Separate Tables


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Many people’s lives cross in a remote holiday hotel on the English coast.

This review contains SPOILERS. Truthfully, I don’t think they’re that amazing, the plot was pretty straightforward and, after a certain point, predictable. If you don’t want to know what happens, see the movie first.

This was the movie chosen for the July film discussion at my library; our theme this month was Drama, and boy did this fit the bill. There was a difference of opinion in the group as to how good this movie was, which led to all kinds of discussion, but you’ll have to watch it yourself to see what you think; I had a ‘thumbs sideways’ feeling about it.

David Niven was EXCELLENT. Wendy Hiller just had to show up and she’d improve anything she was in. The ending was VERY satisfying. There were a few places in which Burt Lancaster was actually acting. Shot in atmospheric black-and-white (evidently because of a lack of money, but it worked very well.) Lawrence Olivier is not in this (and he was originally going to be, so I thanked my lucky stars he had to give it a pass…)

The rest of the time Burt Lancaster was on screen. Deborah Kerr was evidently playing an older daughter (maybe 30ish) but acts way younger, at least to my modern sensibilities; I can’t imagine anyone over about 21 putting up with that kind of treatment from a parent.

David Niven is EXCELLENT and deservedly won the Best Actor award. Rita Hayworth is beautiful but is basically just there, nobody expects great acting from here. Wendy Hiller is wonderful as always, and Burt Lancaster has moments.

But my biggest problem with this movie is that it’s too much set in its time; it’s a period piece, and much of it consisted of viewpoints that are now pretty dated; rather than being a charming record of a vanished era, they make me say, “Naaaah!”

For instance: the whole ‘we are drawn together by animal passion’ thing between Hayworth and Lancaster. Maybe not the existence of it but the way it was presented, with her being the sultry magnet acting like the passive wronged ex-wife. And Lancaster throws Hiller over for HER? no way!

Deborah Kerr was way too old to be that subservient to her awful mother, and I suppose that back then the feeling was that Kerr had nowhere to go and couldn’t escape; I found this hard to believe, especially from a woman of that age, but whatever.

And having two characters bond over their fear of life and dealing with the opposite sex, both of them so repressed they can’t even say the word out loud? hard to swallow in this day and age. Of course, if this movie were made now, Niven’s character would be doing more than nudging women’s arms in the dark of movie theaters…

I was also confused by the title, until I realized (as we discussed this movie) that the common style of dining in small hotels in England at the time was for family-style dining where everyone ate together at one or two big tables; having seperate tables so you don’t have to socialize with strangers was a big selling point of this hotel, as well as a demonstration of how all these people are living their seperate lives and are drawn together by circumstances.

One of the discussion group was actually incredulous that David Niven was leaving the hotel just because the guests asked him to; as modern Americans, we were all, No way! but again, time and place. That was one of the good parts of the movie, where everyone showed their support for him (and the other, that I had been waiting for, when Deborah Kerr finally stood up to her mother. About time.).

And I cannot praise Niven’s acting too highly. He went from the bluff, jolly Major, friend of all, to the meek, introverted, frightened man who had never succeeded in his life and now would have nowhere to go…I kind of expected him to kill himself, truthfully. And then when all the fellow guests supported him…what a joy to see his expression, his body language, even his voice change as his circumstances and self-image fell and then rose. Dang, he was good.

Anyway. An interesting movie in many ways, but truthfully, if Mr. Otter and I had just Netflixed it and put it on, I probably would have wandered away after half an hour or so…not my cup of tea, really.

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