The Halfway House (1944) – Review

A black and white classic finally comes to DVD...

Brought back to life and digitally restored on DVD for the first time, 2011 marks the centenary of the birth of Basil Dearden, director of more Ealing Studio films than any other and the film is due for release on the 20th of June 2011.

The Halfway House is story of converging lives and tales, evidenced in its opening as the scene splits between a couple who have lost their son in the war, a solicitor’s office where a couple are filing for divorce and a musical conductor facing a short future. Though vastly different scenarios, in a range of vastly different contexts, there is more than one thing that unites the threads of their lives. Despite the film having been produced back in 1944, even from the beginning there’s a clear sense of the united nature of human problems, a universal moral to this day; no one’s life is perfect and difficulties affect the best of us. Yet, perhaps more significantly with regards to the plot, all make reference to the elusive inn the Halfway House. As the lives of the seemingly separate individuals and their hidden troubles further entwine the quick cutting of scenes slowly grinds to a halt, giving way to the overwhelming presence of the Halfway House, a place which appears to be almost lost in time.

Lost is time seems perhaps too vague however, as increasingly mysterious happenings appear to pinpoint the date of the house more precisely. All of the papers appear to be a year old, yet without a speck of dust and radio broadcasts seem to be transmitted straight from the past. Perhaps most tantalisingly eerie of all is Mervyn John’s portrayal of innkeeper Rhys and his daughter Gwyneth, played by his real life daughter. She seems, like Peter Pan, to ‘have lost her shadow’ and Rhys’s strange appearances, tales and mannerisms are at once captivating yet mystifying.

Besides their gift of captivating both their audience of guests and those at home, both Rhys and his daughter appear to have an extraordinary insight into the lives of their guests and, indeed, how to help them. Though, as Rhys says himself, everything about the house is a ghost tale, the film is perhaps best summed up elsewise. Written by Anghus McPhail and directed by Ealing Studio’s acclaimed Basil Dearden, The Halfway House is perhaps an exploratory pause for us all, to stand still and look at our individualistic difficulties, however deep they’re buried and whatever they may be.


Best scene:Travelling to the Inn; serious the message behind the film may be, it’s hard not to smile as the travellers rattle along towards the inn in true 40’s style cinema.
Best line:Favourite Quote: ‘A pause to stand still and look at your difficulties’ – Rhys, Innkeeper

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