Co-written by Terence Rattigan and directed by Anthony Asquith, The Way to the Stars (Johnny in the Clouds in the U.S.) is an amiable, sentimental account of lives at an R.A.F. bomber base and a nearby hotel over the years 1940-44.
One of several plot-lines is silly: Peter Penrose (John Mills, better than I have ever seen him), a pilot, refuses to follow his heart’s desire and marry Iris (Renée Asherson, post-Olivier’s Katherine) after his squadron commander dies in combat. The theme of guilty survival in war is barely touched upon in this superficial rendering. When the pair’s coupling finally becomes permanent, with no more misunderstanding between Iris and Peter, the result is laughably unconvincing because of the soap opera they have been dragged through. But we go along with the contrivances for the treats that the two actors dispense.
The most heart-walloping plot-line involves a U.S. pilot named Johnny Hollis (Douglass Montgomery, not quite as good as Mills, but giving the performance of his life). The film is presented as a flashback; at the outset we see Johnny’s signature on one of the base walls, and we eventually catch up with how it got there. Spare no expense on Kleenex! Ambiguities about Johnny’s homelife back in the States are (intriguingly) never resolved, but the sheer ebullient humanity of this character is delightful and, given his fate, heartbreaking.
The entire film is engrossing and affecting, and one can only wonder how much alcoholic intake makes Trevor Howard in his twenties, as a squadron leader, look as though he were in his forties.
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