Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Halfway House ( 1944 )

Ealing Studios, one of England's major film companies, made some exceptionally entertaining films during the 1940s-1960s such as The Lavender Hill Mob, The Blue Lamp, Mandy, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and Scott of the Antarctic. Early in their history they released a charming drama that came to represent the studio's signature style: genteel comedies focusing on the Everyman. 

This film was called The Halfway House ( 1944 ), and it tells the story of ten travelers from across Britain, each with a personal problem, who find themselves staying the night at a secluded Welsh country inn. After a few hours at the inn, the travelers begin to wonder why all the newspapers are dated from the previous year...and why the innkeeper's ( Mervyn Johns ) daughter Gwyneth ( Glynis Johns ) casts no shadow when she walks. 

"Time stands still here in the valley..."
Each of these travelers came to the inn by chance, and leave the inn with their problems resolved. One couple ( Francoise Rosay and Tom Walls )who lost their son during the war, struggle to come to terms with his death.  Another couple ( Pat McGrath and Philippa Hiatt ) plan to get married but must first face conflicting viewpoints about the war. A concert conductor ( Esmond Knight ) finds the strength and positive outlook needed to enjoy the last days of his life. A young girl ( Sally Anne Howes ) attempts to reunite her parents who are on the verge of divorcing ( Richard Bird and Valerie White ); and a couple of black marketers ( Guy Middleton and Alfred Drayton ) are made to feel remorse for their criminal actions. 

Like most British films, The Halfway House wastes no time in drawing you into the story and its characters from the onset. Esmond Knight, Tom Walls, Mervyn Johns - and his daughter Glynis - all give particularly compelling performances. Another star of the film, the inn itself, was perfectly cast. This lovely country oasis, supposedly located in "Cymbach" Wales, was in reality situated in the small English village of Portlock Hill, where most of the film's location scenes were shot. 
"A pause in time, a pause to stand still and look at yourself and your difficulties...a few hours to change your minds"

The Halfway House is not a serious drama and deftly mixes in comedy with the profiles of these characters from different walks of life with their different stories to tell. It is a cheerful film in spite of its somber theme and leaves you with a pleasant feeling, as though you just spent a comfortable night at an old inn yourself and listened to a thrilling ghost story. 

The only downside to The Halfway House is its ending. The message throughout the film is obvious even though it is conveyed subtly through the dialogue, but at the conclusion the innkeeper delivers a speech - presumably for the benefit of the guests - that attempts to "explain" their presence at the inn, and instead, relegates to dramatic propaganda. Nevertheless, The Halfway House is a prime example of Ealing Studios top-notch output from the 1940s and gives pleasure through innumerable viewings. 

2 comments:

  1. This sounds interesting. Is it available to stream or on YouTube?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it is currently on Youtube...but who knows how long it will be available!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5OZ--9omqQ&t=1036s

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