The Halfway House
Starring: Mervyn Johns, Glynis Johns, Sally Ann Howes, Valerie White, Guy Middleton
A group of troubled people gather at the Halfway House Inn in rural Wales. As they stay there the innkeeper Rhys and his daughter Gwyneth come to have a strange effect over them, bringing out and offering clarity to their problems. But the group soon comes to realize that there is something very strange about the inn...
The Halfway House is, on one hand, a quaint little tale about a group of people all going through a personal crisis whose lives are inexplicably touched by the supernatural. On the other hand, it is a blatant example of Ealing’s wartime propaganda films.
The story was adapted from a stage play by Denis Ogden, and although there are a number of exterior scenes to flesh out the story, it nevertheless keeps betraying it’s stage-bound roots. It is also unsure of the tone it wants to set – wartime domestic drama, bedroom farce (see above clip), or a tale about ghosts? All three vie for screen time. Also bustling against each other are the large cast, all trying to tell their own stories. I haven’t seen a film this packed with disparate plotlines since
Sons of the Wind.
There are six groups of people meeting up in the Inn: Capt Meadows and his wife Alice, mourning the loss of their son, drowned in the Adriatic; Capt Fortescue, recently released from a stretch in prison and looking to fall into his bad ways once more, possibly helped by his old acquaintance William Oakley, a black market mogul. Then there is the estranged couple, Richard and Jill French and their precocious daughter, Joanna, who is scheming to get them back together, and concert conductor David Davies, trying to keep his ill health from public knowledge. Finally there is troubled fiancés Terence and Margaret – Terence is from Ireland, and has been offered a post in the Irish embassy in Berlin, while Margaret is in the WRAF...
As you can imagine, it takes some time for the film to establish all the characters and get them to the Inn, which is in Wales. And even then, it takes its own blessed time in getting round to introducing the supernatural element of the story.
Luckily the film is held together with a good helping of Ealing Studios’ charm. There is a real quaint and innocence to the whole film and the dialogue manages to keep things buoyant with a lot of good comedic lines and quite moments of pathos. Check out the moment when Capt Meadows finally opens up about his feelings towards his son’s death after wrecking his wife’s attempt at a séance.
The supernatural element comes more to the fore the longer the story progresses. Eventually all the cast come to realise what is happening within the Inn and calmly accept it, embracing the second chance they are being given. It’s quite an interesting twist and the film seems to know exactly when to stop twisting. This is war-time propaganda afterall, so it wouldn’t do to make the ending too sombre!
The halfway house is a very slight tale which takes forever to get started due to it’s large cast. It’s also acted in that very stilted manner of the 1940s with a very clipped delivery of the dialogue (the young girl is actually the worst, it just sounds so false). Nevertheless, there are a number of interesting scenes and the element of ghostly goings on and time-travel keep things fascinating enough.
5 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)