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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
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VINE VOICEon 23 September 2008
This is a movie centred around a marvellous story.

David Niven plays a 'fake' Major. This is because he hides a secret past which is about to become public knowledge at a small Hotel where he has been staying some time. He is 'sweet' on a 'spinster-ish' woman (Deborah Kerr) who's dominated by her possessive mother (Gladys Cooper) There are other stories within this picture, but the story between 'The Major' and 'Sybil' is by far the most touching and absorbing. There are some wonderful scenes in this, and David Niven gives an outstanding performance and gets much sympathy from the Viewer.

This film not only shows how cruel and judgmental people can be, but how the best can be brought out after their shame - and in contrast, just how kind they can be.

A gem of a movie.

Also stars Felix Aylmer, Cathleen Nesbitt, Rod Talyor, Rita Hayworth and Burt Lancaster.
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on 19 November 2011
At an English seaside hotel during the off season, the stories of several disparate characters plays out. They include an aging fashion model (Rita Hayworth), her alcoholic ex (Burt Lancaster), a spinster (Deborah Kerr) dominated by her mother (Gladys Cooper), an ex-military man (David Niven in his Oscar winning performance) with some dark secrets and the lonely hotel manager (Wendy Hiller, also an Oscar winner for her performance). Based on the London and Broadway hit by Terence Rattigan which consisted of two one act plays with two actors playing the leads in both, the film wisely combines the stories into one cohesive whole. While director Delbert Mann (MARTY) hasn't shaken the theatrical origins (the film was entirely shot on a sound stage and has a deliberate artificial look), the drama is engrossing enough and the acting is so superb so that it doesn't matter. A solid, well crafted drama of the kind they rarely write or make anymore. The excellent Oscar nominated score is by David Raksin. With Rod Taylor, Audrey Dalton, Felix Aylmer, Cathleen Nesbitt and May Hallatt (the only cast member who starred in the London, Broadway and film).

The MGM/UA DVD from England (the American DVD is out of print) is a nice looking transfer in a wide screen ratio of 1.66. The audio however has a minor hiss to it but not enough to be distracting.
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on 21 April 2006
A superbly written, beautifully acted, understated and yet wonderfully powerful and moving film. All the actors give the performances of their lives, the piece is beautifully shot and has you hooked from the first scene. No special effects, no computer gimmicks, no car chases, nothing but the power of the writing and the performances. Puts modern films to shame.
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on 22 April 2014
Terence Rattigan (10 June 1911 - 30 November 1977) is sometimes disparagingly referred to as a second-division playwright. This is unfortunate and, to my mind, off the mark. His output is admittedly limited in quantity but always diverse in plumbing the depths of the human condition. I have seen or heard (on radio) all of his major works and find the stage and radio best suit his approach. There are some good films that include the one here, as well as the better-known "The Winslow Boy" (1946)The Winslow Boy [DVD] [1948], "The Browning Version" (1948) and the less well known, but equally pungent "The Deep Blue Sea" (1952).

Rattigan's work, despite being set mostly in an upper-middle-class environment, demonstrates the fact that class is no barrier against the psychological challenges we all face in life.

In this production, we find a number of actors taking on roles we may not normally associate with them but all of whom rise to the challenge.

Readers who may be acquainted with my reviews will find that I have difficulty at times with audio backdrop. It is for this reason I go for 4 stars here: the drama can speak for itself, the music may even become a distraction.
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on 6 July 2011
The film of "Separate Tables" was cobbled together from the two one-act plays that Rattigan published collectively under this title, and which were stage-premiered in 1954. Not having seen the stage play I can't comment on the film's resemblance to it, but I suspect that MGM smuggled several extraneous stories into the film in order to provide star vehicles for several of its actors, and thereby boost its box-office appeal.
The film, like the play, is set in the Beauregard Hotel, in 1950's Bournemeouth. It is less of a hotel in the modern sense of the word and more of a "pension" in which (mostly) elderly people patiently sit out their retirement. The hotel is run by Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller), who has high hopes of marrying one of the tenants, the wayward American writer John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster), though the sudden appearance of his ex-wife Ann (Rita Hayworth) puts the kibosh on that. Other tenants include the domineering Mrs Railton-Bell (Gladys Cooper) and her neurotic, sexually repressed daughter Sibyl (Deborah Kerr). Sibyl has an unspoken but very evident passion for another of the tenants, the retired army officer Major Angus Pollock (David Niven). Pollock cuts a fine figure, regaling everyone with his raffish stories of Wellington and Sandhurst, and of his distinguished career with the Desert Rats in North Africa.
The stultifying bourgeoise propriety of the establishment is shattered when the mendacious Mrs Railton-Bell discovers that the dashing "Major" Pollock is in fact an impostor who has been found guilty of molesting strange women in cinemas, and whose heroic background is entirely fictitious. Sibyl is shattered when the story comes out and Pollock prepares to leave the Hotel in disgrace.

