The Way to the Stars
|The Way to the Stars|
British DVD cover
|Directed by||Anthony Asquith|
|Produced by||Anatole de Grunwald|
|Written by||Terence Rattigan
Anatole de Grunwald
John Pudney (poems)
|Music by||Nicholas Brodszky
|Editing by||Fergus McDonell|
|Studio||Two Cities Films|
|Distributed by||Rank Organisation (UK)
United Artists (US)
|Release date(s)||16 June 1945 (UK)
15 November 1945 (US)
|Running time||109 minutes (UK)
87 minutes (US)
|Box office||$63,434 (US rentals)|
The Way to the Stars, known in the US as Johnny in the Clouds, is a 1945 British war drama film made by Two Cities Films and distributed in the United States by United Artists. It was produced by Anatole de Grunwald and directed by Anthony Asquith. The screenplay was written by Terence Rattigan, a significant reworking of his 1942 play Flare Path, which incorporated his Royal Air Force (RAF) experiences as a Flight Lieutenant. The film stars Michael Redgrave, John Mills, Rosamund John and Stanley Holloway
The title, The Way to the Stars, is taken from the Latin motto of the RAF, Per ardua ad astra. The alternative title, Johnny in the Clouds, is derived from the poem recited in the film as tribute to a dead American airman.
The setting of the film is an airfield called RAF Halfpenny Field (pronounced "ha'penny"). The action takes place in 1940, 1942 and 1944.
Pilot Officer Peter Penrose (John Mills) is posted in the Summer of 1940 as a pilot to (the fictional) No 720 Squadron, at a new airfield, RAF Station Halfpenny Field, as a very green '15 hour sprog' Bristol Blenheim pilot and is assigned to B Flight, under Flight Lieutenant David Archdale (Michael Redgrave).
When No 720 Sqn's commanding officer, Squadron Leader Carter (Trevor Howard, in his second but first credited film role), is shot down, Archdale takes over. While Penrose develops into a first-class pilot, he meets Iris Winterton (Renee Asherson), a young woman staying with her domineering aunt at the Golden Lion pub in the nearby village. Archdale marries Miss Todd (Rosamund John), the popular manageress of the hotel, who is known to everyone as Toddy. The Archdales later have a son, Peter.
The action flashes forward to May 1942 when No 720 Sqn is now flying Douglas Bostons. When Penrose shows signs of strain from extensive combat, Archdale has him posted to controller school but is himself shot down and killed over France on Penrose's last mission. Penrose had been courting Iris, despite her aunt's disapproval, but Archdale's fate weighs heavily on his mind. Not wanting Iris to suffer if the same happened to him, he stops seeing her.
No 720 Sqn is sent to the Middle East but Penrose remains behind as a ground controller for a United States Army Air Forces B-17 Flying Fortress bombardment group, which takes over the airfield. Despite cultural differences Penrose befriends USAAF Captain Johnny Hollis (Douglass Montgomery) and Lieutenant Joe Friselli (Bonar Colleano). On 17 August 1942 the American airmen participate in the first attack by the USAAF on Occupied France, ruefully acknowledging that they underestimated the difficulties involved. Afterwards Penrose is posted to flying duties with an RAF Avro Lancaster bomber unit.
In 1944 Penrose, now a Squadron Leader and pathfinder pilot, makes an emergency landing at Halfpenny Field, where he meets Iris again. Iris had decided to leave her aunt for good and join up. Toddy persuades a still-reluctant Penrose to propose to Iris, saying that she did not regret her own marriage in spite of her husband's death. Hollis, who has formed a platonic relationship with Toddy, is killed while crash-landing a damaged returning bomber rather than bail out and risk it crashing in the village.
On initial release the film was popular in Britain but performed poorly in the US.
- Michael Redgrave as David Archdale
- John Mills as Peter Penrose
- Rosamund John as Miss Todd
- Douglass Montgomery as Johnny Hollis
- Stanley Holloway as Mr Palmer
- Renée Asherson as Iris Winterton
- Felix Aylmer as Reverend Charles Moss
- Basil Radford as 'Tiny' Williams
- Bonar Colleano as Joe Friselli
- Joyce Carey as Miss Winterton
- Trevor Howard as Squadron Leader Carter
- David Tomlinson as 'Prune' Parsons
- Nicholas Stuart as Colonel Rogers (as Tryon Nichol)
- Bill Owen as 'Nobby' Clarke (as Bill Rowbotham)
- Grant Miller as Lt Wally Becker
- Jean Simmons as a singer
The following poetry, supposedly written by Archdale, was penned by John Pudney. It is found on a piece of paper and given by Penrose to Toddy after her husband's death. Later she gives it to Hollis' friend to read after he is killed.
Do not despair.........For Johnny-head-in-air;
He sleeps as sound.....As Johnny underground.
Fetch out no shroud....For Johnny-in-the-cloud;
And keep your tears....For him in after years.
Better by far..........For Johnny-the-bright-star,
To keep your head......And see his children fed.
- Geoffrey Macnab, J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry, London, Routledge (1993) p164
- Variety film review; 20 June 1945, page 11.
- Harrison's Reports film review; 24 November 1945, page 186.
- There were two units by that name during the Second World War: No 720 Squadron RAF was a non-flying, airfield defence unit of the RAF Regiment. The only British flying unit known as 720 Squadron was a Fleet Air Arm squadron; during the war it was a flying boat unit attached to the Royal New Zealand Navy.