It would be wrong to label “The Way To The Stars”(or Johnny In The Clouds as it was also known) as a war movie. Yes it takes place during the Second World War and many of the scenes are at Halfpenny Field, an RAF airfield, but it is void of combat scenes. One can see the planes take off on missions and learn of those who don’t come back, but it’s left to one’s imagination as to how they were lost. The story focuses on the relationships between men stationed at the airfield and two women at the local Golden Lion hotel in the nearby village of Shepley, who both have what would nowadays be seen as dreadful hairstyles. The main man is green “sprog” pilot Peter Penrose who arrives at the station to fly Bristol Blenheim light bombers but with guidance from the experienced Flight Lieutenant David Archer and his own determination survives to become a veteran.
John Mills was the perfect choice to play the eager beaver Penrose who like most of his peers was in civvy street before war broke out. Michael Redgrave, that icon of the stage, was cast as the superstitious “can’t fly without my lighter” Archdale complete with dashing handlebar moustache. Redgrave was given top billing even though Mills had the bigger part and was probably more popular with cinema audiences at the time. There is an early bit part for Trevor Howard as Squadron Leader Carter but he is soon one of those who don’t come back making way for Archdale to take over. It’s not long before the Yanks arrive.
The Golden Lion provides the love interest with the manageress Miss Todd (Toddy) being betrothed to Archer. They marry and have a son irrespective of the possibility that she could become a widow any day. Penrose is keen as mustard on Iris Winterton a long-standing guest who is dominated and controlled by her strict aunt. In peacetime Penrose wouldn’t hesitate to propose but he’s reluctant believing it to be unfair to risk her becoming a widow. So he waits even though a brash American airman starts making a play for her affections. It doesn’t occur to him to consult Iris on his dilemma. A dilemma no doubt that many faced during the war years.
There’s quite a sprinkling of “jolly good show” stiff upper lip remarks but this seems to be to create amusement for the American airmen stationed at Halfpenny Field with their huge B-17’s. One of the movies messages is to highlight the friendships that develop between the Yanks and the Brits with many singsongs and plenty of boozing at the Golden Lion, helped by the wise cracking party animal Stanley Baxter who plays a long standing hotel guest. Many of the Yanks are boisterous and seem only interested in dames and having a good time often at the expense of the locals. Jonny Hollis the leader of one aircrew is a more serious character. Married with a young family he looks to integrate with the locals and convinces, by example, his crew to follow.
Co-written by Terence Rattigan and with standout performances, this is a somewhat sentimental film that charts the relationships of men whose very survival is constantly being tested and the camaraderie they create as a group, which hides the fear they face as individuals. Their courage in the face of such fear made victory against the Nazis possible. Glad to have it in my black & white collection.