The Way to the Stars
(Johnny in the Clouds)
Based on the poems of John Pudney, written by Terence Rattigan, and directed by Anthony Asquith, British pilots fly against the Germans in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and then are joined by American pilots in 1942. One pilot has married a woman, and they have a child; but another pilot puts off marriage because he is afraid what his death in war would cause.
At Royal Air Force Station E in England in 1940 on Halfpenny Field a plane arrives with Peter Penrose (John Mills). He goes into his room and puts down his suitcase. Jones comes in and tells him about his roommate. They hear a raid a few miles away. David Archdale (Michael Redgrave) comes in and meets Peter. He asks Jones to bring back his lighter. Peter and David get to know each other, and Jones comes back with the lighter and offers to get another chest from a flier who died. They hear an air raid and run out and see planes attacking. They duck under a plane on their way to the shelter and then go in, dusting themselves off. Men in there sit and talk. Peter meets Squadron Leader Carter (Trevor Howard) and says he has done fifteen hours. David says Peter scored high. They hear all-clear and go out and look around at the damage. They see two of their three fighter planes go by.
David calls on the phone and talks to Miss Todd (Rosamund John) to tell her he is all right. He says he will see her tonight. Carter tells David he is sending him up with Penrose, and they take Sergeant Nobby Clark (Bill Owen) as gunner. David gives Peter the coat of a flier who died and asks if he is superstitious. Peter says no and puts on the warm coat. David asks Peter what he has done. David says there are no professionals or amateurs but only good pilots and bad pilots. They get in a plane, and Peter takes off.
Mr. Palmer (Stanley Holloway) and Miss Todd see the planes fly by the town.
Later Peter tells Tiny Williams (Basil Radford) that he did all right except for the landing. David says Peter is not ready to fly on his own yet because of his bad landing. He asks why he did not go around again and reminds him other people are flying with him. Other pilots come in. David tells Tiny they will make him active C.O.
Outside Peter apologizes to the gunner. David picks them up in a car and takes them into town. At an inn Miss Todd welcomes them, and Palmer introduces them to older Miss Winterton (Joyce Carey) and her niece Iris Winterton (Renee Asherson). Peter asks Iris about what she is knitting, but her aunt makes her niece leave the room with her. Palmer wishes they would drop a bomb on the aunt.
In the kitchen Miss Todd asks David to wipe dishes after she washes them. He tells her that the Squadron Leader Carter is missing. She wishes she would hear one was killed if they were not really missing. David recites a short poem he wrote about the missing. He says she is the only one who knows that he writes poetry. He is called away and goes out.
Palmer tells Peter a joke, and Iris comes back. Peter invites her to go to the cinema, but her aunt calls her away and implies Iris is selfish. Some men leave, and Palmer asks for a drink. Miss Todd says goodnight to those leaving and kisses David passionately.
Miss Todd is in her wedding dress as Iris works on it and goes out to get her bouquet. Miss Todd hears planes fly over, and Iris comes in with the flowers. She wishes Todd good luck.
Tiny proposes a toast to the happy pair, David and Miss Todd, hoping all his ends and troubles will be little ones. They hear the air raid siren and go into the shelter. Two men give up their seats for the bride and groom.
In 1942 Americans have arrived and are welcomed by Tiny. Peter gets out of his plane and tells the mechanic his plane’s engine needs to be fixed.
Inside pilot Prune Parson (David Tomlinson) talks about the B17 as the best flying machine ever. Col. Page says it is not perfect and tells them that the Americans’ 8th Air Force has taken over a field. Parsons implies that Peter is going with someone at the lodge, but Peter tells him to shut up.
David drives and congratulates Peter for completing 43 flights, but now he is grounded to learn to become an air controller. Peter does not like it.
David comes in and kisses Todd, who tells him to be quiet so as not to wake their child Peter. David looks at his son and says he looks “screwed up.” He picks him up, but she soon takes him from him. He asks her where he left his lighter. She asks if something is wrong, but he says only the usual.
Peter asks Iris if they can have dinner somewhere, but she says her aunt won’t allow it. He says he will have something to ask her later on their date.
Todd asks David to give her a ring when he gets down, and he asks her if he ever forgot to do so. Miss Winterton comes in and complains about her Worcestershire sauce. David leaves and says he will see her tonight.
Peter tells Iris he will see her tonight and tells her not to talk to any strange men; he kisses her and goes out.
On the field the mechanic tells Peter he fixed the engine. David tells Peter to be careful, and Peter realizes that 43 trips is a lot. They get in their planes, start them, and then take off.
Todd and Iris see the planes fly over.
Men are lying in a field and see the planes returning. Tiny goes to his window and looks. Todd hears them also, and Iris looks out the window.
Pilots come inside, and Peter finds David’s lighter and uses it. He goes to his room and is visited by Tiny who says he just heard. Peter says it is a bad show, and he says what happened to David whose plane caught fire. Tiny asks if he can move into Peter’s room, and he agrees. Tiny asks Peter to tell David’s wife, but he refuses to do it. He suggests he get the adjutant to write her one of his usual letters. He says none of them have the right to get married and have a kid.