There are massive problems with the film. For me, the worst aspect was the lush, Erich Korngold-style orchestral soundtrack which washes over the film like a tsunami and threatens to swamp the finely-nuanced performances given by the superb British actors who make up most of the cast.
Then there are irritating sub-plots which do nothing for the film. Charles and Jean (Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton), another pair of residents, are a couple of Bright Young Things on the verge of marriage, he a medical student trying to get through his exams while being constantly importuned by his sex-mad fiancee. Presumably they are there for light relief and a reminder of "normality"; I just wanted to throttle the pair of them.
Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth, too, are out of place. Though a fine actor in the right setting, Lancaster's larger-than-life persona unbalances the whole film. Hayworth is supposed to be a Great Beauty and The Love Of His Life, but she never was any great shakes as an actress (or as a beauty, either, as far as I'm concerned), and the total lack of chemistry between her and Lancaster puts them both out of kilter. One feels as if they've wandered mistakenly in from some other film, perhaps one set in Tahiti or somewhere equally torrid.

That is the bad news. The good news is the great performance given by David Niven, who deservedly won an Oscar for his performance, and the marvellous bond that develops between him and Kerr. It is ironic that Niven plays a man fraudulently passing himself off as a war hero (in real life Niven was a pre-war regular officer in the Highland Light Infantry before decamping for Hollywood, and during the war returned to Britain to become a commando) - perhaps he enjoyed the irony, since he did a similar job playing another fraudulent officer years later in "Paper Tiger" (1988).
He and Kerr are the beating heart and soul of the film, each portraying emotionally damaged characters unable to relate to others except when hiding behind something (he behind his bogus identity, she behind her mother). The climax of the film is a heart-breaking encounter between them following his exposure and disgrace. He is preparing to leave, and each gropes for the words they need to express their feelings about each other. Neither has the emotional vocabulary with which to do so, and both are torn by guilt, resentment and feelings of overwhelming personal inadequacy. Thank God the studio had the good sense to keep the orchestra out of it and just leave the actors to give a master-class in expressing emotional desperation.
If this passage doesn't make you fill up with tears then trust me, you're better off watching a Vin Diesel film.

So, a bit of a curate's egg. To get through the bad bits you can entertain yourself by thinking of the most grisly fate that could befall Charles and Jean, and by trying to work out which film Lancaster and Hayworth are supposed to be in. However you manage, stick it out; Niven and Kerr are wonderful. Don't miss them.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 November 2014
I only recently discovered this very interesting and surprisingly dramatic film - and I liked it a lot! Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.

Somewhere in England, in a little hotel, lives a group of mostly unrelated, very different people who actually could fit quite nicely in an Agatha Christie book...))) The main characters are:

- a retired, middle aged, flamboyant British officer whom everybody calls just Major. He is played by David Niven, who very deservedly got an Oscar for this role.

- John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster), a heavy drinking American with a past...

- Lady Matheson (Cathleen Nesbitt), an absolutely charming, gentle, dove-hearted old widow

- Miss Meacham, a very energetic and strong opinioned woman, about whom we know little - this is a secondary character but she totally steals every scene she appears in. Incredibly she is played by veteran actress May Hallatt, who was 86 at the time - but you would never believe that!

- Mr Fowler (Felix Aylmer), a retired teacher, a rather likeable albeit weak willed man

- Mrs Maud Railton-Bell (Gladys Cooper), whom I can only describe as The Wicked Witch of West Hampshire...))) She is a very, very distinguished old lady - and we want to kick her in the butt 30 seconds after her first appearance...

