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New Lot, The (1943)

Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Main image of New Lot, The (1943)
35mm, 42 min, black & white
DirectorCarol Reed
Production CompanyArmy Kinematograph Service
ScreenplayPeter Ustinov
 Eric Ambler
CinematographyJohn Wilcox
EditorReginald Mills

Cast: Peter Ustinov (Keith Bracken); Bernard Miles (Ted Loman); John Laurie (Harry Fife); Raymond Huntley (Bernie Barrington); Philip Godfrey (Art Wallace); Geoffrey Keen (Corporal); Robert Donat (feature film 'hero')

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A new batch of Army recruits, from diverse backgrounds and with varying degrees of commitment, is shaped into an efficient fighting unit.

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By 1942, after over two extremely tough years of war, the British Government had introduced new conscription rules to increase the Army's fighting stock. The upper age limit had been 30; now it was to be 50, while the lower age limit was reduced from 20 to 18. Into the Army came people with a wider range of backgrounds than hitherto, less easy to mould into a fighting unit. To help counter morale problems and relieve the conscripts' fears, the Directorate of Army Kinematography instituted this training film, which follows a fictional cross-section of new recruits - played by mostly very familiar but uncredited faces - through their first months. The Army top brass initially disapproved of the amount of footage given to grumblings about army life; but the service's psychiatrists mounted a successful defence, and the grumblings were certainly among the reasons why the film proved so popular with its intended audience. "The whole thing's a lot of bullshit!" says the chief grumbler Ted Loman, throwing his cap across the room. Not the kind of language usually heard on wartime screens.

In line with the film's non-commercial function, no names of personnel are given onscreen: instead, we are informed the film is "supervised by an officer appointed by the General Staff". The Home Guard exercise sequence proves a limp way of demonstrating the recruits' teamwork; aside from that, director Carol Reed, editor Reginald Mills, and scriptwriters Peter Ustinov and Eric Ambler (both with experience as Army privates) devise ingenious ways of fulfilling their propaganda brief. Class stereotypes remain, and condescension curls round the presentation of Loman - happy to spend his entire life laying bricks. But the humour is spry and the understanding of the ordinary conscript genuine; and the war film spoof, with Robert Donat and Stewart Rome, makes a clever and unexpected finale.

Cinema audiences at the time never saw The New Lot. But they soon became familiar with the film in outline, for most of the storyline, characters, and key technical people - Reed included - were subsequently put to work in Two Cities' commercial feature The Way Ahead (1944). For a short period afterwards The New Lot continued in use as a training film; in the early 1990s, when it was considered lost, a copy was found among a collection from the Indian Ministry of Information.

Geoff Brown

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Video Clips
1. We're all together (2:47)
2. An army career (1:42)
3. Exercise (4:28)
Raising Soldiers (1940)
Way Ahead, The (1944)
Young Veteran (1940)
Dickinson, Thorold (1903-1984)
Donat, Robert (1905-1958)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Lee, Bernard (1908-1981)
Miles, Bernard (1907-1991)
Mills, Reginald (1912-1990)
Reed, Carol (1906-1976)
Rome, Stewart (1886-1965)
Slater, John (1916-1975)