I can’t say I’ve seen a whole lot of pre-1950s movies. Outside of a few classics and the most obvious horror movies from this period, there’s not a whole lot, so I was very happy to be able to review The Halfway House, a movie getting a Blu-ray release seventy-five years after it was originally released.
Despite some spooky goings-on, this is not what I’d call a horror movie. During World War II a group of travelers end up at The Halfway House, a country inn, in Wales. Each traveler has a problem or something they are trying to hide and the innkeeper and his daughter come across a little bit strange.
The first half of the movie does a great job of building the characters. We get to learn who everyone is, if and how they are connected to each other and what type of people they are. The two standout performances come from Sally Ann Howes, who was only 14 at the time, as Joanna, and Esmond Knight as David Davies. Despite this being only her second-ever film, Howes seems confident in her role and shows some great comedic timing. While Knight just seems very natural in his role, very charismatic.
Despite not being the most obvious of horror movies, it does create an air of mystery, even if it’s not the creepiest. The guests notice the daughter of the innkeeper has no shadow and both her and her father initially seem to appear from nowhere. There is lots of talk about everything in the inn being exactly a year old and a local gardener even tells some of the guests that the owners are ghosts. These things don’t really jump out as surprises, they are just there. We even get to see a seance take place (no ouija board in sight) and despite the usual horror traits taking place – the table moves about, the ‘ghosts’ knocks a number of times to let them know its answers – it doesn’t actually come across very scary at all.
The humour is actually as entertaining as the most ghostly moments. There’s a bath scene between an arguing couple that is very amusing (although it maybe hasn’t aged well as things get a bit awkward the longer the scene goes on) and the drowning scene mixes comedy and drama perfectly.
As this was made during World War II it is perhaps no surprise that this is part of the story. But this isn’t in your face propaganda (although the basic message of working together with strangers and things will work out is a basic message). It’s an interesting portrayal of how things were at the time and what people were thinking. It’s maybe a lot more positive than I’d expect.
The last twenty minutes wrap things up nicely and once you have got to know these characters this is a thought-provoking and emotional conclusion. People’s lives are changed by what has happened to them and what could appear a bit cheesy actually (because of how well written it is) just puts a smile on your face.
Maybe there’s plenty of movies that have a least been a little bit influenced by The Halfway House but I don’t think I have seen them. I’m surprised it has not been remade to a certain extent, even just the basic story with a small amount of modern re-working because it is so well written and so unseen that it could work well.
The Halfway House might not be scary to a modern audience but it’s an extremely well made and captivating movie that feels almost as important now as it may have done seventy-five years ago. If like me you would like to start watching more films from this era, then The Halfway House is a great way to start.
Dir: Basil Dearden
Scr: Denis Ogedn, Angus McPhail, Diana Morgan, Roland Pertwee, T.E.B. Clarke
Cast: Mervyn Johns, Glynis Johns, Tom Walls
Prd: Michael Balcon, Alberto Cavalcanti
Music: Lord Berners
DoP: Michael Relph
Runtime: 1h 18min
The Halfway House is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital now.