- last, but definitely not least, is Sibyl Railton-Bell, a vulnerable, suffering, shy, mousy, prematurely aged spinster, daughter of the Wicked Witch of West Hampshire; she is played by Deborah Kerr, who gives here an AMAZING performance. When you see Sibyl, you simply cannot imagine that this is the same woman, who also played barely a couple of years earlier smoking hot women in "From here to eternity", "Quo Vadis", "King Solomon's mines" or "King and I". The fact that Deborah Kerr never got a real Oscar, just a honorary one in 1994, is one of great injustices in history of world cinema...

The woman who owns and manages the hotel, Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller), also plays an important role in the story - Wendy Hiller actually also got an Oscar for her role (Best Supporting Actress). A little bit after the beginning a new guest checks in - Ann Shankland (Rita Hayworth) a rich and famous American woman.

What follows is a study of relations between those people, especially after some disturbing information becomes known about one of them - I will not say anything more about the story, you really deserve to discover it by yourself.

The film is carried by excellent dialogs and the great talent of all actors, with David Niven and Deborah Kerr giving the best performances. Although there is no violence or death, the film is surprisingly dramatic. In fact, even if only words and an occasional newspaper are used, many scenes are actually battles - with the words "Good morning" being the supreme weapon, which carries the day...

I liked this film A LOT and I will definitely keep my DVD for another viewing in the future. A most excellent thing! ENJOY!
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on 19 November 2009
How this differs from the original play, I know not, but this is a fine examination of disparate characters trapped in their own neuroses and a small hotel. I bought this specifically because Niven won an Oscar and I always find him likeable to watch. To my surprise, he was not the best actor in it (though I did think he *was* good) with excellent performances from Deborah Kerr, Gladys Cooper, Wendy Hillar and Burt Lancaster to name but a few. It is a "stagey" film in the same way that Twelve Angry Men is, but it works nevertheless. If you want action, forget it; if you enjoy subtlety and an appreciation of human frailties then this is a fine film. Perhaps a little dated now and again, but bear in mind that for its time, the taboo subject of sex is brought to the fore (though only by word and intimation) with daring. Solid film, and definitely worth watching.
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on 20 May 2015
I have had this DVD for some time and watched it again last night. It is not a comfortable film. I remember from when I was little how ghastly seaside hotels were in England, with many 'permanent' residents who thought they owned the place and considered themselves very superior to people who had just booked in for their annual holiday. Terence Rattigan is a supreme writer. He has captured the claustraphobic atmosphere perfectly. Adapted from a stage play and yet keeping the confined atmosphere. He writes such beautiful dialogue that the actors queued up to perform in his plays. And what a cast is assembled here. Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Gladys Cooper, Felix Aylmer, Wendy Hiller, Rita Hayworth, Rod Taylor, Burt Lancaster. And what characterisations they are given. Gladys Cooper completely dominating and destroying her daughter played by Deborah Kerr - that's how it was in those days - David Niven's character - a weak man - brilliantly played against type - won him the Academy award for best supporting actor for the year which was 1958. Not a comfortable place to be taken back to - how much nicer are hotels nowadays: but a piece of work that is well worth keeping.
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on 7 August 2011
This film, like `Brief Encounter', is another prime example that any attempted remake would be doomed from the outset. This movie is a `one off' ! It could not be done again! Other reviewers bring to light one or two flaws in this particular production , but as a whole entertainment this film is a super tale of human frailty and a masterclass in acting from those involved in its presentation..
Set in a rather `dark' south coast hotel and populated by a disparate set of long term tenants, each with their own set of problems, it is gripping from beginning to end. The majority of the film is set inside the hotel - there is little exterior action - and the film for that reason is almost like watching a stage play in the theatre. It is none the worse for that however. All of these lonely people - who dine alone - gradually have their personalities laid bare - none are excused! Their individual stories are both sad and surprising - some especially so given that this is the 1950s when one or two subjects were generally not on the public agenda.
I'll say no more other than this is a film with a good story, a great screenplay with some of the best actors in the business. The film deservedly garnered its share of awards. Enjoy !
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