The Immortal Battalion (Way Ahead, The) (1944)

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Released 23-Mar-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1944
Running Time 87:20 (Case: 95)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Carol Reed

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring David Niven
Stanley Holloway
James Donald
John Laurie
Leslie Dwyer
Hugh Burden
Jimmy Hanley
William Hartnell
Reginald Tate
Leo Genn
John Ruddock
A. Bromley Davenport
Renée Asherson
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music William Alwyn

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    This film tells the story of a group of draftees into the British army during World War II, their basic training and their first experiences of action in the field. These recruits are not green youths, but older men who have been called up for national service during a time of war. Typically for this kind of film, these men come from all walks of life. The conflict that they have with the situation they are thrust into in extraordinary times, and the trouble that they have adapting to the discipline of the army and in particular that of their drill sergeant forms the narrative thrust. Of course, this film being made for British audiences during a time of war means that everyone eventually comes around to toe the line and work for the common cause. In effect, this is a recruiting film for the British Army.

    Newly appointed to the regiment is a new commissioned officer who has had experience of war in the lower ranks at Dunkirk. The officer is played by David Niven, and he is nominally the star of the film. However, as in many such British films of the time, the real stars are the ensemble players, as if to suggest to the audiences of the time that everybody is involved in the conflict and everyone has a part to play. The sergeant is Billy Hartnell, later the first Doctor Who. The recruits feature numerous familiar names and faces:  Stanley Holloway, James Donald, Leslie Dwyer, Jimmy Hanley, John Laurie, Raymond Huntley and Hugh Burden. Also in the cast are the late Peter Ustinov, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Ambler and was at the time Niven's batman in the Commandos; Trevor Howard in his first on-screen role; Australian actress Esma Cannon; Renee Asherson (billed as Acherson); Penelope Dudley Ward and many others.

    The Immortal Battalion is an edited version of the film The Way Ahead. The film is not censored, but it was "adapted" for American audiences by cutting out a lot of material to reduce the running time from 116 minutes to 91 minutes. Also, a prologue and epilogue have been added with the journalist Quentin Reynolds giving some context for American audiences. The Way Ahead has screened on Australian television many times, but it has been so long since I have seen it that I do not know what elements are missing from the American version. Even in a truncated state this is still a fine film, but the transfer is problematic. The Way Ahead is being released on DVD shortly in the UK, so perhaps that edition will be preferable.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality is sub-standard. The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The original aspect ratio was 1.37:1, so a small amount of information is lost.

    The transfer is not sharp. It looks like a second or third generation duplicate was used, possibly from a 16mm reduction print. The image is ill-defined and fuzzy, with a lack of detail especially in backgrounds. Shadow detail is poor and contrast levels are higher than they should be.

    An MPEG compression artefact is present which causes a sort of 3-D effect. The best explanation I can give of this artefact is that the entire image may be moving (possibly due to telecine wobble), but the compression programme picks out certain objects in the frame and gives them motion, while making the background fixed. This means that the objects appear to move slightly against the background and this gives them depth in comparison to the background. For example, from 47:00 in this film, the cast is sitting in the barracks with wardrobes in the background. The actors are talking but sitting or standing. The image appears as though the actors and the wardrobes are in motion in comparison to the rest of the image, making them stand out as though they were on a different plane. This artefact occurs in various forms throughout most of this transfer.

    The physical condition of the print used for the transfer was reasonably good considering the age of the film. There are plenty of film artefacts, but they are not as omnipresent as in some transfers from this source. Dirt, flecks, scratches, splice marks and reel change markings can be seen.

    The film is presented on a single-layered disc with no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The single audio channel is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, though this is obviously mono and no surround information is present.

    I suspect that the problems with the audio are present in the print material used. For the most part, dialogue is reasonably clear. The audio is listenable when the sound level is normal, but when loud sound effects or music appears in the soundtrack there is considerable congestion. The opening credits suffer especially from this. It sounds much like a well worn LP, with crackling and popping whenever the audio level increases. However, the timbre of the voices is still discernable and dialogue scenes (which comprise most of the film) are not so bad that I was distracted by the limitations of the sound.

    The music score is a fine one by William Alwyn, and strikes a good balance between being a functional film score and inspiring patriotic music.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    No extras are provided.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film has been released on DVD in Region 1 as one of three WWII films on a single disc. There is another Region 4 release, also on a disc with two other films, but not the same ones as the Region 1. I have not seen any reviews of either.

    There is also a UK Region 2 edition of The Way Ahead scheduled for release on 27 May 2004 from Carlton Visual Entertainment. As this looks to be of the original version with a running time of 110 minutes, and previous releases from this source have been of reasonable quality from the reviews I have read, I suspect that this will be the edition of choice for this film. On the basis that I cannot readily recommend the Region 4, I will award this to the Region 2 simply for including the original version.


    A fine British war film given an average transfer of poor print materials.

    The video quality is poor.

    The audio quality is poor.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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