Separate Tables (1958)
Directed by Delbert Mann
Based on plays written by Terence Rattigan
Screenplay by John Gay, Terence Rattigan
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Burt Lancaster, Wendy Hiller, Gladys Cooper
The lives of guests at a seaside hotel in Bournemouth become intertwined through a series of unexpected events.
This movie is based on pieces from a number of short plays written by Terence Rattigan (The Browning Version). Rattigan adapted his work for the movie alongside John Gay (Sometimes a Great Notion). Delbert Man (Marty) was hired to direct the film. The cast of this film is an impressive list of recognizable names. Rita Hayworth (Gilda), David Niven (Murder by Death), Deborah Kerr (Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison), Burt Lancaster (Sweet Smell of Success), Wendy Hiller (A Man for All Seasons), and Gladys Cooper (Rebecca) are just some of the talented people in this one. The film was among the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture from the class of 1958.
This story is an excellently written drama that provides unexpectedly mature material given the era it was released in. The writing develops a group of unique individuals that have characteristics that are guaranteed to create tension. After some decent opening sequences, the story begins to dig into the lives of the characters. Instead of big moments of revelation, this one builds the drama and tension slowly. The movie also has some great twists and turns that lead to very unexpected outcomes. The dialogue in this one is really good as well. Some of the conversations in the film are surprisingly intense. The only weakness of this one comes from an ending that feels a little rushed. There is also a bit of a “Hollywood ending” feel to the way some plot points are resolved. These issues aren’t big enough to really hurt the movie as a whole. The real surprise in this one is a clear sexual tension that is built into the script. The writing explores this idea more honestly than most films from the era. There is also an examination of mental health that hits hard. These elements have kept this one from aging as much as it might have. Rattigan and Gay were nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for their writing.
The acting in this movie is fantastic. Considering the people involved, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. In a movie like this, there isn’t really one star. The cast members in this one all find time to shine, and they really elevate the material. Burt Lancaster does a great job bringing a much-needed level of masculinity to the movie. It’s not a macho performance, but it injects nice energy into the material. He has excellent chemistry with the entire cast, and pushes the drama and emotion to a high level. Deborah Kerr is also great in this one. Her performance is tense and emotional, sometimes at an explosive level. Her ability to make the right shifts in her performance really stand out. Rita Hayworth offers a great performance of her own. She brings out a level of sensuality, but balances it with honest emotion. Her connection with Lancaster is especially good.
It’s impossible to overlook the performance that David Niven gives in this one. He might not have the physical presence of Lancaster, but he gives an equally strong performance. Like Kerr, he was pushed into a role with a deep emotional background. He displayed his understanding of the inner-turmoil of his character throughout the movie. Wendy Hiller also creates something special with her performance in this one. Like all of the stars, she found the emotional undercurrent of her character and brought it to life.
Gladys Cooper is another actress who can’t be overlooked. Her performance provides the spark for much of the conflict in the movie. She plays her role with the required sense of self-righteousness. As previously stated, there isn’t a bad performance in this one. There are so many moving parts in the story, and the cast navigated it perfectly. The cast received a decent amount of recognition for their efforts. David Niven was honored with an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in this one. Wendy Hiller took home the award for Best Supporting Actress, and Deborah Kerr was nominated for Best Actress.
Separate Tables was honored with a total of seven Academy Award nominations. In addition to the awards already mentioned, this one was nominated for Black-and-White Best Cinematography and Best Music.
This might not be a well-known film, but it’s one worth checking out. Fans of the stars should make sure to see this. It brings a level of maturity and drama together in ways that aren’t often found in (good) films from the 1950s. I would also suggest this to fans of deep drama. I give this one 4.7 out of 5 stars.