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The Way Ahead

The Way Ahead
Directed by Carol Reed
Produced by John Sutro
Norman Walker
Written by Eric Ambler
Peter Ustinov
Starring David Niven
Stanley Holloway
William Hartnell
Music by William Alwyn
Cinematography Guy Green
Edited by Fergus McDonell
Distributed by GFD
  • 9 June 1944 (1944-06-09) (UK)
  • 3 June 1945 (1945-06-03) (U.S.)
115 min. / 91 min. (USA)
Country United Kingdom
Language English

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. Niven, a 1930 graduate of Sandhurst, was at the time a major in the British Army working with the Army Film Unit and later served in Normandy with GHQ Liaison Regiment.


In the days after the Dunkirk evacuation in Second World War, recently commissioned Second Lieutenant Jim Perry (David Niven), a pre-war Territorial private soldier and a veteran sergeant of the British Expeditionary Force, is posted to the (fictional) Duke of Glendon's Light Infantry, known as the 'dogs', 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. The conscripts also believe that their sergeant is treating them with special severity; in fact, he is pleased with the way they are developing and has his eye on some of them as potential NCOs. 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 are forced to abandon ship; their sergeant is trapped under a burning tank and is rescued by several of the men. They are returned to Gibraltar, so miss the fighting.

When they eventually get to North Africa, 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. At one point, the Germans invite them to surrender, with the response 'Go to Hell!'

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.


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