THE HALFWAY HOUSE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: BASIL DEARDEN / SCREENPLAY: ANGUS MACPHAIL / STARRING: MERVYN JOHNS, GLYNIS JOHNS, TOM WALLS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Ghosts aren’t always focused on terrifying us. Sometimes, they’re here to teach us a lesson or put our lives back on the right track. That’s exactly what recently-deceased innkeeper Rhys and his daughter Gwyneth are here for, when they and their spectral hostelry materialise in a sunlit Welsh valley and begin accepting guests a year after a devastating Nazi air raid.
Their guests are a disparate group, including a couple on the verge of divorce (with their precocious daughter in tow), a grieving French woman desperate to make supernatural contact with the son she lost during the war, a conman, a black marketeer and a sickly orchestra conductor who’s just found out he has a limited time to live. But they’ve barely settled in before most of them realise things aren’t quite right in the sleepy Halfway House: according to the register and out-of-date newspapers, no-one has stayed here for exactly a year, and then there’s the small matter that the lovely and wise-beyond-her-years Gwyneth doesn’t cast a shadow and when her father stands in front of the mirror he casts no reflection...
After the precocious daughter stages a stunt to reunite her parents that almost ends in tragedy, and the French woman holds a séance that is brutally cut short by her disapproving husband (who has secrets of his own to reveal), the guests begin to realise that their stay at the inn will be far shorter and more violent than any of them suspected. The events of a year ago are about to be re-enacted and the Nazi bomber is already approaching to (once again) destroy the inn and everybody inside it.
The Halfway House is a charming wartime ghost story that’s slow moving and bereft of frights but still has enough emotional intensity to hold a modern audience’s attention. Like a lot of Ealing Studios’ output, there’s a nostalgic feelgood whimsy to the film that somehow avoids nose-diving into sentimentality, although that’s largely thanks to the performances rather than the script. Mervyn Johns and his real-life daughter (and future Mary Poppins star) Glynis are particularly fantastic here, although there isn’t a weak link in the entire ensemble. If more places were haunted by ghosts like these, we’d definitely take up paranormal investigation as a hobby.
Studiocanal’s new fully-restored Blu-ray looks great, although it's sadly stingy on the special features. Still, with a movie like Halfway House, it’s the main attraction we’re here for and fans of vintage British cinema won’t be disappointed.