The Halfway House (1944)

Article #1354 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-28-2004
Posting Date: 4-27-2004
Directed by Basil Dearden
Featuring Mervyn Johns, Glynis Johns, Sally Ann Howes

Assorted travelers find themselves meeting at a halfway house that was believed to have burned down a year ago but seems to have been mysteriously rebuilt.

From the basic setup of the story, my first impulse was to suspect that I was watching a British variant on the “Outward Bound” story; in other words, that everyone at the inn was already dead and awaiting judgment. Though this does not prove to be the case, its similarities are fairly strong. I can’t give away the true nature of the situation without engaging in spoilers, but I will point out that the primary difference between the two stories is that in “Outward Bound”, the people have come to the end of their lives, whereas in this one, the guests at the inn are all at a crossroads in their life where the decisions they make can turn the tides of their ultimate fates. Much of it is relevant to the war; we have one couple who is being torn apart by the death of their son in the war, a man who is becoming rich by dealing with black market war materials and an Irishman who is planning to become a consul to Germany (Ireland was neutral during the war) against the wishes of his lover. There are also other characters; a couple is planning to divorce against the wishes of their daughter, a man recently released from prison (for a crime of which he was innocent) is toying with actually turning to crime, and an orchestral conductor is trying to come to terms with a terminal illness. The movie is a little slow out of the gate; it’s a good twenty-five minutes into the movie before we reach the inn, and that’s too long. It’s also a bit dry at times, and manages to be both more complex than ‘Outward Bound’ (the characters being in transitional states of their lives) and more simplistic (let’s just say that certain problems work themselves out too conveniently). Still, the ending is strong, the acting is solid, and it makes the best use of the 23rd psalm that I’ve ever seen in a movie.


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