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 | 115 minutes | 1944
Director: Carol Reed
Writers: Eric Ambler, Peter Ustinov, from a story by Eric Ambler
John Laurie as Pvt. Luke
Raymond Huntley as Pvt. Herbert Davenport
William Hartnell as Sgt. Ned Fletcher
Esma Cannon as Mrs. Ted Brewer
Leo Genn as Captain Edwards
Leslie Dwyer as Pvt. Sid Beck
Renée Asherson as Marjorie Gillingham
James Donald as Pvt. Evans Lloyd
Raymond Lovell as Mr. Jackson
David Niven as Lieutenant Jim Perry
Peter Ustinov as Rispoli
Jimmy Hanley as Pvt. Geoffrey Stainer
Tessie O’Shea as Herself
Grace Arnold as Mrs. Ned Fletcher
Stanley Holloway as Pvt. Ted Brewer
Hugh Burden as Pvt. Bill Parsons
Jack Watling as Sgt. Buster
A.E. Matthews as Colonel Walmsley
Mary Jerrold as Mrs. Gillingham
Lloyd Pearson as Sam Thyrtle
George Merritt as Sergeant Major (uncredited)
Reginald Tate as The Training Company Commanding Officer
John Ruddock as Old Chelsea Soldier
A. Bromley Davenport as Old Chelsea Soldier
Penelope Dudley-Ward as Mrs. Perry
Eileen Erskine as Mrs. Bill Parsons
Trevor Howard as Officer on Ship (uncredited)
Tracy Reed as Perry’s Daughter (uncredited)
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