There I was enjoying The Way Ahead when the film lands in Algeria with our cast poised ready to join the fighting in North Africa. Raging in the distance, not too far away, is the flash and sounds of heavy gun fire. Fierce battles are taking place as the Allies smash horns with the infamous Rommel and his Afrika Korps. Ordered to wait out the fighting until needed, these British infantry men sit anxiously with the Algerian locals. Waiting inside a small cafe they entertained themselves with songs and darts. Standing grumpy, not at all happy with this invasion on his nice quiet business is a Frenchman called Rispoli. Now I’m looking at him rather baffled. I was convinced he looked like a young Peter Ustinov. And of course it was. He’s quite an unique looking fellow, even in his youth. When the film finished I couldn’t wait to read about his involvement in The Way Ahead and found out a whole lot more.
But first things first. This post is part of the World War Two in film and television blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Jay’s Cinema Essentials. A tribute, thoughtful remembrance, as the 1st of September marks 80s years of the start of the war. Be sure to check them out, as both Maddy and Jay always deliver wonderfully written reviews.
Tagline – A Story of Today—YOU’LL REMEMBER FOREVER!
The Way Ahead is quaint little film focusing on the lives of a group of conscripts called up to join the infantry. Obviously a little apprehensive but also very eager to get in there and give old Jerry a bunch of fives. We spy glimpses of their day to day lives on civvy street. Even hear their thoughts on the politics of war. We join the train carriage travelling to the military base they will call home or hell for a few weeks. For these men will be put through a grueling basic training program. Once this new battalion of men are ready, they will be deployed to North Africa. Ready to bolster up the depleted ranks of the men fighting against the Nazi’s. But before all that!……. “Mrs Gillingham’s serving tea and finger sandwiches in the old manor.”
Apart from one pre-war territorial soldier who would become officer Lieutenant Jim Perry (David Niven), all the conscripts are everyday civilians. Ranging from all walks of life these guys are thrown together to fight for King and country. Luckily the train stops at an interchange…….. “Time for a cuppa?” “Ooooo yes please.”
With the help of the stern looking Sgt. Ned Fletcher (William Hartnell) they get broken in one way or another through the savage basic training. These guys are just another hopeless bunch put through the tough series of challenges to get them ready for battle. Starting with some comical scenes of men flying through mud, falling over, shot at and belittled by officers. Sergeant Fletcher gets a bad rap. He’s the bogie man to the guys. Little do they know Sarg is actually a cute and friendly fella. He just needs these men as tough as steel if they have any hope of surviving……. “By the way old bean is it time for Elevenses yet? We are all rather parched. Tea and biscuits perchance?”
Tagline – THE GUTS and GLORY STORY of BRAVE MEN into the HELL of BATTLE!
These fighting bulldogs were now trained and full of refreshments. The next wave of infantry soldiers now boarding the giant troopship ready to join the fight. Destination North Africa and a random rendezvous with a certain Pre-Sir Peter Ustinov, the moody bullseye wizard!
Who’s in the cast?
Alongside David Niven there’s a whole host of familiar faces like Stanley Holloway, James Donald and Jimmy Hanley. And there’s two others that really stand out. Scotsman John Laurie plays Private Luke, who to be honest, looks the same age as he does in Dad’s Army as Private James Frazer. Was that guy ever a baby? Plus drill Sgt. Ned Fletcher played by William Hartnell who would be forever immortalized in 1963 as the first Time Lord in Doctor Who.
Things I’ve Learnt.
- The Way Ahead was written by spy and thriller novelist Eric Ambler and a young Peter Ustinov.
- Eric Ambler also did screenwriting alongside his novels. He’d adapted the screenplay from Nicholas Monsarrat novel The Cruel Sea for the Jack Hawkins starring WW2 Battleship drama.
- The Way Ahead is directed by Carol Reed who will be very known to you for 1949s noir mystery, The Third Man and 1968s musical Oliver to name a few.
- Now the great thing about The Way Ahead is that it’s in fact a bigger budget, movie length expanded remake of army training video called The New Lot (in full on YouTube) that Ambler, Ustinov and Reed in the directors chair made for the Army Kinematograph Services.
- During the war David Niven had become a Lieutenant Colonel and from what I’ve read Peter Ustinov was only a young Private. With officers and their subordinates hanging out being frowned upon it was set up that Ustinov would become his “batman”, a personal servant, an orderly. That way the two could work together on scripts and a movie projects.
- David and Peter would later star alongside each other as friends in Peter Ustinov’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot in 1978s Death on the Nile
- The American release was shorten by about 20 odd minutes and renamed with a more formidable title, The Immortal Battalion. I wonder what was cut out! The troopship scene?
- In a great end scene that shows each soldier appearing through the thick smoke with rifle and bayonet ready for action was homaged in a Dad’s Army end credits with John Laurie kind of reprising his role.
- I was AMAZED to read that The Way Ahead was released in London for showings on the 6th June 1944 D-DAY!
- Oh and one last important thing. This is my Grandad’s hat. He was a Regimental Sergeant Major in the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards and took part in the North African Campaign battles that are portrayed in this film.
The Way Ahead is really enjoyable drama. A light heart, well natured account of conscripts joining as rookies to becoming seasoned brave fighters. It might be a propaganda film of sorts but they don’t push anything too hard. It’s more a study of different characters and walks of life being thrown in together and trying to find their place. All with very differing personalities, cocky, cheeky and even disobedient. One way or the other these men will be brought into line, find their pride and become lean mean fighting machines.
The training sequences are dotted with a mix of slapstick and tough vigorous, intense training as the bewildered men are dropped in the deep end. And there are plenty of intense scenes of falling buildings and exploding carnage. There’s also a chance for an unexpected big set piece involving a giant troop carrier.
It always amazes me to see these films made during the heighten tension and crisis of war. Keeping the mood optimistic as D-Day was just about to be executed into effect. With more death and destruction in “The Way Ahead” with nothing but victory for good over evil embedded in these brave men’s souls. Now 80 years since the start of World War Two I still have so much pride and respect for my grandad’s generation and all the men and women from all the allies countries that bravely fought for our precious freedom we now have.
Winston Churchill – “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.“
And as I joke above, as long as a nice cup of Rosie Lee (tea) is ready for them at the end then these brave boys are gonna be alright.
Thanks for reading my addition to this heartfelt tribute WWII blogathon.
Big love. Mikey Wolf
PS There’s a fair few war posts I’ve featured on this here link if your interested for more. War Story.