Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Way Ahead, The (1944)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Way Ahead, The (1944)
35mm, 115 min, black & white
Directed byCarol Reed
Production CompanyTwo Cities Films
ProducersNorman Walker
 John Sutro
ScreenplayEric Ambler
 Peter Ustinov
CinematographyGuy Green

Cast: David Niven (Lieutenant Jim Perry); Stanley Holloway (Ted Brewer); James Donald (Evans Lloyd); John Laurie (Luke); Leslie Dwyer (Beck); Hugh Burdon (Bill Parsons); Jimmie Hanley (Jeff Stainer); Billy Hartnell (Sergeant Fletcher)

Show full cast and credits

The story of seven civilians who are called up to the Army and take part in the North African invasion.

Show full synopsis

"I wonder what we'll look like in 1970," Perry muses to his wife during the poignant sequence before the platoon sails for action. It's a piquant line in a wartime drama so packed with familiar British faces, starry and small. The film's material itself reflects the changes of time. The Way Ahead was conceived during the 1942 winter, when morale-stiffening in and outside the Army was sorely needed. The Army training film The New Lot (1943) served as inspiration, providing key plot elements, characters, and creative personnel (director Reed, writers Ambler and Ustinov). Parallels run closest in the first half, when The Way Ahead follows its conscripted men - working- and middle-class, variously callow, discontented, and chirpy - until they begin forming a fighting team.

Where The New Lot confined itself to basic training exercises, this 'new lot' see action in the Mediterranean: they end the film, gun and bayonet primed, marching through the battle smoke towards victory, possibly death. This fitted the country's changing mood. By 1944, when the film was readied for release, the argument for conscription had been won. Instead audiences needed, and received, a sympathetic picture of Army life that showed Home Front wives what their men were experiencing and made every sacrifice seem worthwhile. Opening on D-Day itself, with the Allies' invasion push finally underway, Reed's film proved a resounding popular and critical success throughout Britain.

The New Lot ran to 40 minutes. The Way Ahead is a full feature, leap-frogging through the war with what now seems the redundant linking device of the Chelsea Pensioners fretting over modern soldiery. Extra time is spent pursuing caustic humour (and, with the Brewer character, pushing the Cockney button a little too readily). Other space is devoted to action, most imaginatively handled in the troopship sequence - staged in the studio, but with much of the hard edge of actuality learned from documentary.

There is also a star performer, David Niven, himself an Army Major; he'd been instrumental in setting up the film. At first Perry, his character, occupies the background. But after lecturing the men for deliberately flunking an exercise, Perry becomes the lynch-pin: the firm, fair, rose-tinted officer even the platoon grumblers can respect. To today's viewers, however, the film's stand-out character is probably Lloyd the malcontent - brilliantly pitched by James Donald as a confused man of thought, grudges and shoulder chips visible in every cold stare.

Geoff Brown

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Crewe station buffet bar (2:47)
2. The platoon (2:42)
3. The troop ship torpedoed (6:05)
4. Final march (3:02)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
New Lot, The (1943)
Nine Men (1943)
Young Veteran (1940)
Green, Guy (1913-2005)
Hanley, Jimmy (1918-1970)
Hartnell, William (1908-1975)
Holloway, Stanley (1890-1982)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Niven, David (1910-1983)
Reed, Carol (1906-1976)
Ustinov, Peter (1921-2004)
Two Cities Films