For Reel

Separate Tables (1958)
December 10, 2014, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Delbert Mann
3 Stars
Separate TablesOn Broadway, Separate Tables was a pair of one-act plays set in a hotel near Bournemouth. The location and supporting characters were the same, but each half concerned the troubles of one distinct couple. Although the original intention for the film adaptation was to preserve this narrative structure–in fact, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were actually going to play both sets of leads–the final result largely abandoned that structure for a film that feels a bit schizophrenic. It’s quite a fascinating mess in that way, even if it doesn’t entirely work. With David Niven and Wendy Hiller the principle leads in one story and Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth in the other, it’s as if an American and British production have been edited together. Pacing problems are evident and director Delbert Mann seems overwhelmed. Niven won an Oscar for his performance, which is understandable because he plays against the expected debonair gentleman type that he made his name on. In the early moments, he’s a blowhard trying to win the affections of a spinster with his war stories. Later, it’s revealed he’s a pervert, and that’s the result of him being desperately lonely and incompetent in his dealings with women. The interlinking theme is said loneliness, but the crowded cast and glamorous movie stars delivering fairly obtuse performances undermines that thematic intention. Regardless, there are a few genuinely affecting scenes, and Rita Hayworth in particular is very good–she’s Gilda, only now a little bit older and not attracting quite the same level of attention.

1 Comment so far
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I like your statement about the Major: “He’s a blowhard trying to win the affections of a spinster with his war stories.” Welcome to L.A. (1976) is another film about loneliness. I wrote a short post on Separate Tables called “What it Means to be Judgmental.” If you would like to read it, here is the link:

Comment by Chris Lindsay

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