I have recently watched Anthony Asquith's superb 1945 war drama THE WAY TO THE STARS. It is undoubtedly one of the best British films ever and, perhaps, the best on the subject.
Unfortunately the print utilized for the R2 DVD was rather muddy and hampered by excessive speckles, scratches and lines throughout the entire film. It was not unwatchable as such but it obviously was not in the least bit cleaned up, let alone restored! But since I had never watched the film before, I did not want to hold out any longer from acquiring the DVD (despite its being bare-bones) for fear of it going OOP - as had happened to another British WWII classic I have never watched, THE WAY AHEAD (1944) - and at only GBP 6.99, it was certainly worth it! The audio, at least, was not low as in other British films of the period I have watched (like the R1 HAMLET , from Criterion - of all companies!) but sometimes the dialogue was unintelligible, though this may have something to do with the actors' heavy accents.
There is little to criticize about THE WAY TO THE STARS: the "stiff upper lip" attitude is heavily on display (after all this was a propaganda film made during the war), while the rather one-dimensional portrayal of the American allies and the caricatured upper-class snobbism prevalent in the character played by Joyce Carey (her 'domineering matron' act in relation to the Renee' Asherson character was used again by writer Terence Rattigan for his play SEPARATE TABLES, also set in a hotel) tend towards cliché and date the film somewhat.
Apart from this, however, the film was riveting: producer Anatole de Grunwald and director Asquith assembled an amazing cast of actors and actresses, many of whom are shown at the top of their form here: Renee' Asherson, Felix Aylmer, Joyce Carey, Bonar Colleano (Jr.), Anthony Dawson, Stanley Holloway, Trevor Howard, Rosamund John, John Mills, Douglass Montgomery, Basil Radford, Michael Redgrave, Jean Simmons, David Tomlinson, etc. While some of them appear very briefly or in fairly insignificant roles, Trevor Howard in particular, gave an impressive bit as the airfield CO and it was no surprise that David Lean would that same year choose him for the lead in BRIEF ENCOUNTER (which incidentally also featured Carey and Holloway).
The lead roles were superbly filled by John Mills, Rosamund John, Michael Redgrave and Douglass Montgomery. Mills and Redgrave had extensive careers on both stage and screen, but their performances here rank among their finest. It is interesting how th plot allows all three men (who all interact with Rosamund John's character at some point) to dominate different sections of the film: at first, Michael Redgrave as David is the leading character until he is killed, then John Mills playing Peter Penrose takes center-stage during the middle section, and finally, when he appears, Douglass Montgomery as Johnny (an American) takes over for the rest of the film. It was quite an audacious structure for the 1940s, I suppose (Michael Powell's episode 49TH PARALLEL  had utilized a similar if more radical 'viewpoint'), but it works splendidly, the rhythm of the plot flowing unobtrusively and never feeling encumbered.
Another aspect which makes the film stand out is its almost total absence of combat sequences (despite their obvious bearing on the plot) - only one of the key death scenes is shown, the rest takes place off-screen. In fact, this 'attitiude' gives rise to a bravura moment following Michael Redgrave'a final mission. Being superstitious, he never flies without his cigarette lighter. Just by showing the lighter (which has been left behind) we know the Redgrave character is dead; then a hand enters the frame and picks up the lighter, almost hoping that the superstition has been proved groundless, only for the camera to pan up towards his face and we discover it is John Mills who has the lighter now. An utterly simple movement, yet tremendously effective.
There were several other excellent wartime films made in England in the 40s and 50s, none of which are available on DVD: NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940), PIMPERNEL SMITH (1941), THE NEXT OF KIN (1942), MILLIONS LIKE US (1943), THE CAPTIVE HEART (1946), AGAINST THE WIND (1947), THE WOODEN HORSE (1950), THE SOUND BARRIER (1952), ALBERT R.N. (1953), THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP (1955), THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (1956), THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY (1957), DANGER WITHIN (1958), DUNKIRK (1958), I WAS MONTY'S DOUBLE (1958), ORDERS TO KILL (1958), SINK THE BISMARCK! (1960), TUNES OF GLORY (1960), etc.
Other British films I would like to see on DVD, though not war films in themselves, include: THE GOOD COMPANIONS (1932), ROME EXPRESS (1932), Friday THE THIRTEENTH (1933), FIRE OVER ENGLAND (1936), VICTORIA THE GREAT (1937), SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS (1938), QUIET WEDDING (1940), HATTER'S CASTLE (1941), KIPPS (1941), LOVE ON THE DOLE (1941), MAJOR BARBARA (1941), THUNDER ROCK (1942), THE MAN IN GREY (1943), A PLACE OF ONE'S OWN (1944), I SEE A DARK STRANGER (1945), IT ALWAYS RAINS ON Sunday (1947), NICHOLAS NICKELBY (1947), THE October MAN (1947), TAKE MY LIFE (1947), THE GUINEA PIG (1948), London BELONGS TO ME (1948), SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC (1948), THE WINSLOW BOY (1948), THE BLUE LAMP (1950), SEVEN DAYS TO NOON (1950), THE BROWNING VERSION (1951), THE CARD (1952), OUTCAST OF THE ISLANDS (1951), HOBSON'S CHOICE (1954), SAPPHIRE (1959), TIGER BAY (1959), SONS AND LOVERS (1960) and VICTIM (1961).
Although supplements would probably be scarce for the majority of these titles, it is no reason for them to be overlooked on DVD. I am sure there are many who, like me, love the great British films of the past.
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