A maid tells Todd that Penrose is here to see her. She welcomes him and leads him into her office. He closes the door, and she says she knows what he came to tell her. She says he did not ring up, and she counted one plane missing. She asks how much hope there is, and he does not reply. She realizes there is no hope. She asks if he could be missing. He explains that he was too low to bail out and that he saw it. She thanks him for telling her. She gives him a few of his things including a paper. She asks him to read it, and he reads the poem about Johnny in the air who now sleeps soundly underground. The best thing that can be done for him is “to keep your head and see his children fed.” He asks what he can do, and she accepts his help. He gives her his lighter that he found. He says it probably upset him to fly without it. She thanks him, and he goes out.
Iris says hello to Peter and says he kept his promise, but he says he has to get back to the station. She asks when she will see him, and he says he does not know. He says he is sorry and goes out.
Trucks leave with the British flyers as the American pilots have arrived at the air base.
Tiny tells Peter that the Americans are calling each other “buddy” and goes out. Johnny Hollis (Douglass Montgomery) comes in and says he is assigned to this room. Peter welcomes him, and they talk. Joe Friselli (Bonar Colleano) and Wally Becker come in. Peter says he is staying on as controller but says he is not a flyer. Joe talks confidently and says he will bomb very accurately. He sees Peter’s coat and realizes that he is a flyer. Peter says he was a flyer.
Americans are playing baseball, and Tiny and Peter decide to have tea.
Inside Tiny and Peter find they can still get tea. Joe comes in, complains about what is for dinner, and goes out. Tiny says they have twelve forts.
In a lounge Peter, Joe, Johnny, and others are talking. The Americans are eager to fly. In the dining room Palmer says he will have beer because the Americans drank all the whiskey. Iris sees Peter sitting at another table. Her aunt says he does not see Iris anymore. Joe wants to go and asks for the check. A waitress says she will look into it. Todd comes in and says they do not cash checks. Johnny says they only wanted the bill. He explains for Joe who says the sourpusses give him a pain. Tiny tells Peter that they will be flying at dawn tomorrow.
Johnny sees the baby Peter and talks to him. Todd comes in and says his name is Peter. Johnny apologizes, and she says she does not mind his giving her son attention. Johnny says his wife protects their children more closely. He shows her photos of his family because she says she is interested. He says his wife writes regularly, but they come in batches after intervals. Todd says her husband was killed. Joe comes in calling for Johnny, and Todd asks him not to shout when he comes into the hotel. Peter asks Johnny if they are going out, and Johnny says they are going to see a picture. Peter advises them to have an early night. Johnny says they are going back now, though Joe does not like it. They go out. Iris comes in the room and says hello to Peter. He asks her for her news, and she says she is going to work part-time in a hospital, but her aunt won’t let her sign up for full-time work. Peter says she is not right in what she is thinking. He wishes he could explain, but she says he does not have to explain. He says he is sorry, and she says goodbye.
Tiny is driving, and Peter asks how long he thinks the war will last. Tiny believes it will go until 1950. Peter wonders if he has any right to marry in his situation. Tiny says he does not know because he is not married, and he is on the ground.
Planes take off, and Tiny wishes Col. Rogers (Tryon Nichol) good luck. Johnny tells his crew they are lousy but that he loves them. They get in the plane and take off.
At the inn Peter, Tiny, and the gunner Nobby are drinking beer. Palmer comes in and starts to tell a joke, but Peter leaves the table and commends Johnny for a good job. Joe comes downstairs and lights Miss Winterton’s cigarette for her. He apologizes to Peter and says that bombing targets is not easy. Joe says he will do better next time. They drink beers too. Peter says he is posted to Lancaster to fly again. Palmer is still telling jokes no one else thinks are funny. He gets his joke mixed up because he can’t remember it. Tiny says they put on a terrific show tonight. Nobby comes over, and Palmer finishes his joke.
Later the men are singing “Down by the Old Mill Stream” as Peter plays piano. Miss Winterton complains to Palmer that they have made this like a speakeasy. Palmer says Winterton objects. He sits down and plays “McNamara’s Band” and sings. The others sing along. Winterton complains to Todd who says it is nearly closing time and refuses to throw them out. Peter asks Todd if Johnny and Joe can cash a check. Todd says okay, and Peter kisses her. He tells her that he has been posted and asks her to tell Iris and say goodbye for him. She asks what is wrong between him and Iris, but he says he cannot explain. He kisses her on the forehead goodbye and then kisses her lips twice for Iris.
Joe finds a paper with a poem on it, and Johnny says it may be private. Joe reads it aloud about Johnny. Todd comes in and says they can have the last round of drinks on the house. They thank her, and Joe goes out. She asks Johnny if they read the poem. He apologizes and says his name is Johnny too. She asks what he thinks about it. She says her husband wrote it and says no one else knows that. He says it may be the names and that he feels privileged. She asks if he superstitious and says her husband always flew with that lighter until his last flight. She gives it to him, and he says he is not superstitious. She says he can call her “Toddie” and asks him to come back and talk to him about his family. He says he likes to talk about them.
