The 26th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was the 1944 British film, The Way Ahead (or, as it was retitled when it was released in America, The Immortal Battalion).
Directed by Carol Reed (who was five years away from directing the great The Third Man), The Way Ahead is a British propaganda film that was made to boost the morale of both a weary British public and the army during the final days of World War II. Usually, when we call something propaganda, it’s meant as a term of disparagement but The Way Ahead is propaganda in the best possible way.
The film follows a group of British soldiers, from the moment that they are conscripted through their training to their first battle. (In many ways, it’s like a more refined — which is another way of saying “more British” — version of Gung Ho!) As usually happens in films like this, the newly conscripted soldiers come from all sections of society. Some of them are poor. Some of them are rich. Some of them are married. Some of them are single. In fact, when the film first begins, the only thing that they all have in common is that they don’t want to be in the army.
As they begin their training, they resent their tough sergeant, Fletcher (William Hartnell), and are upset that Lt. Jim Perry (David Niven, giving a very likable performance) always seems to take Fletcher’s side in any dispute. However, as time passes by, the soldiers start to realize that Fletcher is looking out for them and molding them into a cohesive unit. Under his training, they go from being a group of disorganized and somewhat resentful individuals to being a tough and well-organized battalion.
Though they’re originally skeptical that they’ll ever see combat, the battalion is eventually sent to North Africa. However, their ship is torpedoed and, in a scene that remains genuinely impressive even when viewed today, the men are forced to abandon ship while explosions and flames light up the night sky. By the time that they do finally reach North Africa, they are more than ready to fight…
The Way Ahead plays out in a semi-documentary fashion (it even features a narrator who, at the end of the film, exhorts the audience to stay firm in their commitment) and it’s a fairly predictable film. If you’ve ever seen a war film, you’ll probably be able to predict everything that happens in The Way Ahead. That said, The Way Ahead is a remarkable well-made and well-acted film. The cast is well-selected (and features a lot of familiar British characters actors, some making their film debut) and David Niven is the perfect choice for the mild-mannered but firm Lt. Perry. Even though I’m not a huge fan of war films in general, I was still impressed with The Way Ahead.
And you can watch it below!