Terence Rattigan, John Gay (Play: Terence Rattigan)
Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, David Niven, Wendy Hiller, Burt Lancaster, Gladys Cooper, Cathleen Nesbitt, Felix Aylmer, Rod Taylor, Audrey Dalton, May Hallatt, Priscilla Morgan
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Set in a quaint British seaside hotel, Separate Tables is a hard film to describe because it doesn’t seem to be about one central topic. The story seems to center around a drunken American played by Burt Lancaster who has run away from the States and his ex-wife played by Rita Hayworth in an effort to try and find some peace. He does so with the hotel’s proprietress played by Wendy Hiller, but when his ex shows up to try and woo him back, they must reconcile their love and hate for each other.
Around them are a strange array of hotel guests including a disagreeable dowager played by Gladys Cooper, her repressed daughter played by Deborah Kerr, a retired Army Major with a questionable past played by David Niven and a host of other minor residents who seem to only have circumstantial impact on the story. And that’s one of the film’s failures. They have so many unnecessary stories going on that it feels almost as if screenwriter Terence Rattigan didn’t exactly know where to take his adaptation of his own stage play. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kerr so unglamorous, but she plays her part quite well. Niven is better than most of the rest of the cast in his Oscar winning role, but the performance that has the most impact is the one given by Hiller. Although she isn’t stripping off the glamor like Kerr, she creates a refined, selfless role that channels the film’s only real emotional core. Here she is competing against a gorgeous woman for a man’s affection and she attempts to remain above the fray and keep her emotions about her. Kudos also go to Gladys Cooper for a strong performance as the disagreeable and controlling mother.
If the film could have been more about life and love, it might have made for a stronger statement; however, the love triangle seems ultimately unnecessary and the witch hunt against the Major for his untoward predilections makes for nice class commentary, but it all seems for naught. The Hayworth/Lancaster/Hiller saga lacks resolution, but the closing scene in the dining hall, with nearly everyone at their separate tables, is a strong finale to an otherwise uneven film.
August 9, 2010