore, just good pilots and bad pilots. The good pilots stay alive and the bad ones don’t. And that’s not true anymore either!

The Way to the Stars (1945) Peter Penrose (John Mills) Michael Redgrave bomber pilot

The Way to the Stars (1945) Johnny In The Clouds RAF Bristol Blenheim Bomber Squadron
Bristol Blenheim Light Bomber

Flash forward a year and we find Peter has become a first class pilot now flying bombing raids and carrying out reconnaissance onboard the US manufactured Douglas Boston A-20 Havoc. And of course, after such missions it’s always good to unwind at the local, the Golden Lion Hotel, which served lashings of pints and brandy. You could guarantee a good sing song around the piano but when last orders come, landlady Miss Todd (Rosamund John) doesn’t take any nonsense.

The Way to the Stars (1945) Bonar Colleano Johnny Hollis Douglass Montgomery John Mills beer sing song piano

The Way to the Stars (1945) Johnny In The CloudsUnited States Douglas A-20 Havoc bomber
Douglas Boston A-20 Havoc

Over the next few months a lot changes for our Peter. He’s fallen in love with Iris Winterton (Renee Asherson), been grounded and assigned ground controller. This coincides with the arrival of the United States Army Air Forces taking over the airfield for their B-17 Flying Fortress bombardment squadron. Peter becomes friends with the American crew, Captain Johnny Hollis (Douglass Montgomery) and his Lieutenant Joe Friselli (Bonar Colleano) and what else to do rather than flying? Yep you got it, drink loads of pints down the old boozer. It’s not long before Captain Johnny and his squadron head out on their bombing raids and Peter is back, this time flying the Avro Lancaster. Who will return from these treacherous missions? Can you make friends or even fall in love during such dangerous and difficult times? The Way to the Stars deals with this dilemma in this expertly observed war time drama.

The Way to the Stars (1945) Johnny In The Clouds Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
The Way to the Stars (1945) Johnny In The Clouds Avro Lancaster bomber
Avro Lancaster

A few things.

  • Directed by Anthony Asquith. I’ve featured a few of his films on here before like The Browning Version and Orders To Kill. Feel free to recommend others by him.
  • Written by Terence Rattigan who’d been a Flight Lieutenant himself in the RAF. At first writing his experiences for a play called Flare Path in 1942. The movie was produced by Anatole de Grunwald.
  • I think I prefer the title Johnny in the Clouds, especially as the film centers around the poem “For Johnny” an ode to Royal Air Force pilots written by John Pudney.
  • The eye eagled with spot Bill Owen aka Compo from the long running British comedy series Last Of The Summer Wine. It’s amazing to see he looks as old in this as he does 40 plus year later!

The Way to the Stars (1945) John Mills Douglass Montgomery Bill Owen Nobby Last Of Summer Wine

  • Look out for Trevor Howard, in his first credited role, playing Squadron Leader Carter. His next film would be Brief Encounter!
  • Every year in my home town of Bournemouth there’s an airshow on the coast. Sally B the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a regular flyer and she’s a wonder to watch. Incredible sound. She’s the last airworthy B-17 in Europe. You can read about her story on the official website Sally B
IMGP3032
Sally B the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

There’s a few things that really set this film aside. It’s brilliant to see, especially as the war had not yet ended, the way all the different aircraft are introduced through the years. Starting with the lighter bombers and moving on to the more famous named heavier bombers that were essential for the strategic bombing campaign.

The other standout was the way death on the air base was revealed. We see no battles as we are grounded on the base but we wait with binoculars and bated breath and count the returning aircraft. Left to see who walks back through the door. Who’s come back? It’s simple and extremely effective. You can only imagine that is what it would of been like. You mutter the words “Bad show old boy” pick up your kit and carry on, with a cup of tea, of course.

