Classic British war film The Way Ahead was inspired by the 40-minute army training film The New Lot directed in 1943 by Carol Reed for the Army Kinema Corporation which, like The Way Ahead, was co-written by Peter Ustinov and Eric Ambler.
The drama centres on David Niven, a young officer who, having just returned from Dunkirk, is landed with the job of training raw recruits. At first, Niven puts the decidedly mixed bunch through their paces and whips them into fighting shape. Training completed, Niven and his men embark on a crowded troopship for North Africa where their objective is to help cut off Rommel’s retreat from El Alamein.
The new soldiers encounter their first taste of real combat when their ship is torpedoed and they lose half the men. Niven and the survivors are taken by destroyer to North Africa and find themselves stationed in a small village in Tunisia. Before long the village comes under bombardment by German mortars and they scornfully reject a call to surrender. Niven then orders his men to advance…
The Way Ahead was the brainchild of, depending on which account is to be believed, variously Niven and Ustinov and was produced as a commercial feature by Guido Del Giudice at the Denham Studios of Two Cities films.
Niven was now a real-life Lieutenant Colonel, Reed a Captain and Ambler a Major. Ustinov was only a private and so, in order that he could continue to work on the screenplay in such august company, he was considered officially to be Niven’s batman.
Many of the original cast of The New Lot – Stanley Holloway, Raymond Huntley, Billy (later William) Hartnell as a sergeant major – were recalled to cinema service and Reed elicited a gallery of fine performances from his hand-picked cast, including Trevor Howard in his screen debut.
UK / 1944
Director: Carol Reed
Writers: Eric Ambler, Peter Ustinov, from a story by Eric Ambler
Cast: David Niven, Raymond Huntley, William Hartnell, Stanley Holloway, James Donald, John Laurie, Leslie Dwyer, Jimmy Hanley