on 26 February 2012
Made in 1943 and released in 1944 (in february, before D-Day), this film bears close comparison to "Thunder Rock" (1942). Both films deal with loss, regret and redemption, but it has to be said that "Thunder Rock" comes away with the laurels.
Each film has a cast of "real" people and of ghosts. In "Thunder Rock", a man sick of trying to alert the world to the threat of the coming fascist onslaught effectively immolates himself on the eponymous lighthouse. In so doing he meets the ghosts of a shipload of people who drowned a century before, all of whom tell him of the things that drove them from home. They voice regret that they hadn't stopped to fight what made them leave, and persuade the isolated man that he should return to the fray, and not flee as they did. Heartened by their stories and their exhortations, he leaves the lighthouse and returns to the world to take up arms once again.
In "the Halfway House", the positions are reversed. The ghosts this time are the father and daughter (Rhys and Gwyneth, played by real-life father and daughter Mervyn and Glynis Johns) killed a year before when their Inn was bombed by a German plane. The "real" people who come to their Inn (the multiple layers of meaning of the word "Halfway" in the title unfold as the film goes along) are variously fleeing their own demons. Inter alia, Richard and Joanne French (Richard Bird and Valerie White) are a separated couple en route to divorce, who their daughter Joanne (Sally Ann Howes, the quintessential English Rose) desperately wants to keep together. Captain Harry Meadows (Tom Walls) is a disgraced sea captain whose wife Alice (Francoise Rosay) blames him for the death at sea of their son. David Davies (Esmond Knight) is a Welsh orchestral conductor who is on enforced invalidity through overwork, and Capt. Fortescue (the excellent character actor, and quintessential English Bounder, Guy Middleton) is a cashiered officer just released from jail. They only gradually twig that their hosts are ghosts, but en route to the discovery they all find salvation, redemption and a new purpose in life.
The trouble with the film is that it lacks internal logic. Firstly, we never know why such a large group of people have decided to all go at the same time to this place which ceased to exist a long time before - at the very least, wouldn't you write or phone to see if there were places available? A lot of time is spent establishing the other-worldly credentials of the ghostly pair (the guests remark several times that they cast no shadows, and a considerable amount of special-effect filming is expended on showing the pair of them wandering about in bright sunlight without shadows - all to no avail, because it makes not a jot of difference to anything) and Mervyn Johns goes right over the top in the Wales-is-a-spooky-place-and-the-Celts-are-a-rum-lot department. But the attempt to build up credibility and tension is wasted by leaden plotting, the redundancy of much of the dialogue, and the knowledge that the film-makers are trying to manipulate you - and when you become aware of this (as you don't in better conceived films such as "Dead of Night" and, yes, "Thunder Rock") then it's all over as far as entertainment is concerned. The putative climax of the film is when the event that destroyed the Halfway House recurs exactly one year after the initial bombing; each of the runaways has to decide whether to go and start a new life or stay and get killed as the bombing is repeated, though the reasoning behind the actions and words of both people and ghosts is garbled to an exasperating degree. But by then you scarcely care one way or the other; so much time has been wasted in botching up the plot that it really doesn't matter any more.
There are compensations, though. The film was made and released before the success of D-Day effectively sealed the fate of Nazi Germany, and there is a strong sense about the film that no-one yet really knew which way the war would go. There is some delightful film of Cardiff during the war, very entertaining for those of us who live there, and some truly beatiful open-air film of the Welsh countryside, made in the way that could only have been done then, a way that fills one with a longing for a past lost forever.
Then there is the human factor. Esmond Knight was already a stage and film star when war broke out. He returned to acting in 1942, having been blinded during action against the Bismarck in the battle of the Denmark Strait, when he was a Royal Navy officer aboard HMS Prince of Wales. He made numerous film appearances after this dreadful event, and you'd never know that he was blind (though thankfully he regained part of his sight as time wore on). A couple of years later Mervyn Johns starred in "Dead of Night" (1945), a real chiller and a model of its kind; he played a role not dissimilar to his part in "Halfway". Acting alongside him was Sally Ann Howes, playing a role not dissimilar, etc.
Is it worth seeing? Yes, despite everything. Though the plotting is plodding and the central idea lacks internal logic, the beauty of the filming and the interesting little bits mentioned above make it worth the while. Will I watch it again? Yes, one day. Not for a very long time, but one day, if only for the scenery...
on 7 February 2013
Excellent period piece, with the charm one doesn't find in paranormal films today, i. e., the absence of a shadow telling more about a ghostly presence than state of the art special effects. As can be expected of war time films, a vehicle for propoganda incorporated in the character's sub-plots. A real gem for old film buffs.
on 27 July 2011
Having wanted to see this film for more years than I now care to admit, it was a thrill to see credits
start to roll that looked like a Blu-ray. It is that good looking and well preserved! The story is sort
of a precusor to the very famous "Dead Of Night", a tune up before the race, so to speak. I had to buy
a $50.00 all zone Panasonic from Bombay Electronics (big and shameless plug) to watch this but how many
times do you go around? The British are putting out "Night Of The Eagle" and an improved version of
"The Thing" so don't sit around shackled to the whims American executives. If you like vintage Brit
ghost movies as much as I do, you are in for a treat in this "House".
on 19 December 2011
My daughter and I watched this film on tv several years ago, and really loved it.I have been looking for it ever since then,but had forgotten the title. Really pleased to have found it.Only complaint I have,is the description of the story on the cover is not correct.The group of people who end up staying at the halfway house,do not take shelter from a storm.That aside, it is a brilliant film, and if you don't mind watching black and white it is definitely worth it.
on 2 February 2014
I always liked this film, as it has such a good storyline, so glad to have it on DVD. It is a simple ghost story, with a story line that has also a feel good factor. The fact that the inn touches all of the visitors in different ways is integral to the story line. If you like older films you will like this one.
on 8 July 2015
Brilliant film with real-life father and daughter pairing of Mervyn and Glynis Johns,the former revelling in the chance to play his stock-in-trade role
of a man who has an unnerving presence,not obviously creepy but unsettling all the same(see 'Dead of Night' and you'll know exactly what I mean)
An unusual moralising film,showing that we should take the path to redemption,if we are offered a second chance.
Mervyn Johns gives a tour-de-force performance,especially when delivering a powerful homily about man's struggle to atone for his mistakes in life.
The film, whilst delivering a message for the betterment of mankind,has moments of real humour as a counterbalance,the risque bathroom scene