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Overall Rating

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look75%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 12.5%

1 review, 2 user ratings

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Separate Tables
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by MP Bartley

"Stiff upper lips all round."
4 stars

One hotel, lots of characters but no murders - just a lot of backstabbing.

In a hotel on the English coast of Bournemouth, Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller) is trying to run it as efficiently as possible and cater for the various needs of all her guests. They include the pompous Major Pollock (David Niven) a man fond of his own voice, but essentially decent, the bitchy and supercilious Mrs Railton-Bell (Gladys Cooper), her downtrodden daughter, Sybil (Deborah Kerr), John Malcolm an ex-GI who has taken to life in Bournemouth after being stationed there in the war (Burt Lancaster) and the new arrival, Ann Shankland (Rita Hayworth) who happens to be an ex-flame of Malcolm's, who happens to be involved in a clandestine affair with Pat.

Based on two Terrence Ratigan plays, Delbert Mann is content to let the film stay as stagey as possible - and he's quite correct in doing so, letting the characters metaphorically stay on top of each other only heightens the tension and bitterness between them. As well as the triangle between Pat, John and Ann, Sybil is harbouring a deep and unsaid love for Major Pollock to the intense dislike of her domineering mother. When a major revelation about Major Pollock comes to the surface and presents itself as an opportunity for Mrs Railton-Bell to get rid of him, it becomes the incident that lights the fire of class warfare, sexual frustration and plain old hatred that has been bubbling away underneath the surface in the hotel for presumbably months, if not later.

Mann's light touch is key to letting it play out, simply letting a clutch of great actors tear into the meaty material as they proceed to tear strips of each other in the name of keeping up appearances - like a lot of 1950's British cinema (despite the American production) it's about repression, what people are keeping below the surface and sticking the knife in whilst smiling politely. The film splits into two, with Major Pollock's story topping and tailing the film, while the central part of it plays out the love triangle between John, Pat and Ann - it's the least interesting part of the film, being straightforward melodrama, though the performances of all three of them help elevate it above its trashy roots (and interestingly, it's a plot strand not featured in the original play, which instead had a British MP and his wife facing up to their crumbling marriage).

Instead, it's when Niven's Major Pollock is on screen that the film really comes to life. Bumbling, absent minded and yet puffed up on self-pride, Pollock has set himself up for a fall and it's one that Mrs Railton-Bell is only too gleefully keen to push him towards. Reading out his indiscretion to her daughter, uncaring of how her heart is breaking and then gathering the rest of the guests round to get their approval to kick Pollock out of the hotel while feigning distaste for the task, Cooper turns Railton-Bell into one of the most intensely hateful female characters to cross the screen. As her opposite, Niven gives a delightful, charming but ultimately heartrending performance. Watching him stammer his goodbyes to Pat and Sybil as he realises his carefully constructed and comfortable world is falling down around him is a quietly devastating moment. The fact that Kerr's meek daughter is the victim caught between their grudge only makes it all the more affecting. Despite the stiff upper lip attitude of Pollock and everyone else around him, it's a film of raging emotions; love and hate, lust and tragedy.

Mann knows this, which is why you don't see him clumsily trying to stamp himself all over the film. Apart from the immaculate lighting and production design giving the hotel a slightly run down glamour, both comforting during the day and faintly foreboding at night, Mann rests the film squarely on the shoulders of the writing and the actors. It's a wise decision as the fascinating conflict plays out to finale of triumph and euphoria that ends on a note that brings to mind, of all films, Spartacus. In a mild-mannered and incredibly polite manner, of course.

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originally posted: 03/27/12 21:15:14
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User Comments

1/29/03 Charles Tatum For such a landmark cast, this is one big yawn 1 stars
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  18-Dec-1958 (NR)



Directed by
  Delbert Mann

Written by
  John Gay

  Deborah Kerr
  Rita Hayworth
  David Niven
  Wendy Hiller
  Burt Lancaster
  Rod Taylor

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