I don’t think I know many other actors who have been in as many war movies as British actor John Mills. Especially during the 50s and 60s he was in a large amount of British war movies. I was quite surprised when I realized how many I’ve seen.
Starting just before the Battle of Britain The Way to the Stars tells the story of two friends and the people that surround them on a British airbase. Flight Lt. David Archdale (Michael Redgrave) and Pilot Officer Peter Penrose become friends when Penrose (John Mills) arrives at the base where Archdale is squadron leader in 1940. The years go by. Penrose who was a total rookie at the beginning of the movie becomes a good pilot. Archdale gets married to the hotel manageress Toddy and they have a baby. Penrose falls in love with Iris who lives at the hotel with her very stern aunt.
In 1942, just before the Americans join the base, Archdale doesn’t return from a mission. Shortly before this he withdrew Penrose from flying duty as he had done far too many missions. He was now a controller which he hated. When his friend dies he becomes very bitter and breaks up with Iris.
The arrival of the Americans in 1942 changes the tone of the movie. We could say that we become witnesses of a real culture clash. I think this is very well done and the movie manages to do both countries great justice. I enjoyed this a lot as it is so insightful and does poke fun at both.
One of the American pilots, the eponymous Johnny (Douglass Montgomery), plays an important role in the second half of the movie. He is married but he likes Toddy a great deal, probably falls in love with her. This is not a clichéd story of an adultery but a nuanced tale of two people who meet each other, feel very close and realize that under other circumstances they would have become lovers.
For the aviation buffs out there I have to say that we see no combat scenes but we benefit greatly from the time during which this movie was shot as you will hardly see so many original planes and different types of planes in any other movie (certainly not in anything modern). We get a particularly good feel for the American Flying Fortress. An important part of the movie takes place in Toddy’s hotel which allows for some great character portraits. It is quite a motley crew that one would have encountered in a hotel during the war. Another interesting aspect.
In many ways this is a unique movie. Touching and quite accurate in the depiction of life on an airbase at the time. 4/5