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  Way to the Stars, The Flying Tonight
Year: 1945
Director: Anthony Asquith
Stars: Michael Redgrave, John Mills, Rosamund John, Douglass Montgomery, Renee Asherson, Stnaley Holloway, Basil Radford, Felix Aylmer, Bonar Colleano, Joyce Carey, Trevor Howard, Nicholas Stuart, Bill Owen, Grant Miller, Jean Simmons, David Tomlinson
Genre: Drama, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is an abandoned airfield now, but not so long ago it was bustling with life, and the drones of aircraft both friendly and antagonistic. You can pass over the runway, to the control tower with its ghosts of the past, and the quarters where the pilots lived, both British and American, to the mess and games room where you can still see evidence of those brave men who defended the world against the Nazi threat. But what were they like? Are they destined to be forgotten now their time in the war is over? What of British airman Peter Penrose (John Mills) who joined the base in 1940 and quickly made friends with fellow pilot David Archdale (Michael Redgrave)?

What happened to them? Watch this and find out - they were not real people, but did represent actual participants in the Second World War and the Battle of Britain, nobody specific, but enough of a "type" to be recognisable to the audiences of the nineteen-forties. Oddly, though, The Way to the Stars was not embraced by the British and Americans in a way that was expected; it was released as the war was coming to an end, and perhaps they did not want to be reminded of what had gone immediately before, though that does not explain the success of pictures like A Matter of Life and Death or The Best Years of Our Lives and other, equally reflective stories for the screen.

Apparently the problem was that this effort was simply too staid, too cliched, to appeal: they wanted something that was digging deeper into the life after war, or was offbeat enough to have them think about the conflict in different ways. The full extent of the Nazi atrocities was growing plain as they were widely reported on, and a movie depicting a bunch of stiff upper lip sorts and brash but respectable Yanks getting along famously just did not cut the mustard. Yet down the years since, the film was returned to by many who realised just how accurate it had been to the experience of life in Britain during the war, and it finally, belatedly, found that crucial audience.

Certainly it was very well cast, with Mills in one of his signature wartime roles as the initially inexperienced pilot, eventually an old hand at the flying game and swapping the Royal Air Force vernacular like a good 'un with his colleagues. Redgrave, too, made an impression as the man who he becomes fast friends with, as did Rosamund John as his wife, having recently given birth to a little boy they call Peter after Mills' loyal pal: they make a nice, solid partnership of the kind that Britain was based on. Yet tragedy is never far away, and that was another reason this did not catch on as wished back then: its theme was coping with death, which after all was ever-present at time of the war and director Anthony Asquith and writer Terence Rattigan were not about to neglect that uncomfortable fact.

Mind you - and here comes the plotting regarded as cliched in 1945 - you can pretty much tell which characters are going to get the elbow from life, most likely because we have become so used to military dramas where not everyone survives to the end credits. But now that is not so much of a drawback, since it conjures up a rich atmosphere of what day to day existence would have been like: we never see any combat sequences, just the bombs dropping on the airfield and the British and American planes taking off and making it back, if indeed they do. This was far more caught up in the tales of the ordinary folk, so we are invited to be invested in Penrose's reluctance to tie the knot with put upon spinster Renee Asherson whose aunt proves an impediment to goodwill of anyone around her, or American pilot Douglass Montgomery as he gets emotionally closer than he might think is wise to the people of John's nearby hotel and village. Bonar Colleano was there as well, the real breakout star of the production, and you can also spot Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons. Yes, it may be quainter than intended, but it is very evocative. Music by Nicholas Brodszky.

[Network's Blu-ray release in its The British Film line has an image gallery as an extra.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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