The Way is Full of Stars
It's sort of ironic that due to when they made "The Way to the Stars" they added an opening scene because it is the opening which really grounds the movie. To explain when the movie went in to production it was felt the war would be over before the public got to see it so they added the opening, the scan through an abandoned, derelict airfield where little things such as a sign fallen to the floor, a name written on the wall tell of a once bustling airfield. It means that what follows as we are taken back to 1940 and the arrival of Officer Peter Penrose to Halfpenny Field tells us the story of those little things we saw but also more. That more is basically the life of the airfield covering births, deaths, marriages, emotional struggles as well as hope and fear plus the arrival of the American's in 1942. It means that "The Way to the Stars" is less about war and more about those who fought in the war and served at Halfpenny Field.
So as already mentioned after the opening were we see the abandoned airfield we get to the story as the freshly trained pilot Officer Peter Penrose (John Mills - Cottage to Let) arrives at the airfield. What we get following his arrival is pretty much his story combined with those he meets such as Flight Lt. David Archdale (Michael Redgrave - The Heroes of Telemark) who he shares a room with and the men who fight alongside him such as Sgt. 'Nobby' Clarke (Bill Owen). Now part of this story paints a picture of how these pilots would deal with seeing planes return from mission often a plane and crew down and having to be cold about it. But we also see their private life as Penrose falls for Iris (RenÃ©e Asherson) who is a resident at a nearby hotel and you have Archdale's marriage to Toddy (Rosamund John) the owner of the hotel. This side is just as important because what happens in these relationships and friendships end up moulding Penrose, putting up a barrier to heart ache.
But what is so nice about "The Way to the Stars" is the it evolves and after seeing what life was like at the airfield between 1940 and 1942 we then get the next chapter in its life with the arrival of the American's who take over the base with just a handful of British Officers remaining. We get the humorous and stereotypical characterisation of brash American pilots who mock the British politeness but we also see how both sides bonded becoming friends. As such we have more relationships forming and these relationships again help mould how people react to the war.
Now all this creates a story which goes from one character to another and sometimes back again as we witness events from relationships, marriages, births and deaths all creating this wonderful story. But director Anthony Asquith does a brilliant job of delivering this sprawling story with a brilliant blend of drama, action and humour. Most notably you have to say that the action is kept to the minimum but in one scene where we witness a plane with a bomb stuck in its fuselage is so dramatic that you can't keep your eyes off of it.
What is also impressive is not just the performances but the number of well known names and faces who star often in quite minor roles. At the centre of the story there is John Mills as Penrose and also Rosamund John as Toddy but then you also have such greats as Michael Redgrave, Trevor Howard, Basil Radford, Stanley Holloway, David Tomlinson and fans of "Last of the Summer Wine" will instantly recognize a young Bill Owen. I could go on because there are a lot more well known names and all them do a terrific job be it delivering the humour or the emotion of dealing with the loss of a friend or loved one.
What this all boils down to is that "The Way to the Stars" is a beautifully crafted and clever little war movie which whilst featuring numerous well known names is really the story of an airfield and the people who were stationed there during the war.