Saturday, August 22, 2015
Old Movie Review - "Separate Tables" (1958)
Last month I set my DVR to Turner Classic Movies showing of the 1958 drama, "Separate Tables", mainly due to the fact that this movie took down two acting Oscars, David Niven for Best Actor and Wendy Hiller for Best Supporting Actress, and I finally got around to watching it yesterday.
The story takes place in a second rate seaside hotel/boarding house, run by Hiller, and it centers around the goings on of the characters who are residing there. Niven plays a retired British Army officer, who is soon exposed as a somewhat unsavory person whose foibles are soon exposed, much to the chagrin of Deborah Kerr, the mousey spinster who pines for him but who is heavily influenced by her domineering mother. The other story line involves an American ne'er do well played by Burt Lancaster, who is engaged to Hiller, but whose life gets complicated when his glamorous ex-wife, played by Rita Hayworth, suddenly shows up at the hotel.
Sound soap-opera-ish to you? Well, yeah, it sort of is, but the movie (and the play upon which it is based) does address several issues of a sexual nature that must have seemed fairly shocking at the time of its release, and any movie with two Oscar winners in it, plus the always terrific Lancaster, is well worth watching. In addition to the two acting awards, "Separate Tables" was nominated for five other Oscars, including Best Picture (it lost out to "Gigi").
David Niven was really quite good in it as the stiff-upper-lipped Brit, and he should really be proud of that Oscar win because here were the other nominees of 1958 whom he beat out for the Academy Award - Spencer Tracy, "Old Man and the Sea", Paul Newman, "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof", and Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, both in "The Defiant Ones". That is a list of Hollywood royalty right there.
As is usually he case, TCM host Robert Osbourne had the following interesting "inside" dope about this movie. The play by Terrence Rattigan upon which it is based was actually two one act plays that centered on the two story lines, the one with Niven and Kerr and the one with Lancaster and Hayworth. When performed on stage, two actors played both parts in the separate acts of the play. The studio wanted to do the same thing with the movie using then husband and wife team of Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh in the roles. However, one of producers of the movie was none other than Burt Lancaster, and he wanted the role he eventually played. When push came to shove, the Oliviers were out, and Niven, Kerr, Lancaster, and Hayworth were in. The rest, as they say, is history.