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The Halfway House

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Director  Basil Dearden
Screenplay  T. E. B. Clarke
Language  English
7/10 IMDb

Genre  Drama, Fantasy, Mystery
Country  United Kingdom
The Halfway House movie poster
Writer  Angus MacPhail, Diana Morgan
Release date  1944 (UK premiere) 1944 (wide)
Based on  play The Peaceful Inn by Dennis Ogden
Music director  Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners
Cast  Mervyn Johns (Rhys), Glynis Johns (Gwyneth), Sally Ann Howes (Joanna French)
Similar movies  Related Basil Dearden movies

The Halfway House is a 1944 British drama film directed by Basil Dearden and starring Mervyn Johns, his daughter Glynis Johns, Tom Walls and Françoise Rosay. The film tells the story of ten people who are drawn to stay in an old inn near the Welsh countryside. The film was shot at Barlynch Abbey on the Devon/Somerset border.


The Halfway House movie scenes

BFI Screenonline writes, "The high quality personnel involved and the tight, professional scripting mark the film out as one of the earliest templates of what would become the traditional Ealing style."


During the Second World War, various people converge on the Halfway House, an inn in the Welsh countryside. In Cardiff, the famous orchestra conductor David Davies is advised by his doctor to cancel a tour and rest, otherwise he will live only about three months more. In London, Richard and Jill French argue about the education of their young daughter Joanna. Joanna overhears them agree to divorce. Then Mr. French and Joanna go on vacation. Captain Fortescue is released from Parkmoor Prison; he was court-martialed for stealing the regimental funds. In a Welsh port, merchant captain Harry Meadows and his French wife Alice quarrel about their deceased son, a victim of the U-boats. Black marketeer Oakley departs from London for some fishing, while Margaret and her Irish diplomat fiancé Terence take a train from Bristol.

Oakley and Fortescue meet on the road; it turns out they know each other. Though Fortescu had scanned the countryside thoroughly with his binoculars in vain for the Halfway House, it mysteriously appears. When they reach it, the proprietor Rhys also seems to materialise out of thin air. He tells a puzzled Fortescu he was expected. When Oakley signs the register, he notices a long gap after the last signature, dated 1942, it being 21 June 1943. (The newspapers are exactly a year old.)

Others arrive. The Meadows request separate rooms. Rhys serves a still grieving Alice tea in her room. She is shocked to see no reflection of Rhys in the mirror when he leaves. Mr. French notices his wife's handwriting in the register and suspects that Joanna arranged for them to stay in the same place. Later, Fortescu is sitting outside when he notices that Gwyneth, Rhys's daughter, casts no shadow, though Joanna, standing nearby, does. Joanna arranges a fake near-drowning, with the help of Captain Meadows, to try to reunite her parents; it nearly goes fatally awry. Margaret and Terence quarrel when he is eager to accept a posting in Berlin (Ireland being neutral).

At dinner, Rhys relates that the inn was bombed by an aeroplane exactly a year ago and burnt down. While helping Gwyneth wash the dishes afterward, Davies is told by her that he is "coming our way". He understands.

Then Alice arranges a seance, much to her husband's disapproval. The table moves of its own volition, but the captain turns on the radio, breaking the mood. After Alice storms out, he explains to the others that he wants his son to be allowed to rest in peace. Rhys suggests he tell his wife the same; he does, and the couple reconcile.

Radio broadcasts from 1942 convince everyone that somehow they have gone back in time one year. Rhys explains that they all needed a pause to consider their lives. The air raid proceeds as Rhys described. Richard French's paramount concern for his wife and daughter's safety and Terence's newfound hatred of the Germans reunite them with the women in their lives, while both Fortescue and Oakley repent their criminal ways. The guests leave behind a demolished inn.


The film premiered in London at the Regal, Marble Arch on 14 April 1944, and The Times reviewer wrote: "The film elusively obtains its effects when it appears to be least striving after them, and an occasional frisson is achieved by acute touches of direction which light up not only depths of human tension and unhappiness, but also unobtrusively reckon with their cause—the war."

George Perry wrote in Forever Ealing (1981), "No matter how well-acted, the fantasy is hard to sustain and never develops beyond a theatrical morality tale." The Huffington Post reviewer disagreed, writing "I really can't recommend The Halfway House enough: unlike the more overt Ealing war films (which this resembles in many ways, not least the disparate group coming together and working together), this is subtler propaganda, and its overarching supernatural atmosphere is well done. Apart from that, however, it offers strong character portraits, great visual flourishes, and another solid turn from [Mervyn] Johns." Flickering Myth called it "an unseen and unappreciated classic of British cinema".


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