The Fabulous Forties #26: The Way Ahead (dir by Carol Reed)


The_Way_Ahead_VideoCover

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!

The Fabulous Forties #24: Passport to Pimlico (dir by Henry Cornelius)


Passport_to_Pimlico_film

The 24th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was the 1949 British comedy, Passport to Pimlico!  Even though Passport to Pimlico is very much a British film (for instance, I had to use Wikipedia to discover the Pimlico is a neighborhood in London) and definitely a product of its time, it’s still a film that felt very relevant to some of the things that all of us in America are dealing with today.  If nothing else, Passport to Pimlico is definitely more memorable than Freckles Comes Home.

Passport to Pimlico opens in London.  World War II may be over but the city is still in the process of rebuilding.  War-time rationing is still in effect and all the residents of Pimlico regularly have to deal with the endless red tape of bureaucracy.  As well, there’s still unexploded German bombs littered around the neighborhood.  When a group of local children accidentally blow one of those bombs up, it leads to the discovery of a previously hidden cellar.  Inside the cellar is everything you could hope to find in a mysterious room: artwork, jewelry, and coins.  There’s also a parchment from the 15th Century, in which the king of England ceded the neighborhood to the final Duke of Burgundy.  Because no one knew that the charter existed, it has also never been revoked.  As a result, all of the citizens of Pimlico are actually citizens of dukedom of Burgundy.

That means two things: First off, the citizens are legally required to live under the laws of Burgundy, despite the fact that the dukedom no longer exists and those laws haven’t been changed since the 1400s.  Secondly, the neighborhood is no longer governed by the restrictive bureaucracy of postwar Britain.  In short, Pimlico — or Burgundy, as it is now called — is a free and independent state.

Soon, the nation of Burgundy is being overrun by greedy businessmen and enthusiastic shoppers.  The British respond by surrounding Burgundy with barbed wire and announcing that no one may cross the border.  The Burgundians react by demanding that anyone riding the underground through their country have a passport or run the risk being kicked off the train.

And things only escalate from there.  The British government is desperate to put Burgundy in its place while the citizens of Burgundy are determined to maintain their independence.  If Passport to Pimlico were made today, this is probably one of those situations that would either end in tragedy or with everyone learning not to question the whims of the government.  Fortunately, Passport to Pimlico was made in 1949 and, as a result, it is a genuinely warm-hearted comedy that celebrates both individual freedom and patriotism.

And really, it’s an enjoyable little film.  The cast is full of British character actors, all of whom deliver their dialogue with just the right amount of snark.  I enjoyed it and I have to admit that I related to it a bit.  As I look at America today and I think about what it’s going to be like in 2017 (regardless of who wins the presidential election because, let’s be honest, they all suck), there’s a part of me that would love a chance to get out of this country and be a Burgundian.

Seriously, come 2017, I’m seceding!

Until then, I guess I can just watch Passport to Pimlico.