David Niven: Immortal Battalion



In the days after the Dunkirk evacuation in the Second World War, recently commissioned Second Lieutenant Jim Perry (Niven), a pre-war Territorial private soldier, is posted to the (fictional) Duke of Glendon’s Light Infantry, known as the “Dogs”, to train replacements to fill its depleted ranks. He is joined by Sergeant Ned Fletcher (Hartnell), a veteran of the British Expeditionary Force.

In contrast to Perry we are introduced to the squad who are shocked to have been conscripted to the army. Evan Lloyd an unscrupulous rent collector, Sid Beck (Leslie Dwyer) a travel agent, Geoffrey Stainer (Jimmie Hanley) a friend of Lloyd’s, Ted Brewer (Stanley Holloway) a plumber working in parliament, Herbert Davenport (Raymond Huntley) a department store manager with his young employee Bill Parsons (Hugh Burden) and finally Scottish farm labourer Luke (John Laurie).

A patient, mild-mannered officer, Perry does his strenuous best to turn the bunch of grumbling ex-civilians into soldiers, earning himself their intense dislike. The conscripts also mistakenly believe that their drill sergeant Fletcher is treating them harshly due to a minor incident where Lloyd spilt tea on the older man. Lloyd decides to air this grievance with Perry by reporting Fletcher for being unfair to the squad. When Perry approaches Fletcher over Lloyd’s accusation, Fletcher in fact discloses that he is pleased with the way they are developing and even goes so far to state that a few of the men (including Lloud) could be future NCOs.

When Parsons appears to desert his post, Perry takes a kindly stance with the young man and learns that his wife is being threatened by debt collectors. Perry speaks up for the young man at his court martial and he is allowed rejoin the unit. The other men go on a training exercise and to “avenge” Perry’s treatment of Parsons they sabotage the war game bringing shame on the battalion. Perry angrily rebukes the men who afterwards learn that Parsons was saved by Perry. Eventually the men come to respect both sergeant Fletcher and Perry.

After completing their training, the battalion is transferred to North Africa to face Rommel’s Afrika Korps, but their troopship is torpedoed en route and they are forced to abandon ship. When Sergeant Fletcher is trapped below deck by a burning vehicle, both Perry and Private Luke (John Laurie) intervene and work to save him. The survivors are evacuated to a nearby destroyer and are taken to Gibraltar, missing the invasion entirely.

When they eventually arrive in North Africa, the platoon is assigned to guard a small town. Perry appropriates a cafe as his headquarters, much to the disgust of the pacifist owner, Rispoli (Peter Ustinov). He instructs the men to respect the cafe owner and the men form a bond after playing darts and allowing Rispoli to join in. When the Germans attack, Perry and his men fiercely defend their positions, aided by Rispoli.

As the battle seems to turn, the Germans approach the British position under a white flag and invite Perry to surrender to save his men. Perry through his interpreter Beck tell the Germans to “Go to Hell!”. The besieged British soldiers fix bayonets and join other surviving units in advancing on the enemy, hidden in the smoke from explosions. The film ends with two veteran “Dogs” appreciatively reading about the men’s bravery.

David Niven as Lieutenant Jim Perry
William Hartnell as Sergeant Ned Fletcher (credited as Billy Hartnell)
Hugh Burden as Private Bill Parsons
James Donald as Private, later Corporal, Evan Lloyd
Leslie Dwyer as Private Sid Beck
Jimmy Hanley as Private Geoffrey Stainer (credited as Jimmie Hanley)
Stanley Holloway as Private Ted Brewer
Raymond Huntley as Private Herbert Davenport
John Laurie as Private Luke


Penelope Dudley-Ward as Mrs Jim Perry (credited as Penelope Ward)
Grace Arnold as Mrs Ned Fletcher
Esma Cannon as Mrs Ted Brewer
Eileen Erskine as Mrs Bill Parsons


Peter Ustinov as Rispoli, cafe owner
Reginald Tate as the Training Company Commanding Officer
Leo Genn as Captain Edwards
Renée Asherson as Marjorie Gillingham (credited as Renee Ascherson)
Mary Jerrold as Mrs Gillingham
Jack Watling as Sergeant Buster
Raymond Lovell as Mr Jackson
A. E. Matthews as Colonel Walmsley
Lloyd Pearson as Sam Thyrtle
John Ruddock as Old Chelsea Soldier
A. Bromley Davenport as Old Chelsea Soldier (credited as Bromley Davenport)
Tessie O’Shea as Herself
Trevor Howard as Ship’s Officer (uncredited)
George Merritt as the Sergeant-Major (uncredited)
Tracy Reed as the Perrys’ Daughter (uncredited)
Frank Denis Broadhurst (uncredited)
Immortal Battalion also known as The Way Ahead
Release dates: 9 June 1944 (UK), 3 June 1945 (U.S.)




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