The Way Ahead (1944)

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“The Way Ahead” is a British Second World War drama released in 1944. It stars David Niven and Stanley Holloway and follows a group of civilians who are conscripted into the British Army to fight in North Africa. In the U.S., an edited version was released as “The Immortal Battalion”. The film was written by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov and directed by Carol Reed. The three had originally produced the 1943 training film “The New Lot”, which was produced for the Army Kinematograph Service. “The Way Ahead” was an expanded remake of their earlier film, this time intended for a commercial audience. The two films featured some of the same actors, including John Laurie, Raymond Huntley and Peter Ustinov.

In the days after the Dunkirk evacuation in Second World War, Lieutenant Jim Perry (David Niven), a veteran of the British Expeditionary Force, is posted to the Duke of Glendon’s Light Infantry to train replacements to fill its depleted ranks. A patient, mild-mannered officer, he does his strenuous best to turn the bunch of grumbling ex-civilians into soldiers, earning himself their intense dislike. Eventually however, the men come to respect their officer.

After their training is completed, their battalion is shipped out to North Africa to face Rommel’s Afrika Korps. However, their ship is torpedoed en route, and they miss the fighting. They are assigned to guard a small town. Perry appropriates a cafe as his headquarters, much to the disgust of the pacifist owner, Rispoli (Peter Ustinov). When the Germans attack, Perry and his men fiercely defend their positions, aided by Rispoli. The last scene shows them advancing in a counter-attack. Instead of the film ending with the words “The End”, it concludes with the more uplifting “The Beginning”, an attempt to galvanize support for the final push in the war effort. The final scene of the advancing soldiers was also copied for the closing credits of the long-running sitcom Dad’s Army; John Laurie appeared in both and his performance in the sitcom credits mirrors this film.