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The Way to the Stars

Posted by martinteller on June 28, 2013

A look at life at the R.A.F. base built at Halfpenny Field over several years during the war.  Among the men are Flight Lieutenant David Archdale (Michael Redgrave), Squadron Leader Gil Carter (Trevor Howard), Sergeant Nobby Clark (Bill Owen), the inexperienced new arrival Peter Penrose (John Mills) and air controller Tiny Williams (Basil Radford).  The crew frequents The Golden Lion, a nearby inn run by Miss Todd (Rosamund John).  David and “Toddy” fall in love and get married.  Peter falls in love with Iris Winterton (Renée Asherson), a displaced Londoner staying at the inn with her overbearing aunt (Joyce Carey).  But when a tragedy occurs during a mission, Peter becomes stifled in his love, hesitant to place Iris in the position of potential war widow.  Later, a crew of Americans takes over the base, including congenial family fan Johnny Hollis (Douglass Montgomery) and the uncouth Joe Friselli (Bonar Colleano).  Despite some initial culture clash, bonds form between the allied squads.

This is one of ten (according to IMDb) collaborations between director Anthony Asquith and writer Terence Rattigan.  The ones I’ve seen have ranged from the sublime (The Browning Version) to the decent (The Winslow Boy) to the disappointing (The Yellow Rolls-Royce).  I’m pleased to say this falls closer to the “sublime” end of the spectrum.  It’s a true ensemble piece, and it seems unfair to single out any particular member of the cast.  They’re all pretty terrific, an endearing group of actors both familiar and unfamiliar to me (Stanley Holloway also appears in a comic relief role, and the lovely Jean Simmons sings a fun tune).  Even Colleano, whose character at first seems like merely an annoying example of the ugly American, comes into his own by the end.  It’s one of those war movies (with almost no “action”) that emphasizes the bonds formed in dark times, making all of the principal players sympathetic.  With the exception, of course, of the domineering Miss Winterton, who gets her rightful come-upannce in glorious fashion.

It’s something like a hybrid of Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings (or The Dawn Patrol, for that matter) and David Lean’s In Which We Serve.  Stories of aviators who live heartily between missions — any one of which could be their last — combined with the British “stiff upper lip” attitude of nobly enduring loss and sacrifice.  There are a couple of instances of rather ham-fisted foreshadowing, but otherwise it’s a graceful movie.  Full of humorous dialogue, understated touching moments, and strong characterizations.  Rating: Very Good (87)


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