The film feels like a grand tribute to the allied bomber pilots that risked their lives throughout World War Two. It’s a very recommend watch if you haven’t seen it.  Thanks for having a read. All the best.. Mikey Wolf

The Way to the Stars (1945) Johnny In The Clouds American poster
Apparently it didn’t do very well at the American box office and surely that bland poster didn’t help matters.
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12 thoughts on “The Way to the Stars (1945) Johnny In The Clouds WWII Bomber Base Drama

  1. Cracking film. What a cast this one had. Have you seen the original Dunkirk starring John Mills? That’s another great war film with an all star classic Brit cast. If you like planes I’d also recommend The First Of The Few (1942), it’s about the man who created the Spitfires.

    If you are after more Asquith I recommend his directorial debut Shooting Stars(1928). It’s my favourite Silent film. Also check out Pygmalion, Carrington V.C, The Winslow Boy, Fanny By Gaslight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maddy comes up trumps as always. Thank you.
      I have seen Dunkirk with John Mills. An excellent film indeed. I haven’t seen The First Of The Few though. I really need to now. Off to investigate.
      I’ve noted down all the Asquith recommends. Thanks you. Will endeavor to find Shooting Stars especially with it’s high praise. I have been after Carrington VC for sometime. Really like the sound of that one.
      Fanny By Gaslight? That has perilous danger written all over it! LOL 🙂

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  2. I don’t think I’d heard of this one but again I’m amazed at the amount of WW2 themed features that came out of England/Britain starring an amazing roster of talent. Mills, Howard, Attenborough, Hawkins, Richardson, Quayle etc….keeps me watching and discovering new titles all the time. Thanks for the tip.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can imagine all the cool aircraft seen in this movie, having been filmed while the war was still in-progress. That photo of the Lancaster…good lord, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that plane before. What a design! And the storyline reminds me of ‘Twelve O’Clock High’, with everyone on the ground waiting to see how many come back. A great film if you’ve never seen it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Todd I haven’t heard of Twelve O’Clock High and I’m off to investigate. Gregory Peck too. Sounds like it’s about the same American squadron of B-17’s. It sounds a must. It’s just pinged right up my “too watch” list like a spinach powered Popeye slamming down a hammer blow and smashing the bell off the top into the stratosphere. Nice one buddy.
      The Lancaster is awesome isn’t it. I love it’s iconic tail fin. Obviously not ideal in anyway but apparently it could still fly for a short distance with only one engine!!!

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  4. I need to watch this one again, such a good film.

    I think I prefer the original title. Presumably it’s a reference to the RAF motto “Per ardua ad astra” (Through adversity to the stars).

    To Maddy’s list of Anthony Asquith films I’d add The Importance of Being Earnest, which is a lot of fun and brilliantly cast, and among the WWII films We Dive at Dawn with John Mills. I think Carrington VC has been on Talking Pictures recently, so it will probably come around again soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve after Carrington VC or it’s other name Court Martial for sometime. I’m sure I’m going to really like that one. Wish there was someway to record from Talking Pictures and watch on my PC! I hear Talking Pictures is an excellent resource for great movies.

      Oh now you say where the title comes from it makes total sense. Thanks for the info Jay. Also We Dive at Dawn has to go on my too watch list. I have a sneaky feeling I’ve seen that many years ago but can’t wait to find out.

      You know I haven’t seen The Importance of Being Earnest but I really wish too. Superb cast. Funny as my next post will have Edith Evans and I’ve just watched the wonderful Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple in Murder She Said. Hehe I really enjoyed that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post 🙂 You know, it is kind of a shame that they never did something of a companion piece to this set in post-WWII Britain. One wonders If it would have been like their equivalent of the American film The Best Year of Our Lives from 1946. That, or it could have done to Post-WWII what David Lean’s This Happy Breed did for post-WWI British life. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting thoughts John. You know what I haven’t seen The Best Years of Our Lives but so very much want too. Coming in at near on 3 hrs has always put me off even though I know I going to really enjoy it. Just hard to find the time. Thanks for the great comments

      Liked by 1 person

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