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The Volunteer (1944)

After a masterful performance as Othello in a London theater, Ralph Richardson is asked for an autograph by Fred, his dresser. A short while later, Fred has joined the Fleet Air Arm (Fly ... See full summary »


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Complete credited cast:
Ralph Richardson ... Himself / Narrator (as Lt. Cmdr Ralph Richardson RNVR)
Pat McGrath Pat McGrath ... Fred Davey
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Anna Neagle ... Herself - Leaving Denham Studio
Laurence Olivier ... Himself - Impersonating a Fish outside Restaurant Window
Michael Powell ... Photographer Outside Buckingham Palace
Herbert Wilcox Herbert Wilcox ... Himself - leaving Denham Studio
Tommy Woodrooffe Tommy Woodrooffe ... Himself - Narrator of documentary seen on aircraft carrier


After a masterful performance as Othello in a London theater, Ralph Richardson is asked for an autograph by Fred, his dresser. A short while later, Fred has joined the Fleet Air Arm (Fly Navy) and has become a hero, rescuing a pilot from his burning plane. When Fred goes to Buckingham Palace, it's Ralph's turn to ask for an autograph. Written by Steve Crook <steve@brainstorm.co.uk>

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Plot Keywords:

propaganda | See All (1) »







Release Date:

10 January 1944 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Il volontario See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


This short film is featured on the 2-Disc Criterion Collection DVD for 49th Parallel (1941). See more »


References Algiers (1938) See more »

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User Reviews

Rare footage of life in an aircraft carrier at war
21 August 2009 | by lestermaySee all my reviews

This wartime propaganda film, made by "The Archers" and dedicated to the Fleet Air Arm, will have wide interest. The drama documentary starts with footage of Ralph Richardson with his careless dresser, Londoner Fred Davey, preparing for Othello in a London theatre. It follows the story, told by Lieutenant-Commander (A) Ralph Richardson RNVR – A for Air Branch and RNVR for Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve – as Fred volunteers and joins the British Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm as a Naval Air Mechanic (E) – E for Engineering.

It's war and the theatre management announces the closure of Othello on 9 September 1939, "owing to present conditions". Thus a pipe-smoking Ralph Richardson (RR) narrates a tale that is "the end of one world and the beginning of another".

Fred goes to Denham Film Studios, in Buckinghamshire, to meet his former "guv'nor" and, after walking past famous actors of the time, has tea with RR, costumed as a Beefeater, and announces his joining the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). Laurence Olivier appears at the window – he, too, became a pilot in the FAA.

RR flies a Vought Kingfisher catapult-launched float-plane over an unidentified naval training establishment on the coast and lands on the sea nearby. There is footage of the parade ground with some of the 2,000 trainee naval ratings. Later the training establishment's Captain addresses trainees before an evening concert party. There are close-ups of trainee naval and WRNS ratings and footage of Naval Airman Bennett and NA Lloyd playing a table tennis match. RR meets Fred doing his workshop training.

Then it's two years hence. Note that the "two and a half stripes" RR wears on his uniform jacket sleeves are "Wavy Navy"; a wartime saving measure was that the gold stripes went only half way round the sleeves. RR wears his naval raincoat as he climbs into the cockpit of a Supermarine Walrus amphibious biplane, which he flies over the old aircraft carrier HMS Argus, whose deck was used often for landing practice, landing his seaplane in the water. Ralph Richardson became known as "Pranger" Richardson for his lack of skill as a naval pilot! RR boards an aircraft carrier (possibly HMS Indomitable (commissioned late 1941), but certainly of the same "Illustrious" class) and she sails for exercises. There follows footage of Supermarine Seafires (naval versions of the famous Spitfire fighter aircraft) and footage of the flight deck, aircraft lift and hangar.

Rare footage between decks of the carrier is seen as RR, wearing No.5 uniform with winged collar and bow tie (a substitute for evening dress – mess kit – when the latter was not available), goes in search of NAM (E) Fred Davey.

RR goes to the hangar, where many of the ship's company are assembled to watch recently developed film of the aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean and North African waters. The narrator on board of this film within a film is Lieutenant-Commander Tommy Woodroffe RN, famous for his drunken commentary, lasting more than four minutes, on BBC radio of the Fleet Review of 1937: "The Fleet's All Lit Up!". We see footage of sailors on a beach party, swimming and messing about, as well as footage of entering Algiers and the city's foreshore (a wartime merchantman, probably a Liberty ship, is alongside in port). Ordinary Seaman Jacob, the ship's Captain and the French pilot are seen on the pilotage platform right forward as the ship enters harbour and then there is "exclusive" footage of General Charles de Gaulle arriving by car in the city. A wardroom "calling party" of officers goes ashore "all in the wrong rig (uniform) except, of course, the Royal Marine!". He describes the portly figure of the carrier's First Lieutenant ("Number One") as he goes ashore.

In Gibraltar, there's hockey on the flight deck and fencing, too, followed by "Up Spirits" – the traditional daily issue of Navy rum. The film takes us ashore to the Casbah and then the Band of HM Royal Marines plays on the flight deck as the aircraft carrier sails.

At sea off Gibraltar there is footage of the Fairey Albacore torpedo bomber and another aircraft type, with "goofers" (idlers) watching, and of the Grumman Martlet fighter aircraft.

What Tommy Woodroffe describes as "good old Calpe going full out" is actually her sister ship, the Hunt class escort destroyer HMS Farndale (L70); HMS Calpe was L71. The destroyer was on plane guard duty, something undertaken by a helicopter today.

Flying operations continue and a Supermarine Seafire takes off and a Grumman Martlet lands on, its nose hitting the flight deck; we see a "pranged" (crashed) Fairey Albacore and flight deck operations.

The aircraft carrier arrives at Gibraltar in a Levanter, a strong gap wind, and battleships are alongside in the naval dockyard. The captain berths the carrier at Coaling Jetty and then, while alongside, the Band of HM Royal Marines arrives on the flight deck at "Hands to Church" and we see a church parade too on the nearby battleship HMS Howe.

At sea again and there is footage of air attacks on the carrier, a near miss and casualties on deck. Later, RR asks an RPO (a Regulating Petty Officer – a naval policeman) to help him find Fred in his messdeck, where there is a music party in progress. We pass a Royal Marine sentry and hear the pipe "Out pipes … Pipe down" indicating that it's time for lights out and bed. RR and the RPO find Fred asleep in his hammock, which he has slung in the aircraft hangar rather than the messdeck.

Back in London RR walks with a young girl called Joan in St James's Park and ends up outside Buckingham Palace where the King is holding an investiture and we again meet Fred Davey.

"Secure from Flying Stations"!

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