Palmer leads a parade singing, and Todd comes in and says she is ashamed of him. They give her three cheers, and she welcomes the American allies and tells them to get the hell out of here. Peter kisses her goodnight, and Johnny shakes her hand.
In 1944 American pilots come back after hitting Frankfurt again. Johnny says that is the first time they used those rockets. He asks if he got any mail and has not got anything for quite a while. Col. Roger tells him he is going home to be an instructor because he is the best pilot he has.
In a baseball game Tiny runs to the pitcher with the bat, and Joe and others laugh at him. Johnny says he has to call on the vicar because of a children’s party. He tells Joe they are sending him home.
Todd is putting up decorations as Johnny tells Peter about flying as they eat candy. Rev. Charles Moss (Felix Aylmer) puts away the candy so they will have some for tomorrow.
Many people dance as an orchestra plays. A young woman (Jean Simmons) sings “Let Him Go, Let Him Tarry.” Joe tells Iris to leave her aunt, but she says she could not do that because he owes her a lot. Joe says it is the other way because her aunt is selfish. She asks him to talk about something else. He asks if she has any one guy, and she says she has no one at all, not even an Englishman. He dances with her.
Tiny talks to controllers when Peter radios in and talks to him and Johnny.
Johnny gets a Scotch for Peter. Clarke says he finally made Lancaster. They watch people dancing and see Iris dancing with Joe who dances well. Iris stops dancing and sees Peter. She tells Joe she wants to go home, and they start to leave. Joe asks if he did something wrong, and she says she does not feel well. Johnny dances with Todd.
Johnny and Todd walk and sing outside, and she asks if he is going to do his Uncle Johnny act again. He asks if they can break in so that he can get something ready for tomorrow. They go in, and he says the moonlight is romantic. She says there is a bad blackout nearby. He tells her he is going home, and she says she is glad. He hopes she will come to the states after the war. She says it would not be easy. He says they may come over there to see her. He says he likes flying. They wish each other the best, and she asks him to give her love to Mary. She thanks him for a lovely evening, and he says he will see her tomorrow. They say goodnight, and he kisses her hand. She thanks him for lots of things and goes in.
Johnny gets dressed to fly in a hurry. Col. Rogers comes over, and Johnny asks if he could get someone else to be the instructor. He says the crew has only ten more missions, and they like being together. He thinks he should stick around until the end. He says he will see him after the mission. Joe ribs him about leaving them and says they got used to his flying. Johnny throws a dart and misses the target but hits a drawing of a woman. He signs his name “Johnny” on it before going out to take off.
Winterton and Iris are dining. Winterton says Joe is a good man, but Iris says she told him a lie and that he will not be coming. She tells her aunt that he told her that her aunt is a “selfish gorgon.” Iris says she is going to get a job and not come back. She stalks out. Winterton tells Todd that Iris is leaving, and Todd says that is good. Winterton says she will leave too, and Todd says that is good too. She tells Winterton how she would have made her leave sooner if it had not been for Iris. Peter comes in, and Winterton goes upstairs. Todd tells Peter to make a big decision quickly because Iris is leaving. She asks if he loves her. She advises him that he is wrong to think that she would not want to marry a pilot during war, but she says she would do it all over again and that other women would say the same. She tells him to go after Iris and tell her he loves her and then see what happens.
Peter follows her and gets in a cab with her. He says he has to talk to her. He says what his pay is now and what it would be with a marriage allowance. She asks what he is asking her. He says he was confused, but his feelings have not changed. He asks her if she would take him on.
Peter tells Tiny he is engaged to be married and asks him to be best man. Tiny says some of his old buddies are back. They see the planes returning and notice that three are missing. The only missing pilot missing is Johnny Hollis. They see the plane approach flying on three engines. A controller says he has a large bomb attached. Rogers orders him to bail out over the airfield. The controller says he is not preparing to do that. Johnny radios that he will not let a 500-pound bomb explode there. Johnny says he did not hear the third request to bail out and hopes his third try to land will be lucky. The plane comes in and explodes on the ground.
At the children’s party Joe is introduced by Rev. Moss by saying that Johnny could not come. The children call for Uncle Johnny. Joe says he does not know stories and says he likes seeing them having a good time there. He wishes Johnny could have seen them too. He says they can start playing their games. Little Peter asks Joe about Johnny. Todd tells Joe that she is sorry. She says she knew Johnny well and says he will always be remembered in this town. She gives him a paper to read later. Palmer plays piano and leads the singing of “McNamara’s Band.” Todd tells them it is time to leave, and they say goodnight as they go out. Peter kisses Iris goodnight and says it won’t be long now. He asks Todd to take care of Iris for him. Joe gives the poem back to Todd, and he says the poem could have been written for him. She says she thinks it was.
Outside Peter and Joe look at the planes flying and head back to the station. Todd comes out and looks at the planes remembering the poem that David wrote.
This war drama portrays the brave pilots who risked their lives to defeat the Nazi menace and shows what it did to their personal and family relationships. The English and Americans had cultural differences but managed to get along well as allies.