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Wonderful museum piece from the fifties.,
on 31 July 2004
Produced in 1958 by Harold Hecht and directed by Delbert Mann, Separate Tables takes place at the tiny Beauregard Hotel, a seaside resort on England's south coast, which serves in the winter as "a refuge for the lonely, resigned, and desperate." The main feature of the hotel is its separate tables, rather than "family style" dining, for the guests. The cast is a who's who of fifties stars--David Niven (who won an Oscar for his role), Deborah Kerr, Bert Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, and Wendy Hiller (who also won an Oscar)--all playing characters who live as separated from the world as their tables are in the dining room.
The Major (Niven) sets the action in motion when he is reported in the local newspaper as having been guilty of "insulting behavior" in a movie theater, and his war record is published. Niven is worshipped from afar by Sybil Railton-Bell (Kerr), a pathetically neurotic woman, subject to hysteria, who is totally controlled by her demanding mother. John Malcolm (Lancaster), was once married to former model Ann Shankland (Hayworth), who has suddenly come to visit him at the hotel, possibly to rekindle their flame, but he is already secretly engaged to Pat Cooper (Hiller), the manager of the hotel. A variety of eccentric subordinate characters add color, and occasionally humor, to the action. These isolated characters soon begin to find their lives intersecting and overlapping, and they eventually coming to a poignant reckoning in the hotel dining room, as everyone arrives at his/her separate table.
The cinematography (Charles Lang) and music (David Raksin), both nominated for Academy Awards, provide subtle emphasis for the character dramas going on in the hotel, rather than calling attention to themselves. Character dramas were less common in the plot-driven 1950s than they are today, and these characters will now be seen as stereotypes by today's audience, their actions predictable. Sybil (Kerr) seems particularly unrealistic now, her constant refrain of "Yes, Mummy," a constant reminder of how times have changed. Lancaster seems a bit out of his element as a character actor, and Hayworth, in her buttoned up blouse, seems a bit uncertain about how to handle such a subtle role. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful study of actors and acting from the 1950s, and the writing (by Terence Rattigan and John Gay), direction, and cinematography, which showcase the cast, are superb. A classic film. Mary Whipple