Cast & Crew
A number of semi-permanent guests reside at the Hotel Beauregard in the coastal village of Bournemouth, England, including the overly sheltered and plain Sibyl Railton-Bell and her imperious mother Maude, who disdains Sibyl's friendship with the bombastic Major David Angus Pollock. Retired teacher Mr. Fowler suspects that the major's claims of a public school education and daring war exploits may be exaggerated, but he and horse-racing enthusiast Miss Meacham nevertheless accept the major as a regular, longtime solitary guest like themselves. Mrs. Railton-Bell, her friend, the kindly Lady Gladys Matheson, and the other guests note the arrival of wealthy American and former model Anne Shankland. Anne asks hotel proprietress Pat Cooper about another guest, fellow American and writer John Malcolm, revealing that she hopes to surprise him. Near the end of the dinner hour, John arrives from the pub slightly drunk and comes directly into the lounge from the pouring rain, only to be scolded by Pat for disregarding hotel rules. In private, Pat tells John that she is concerned about his drinking. Unknown to the guests, John and Pat have been romantically involved for several years and are secretly engaged. Brushing aside Pat's concerns, John assures her that he loves her and will marry her soon. Hurrying into the dining room, John is stunned to see Anne, his former wife, for the first time in five years. Anne claims that while visiting London she learned from mutual friends of John's personal difficulties and wanted to offer her help. Still bitter over their breakup, John accuses Anne of lying, then taunts her about her failed marriage following their divorce. Anne remains undaunted by John's cruel remarks, revealing that she is engaged again and only wishes John well. Angered by Anne's calm demeanor, John storms away to the pub. Meanwhile, Mrs. Railton-Bell is curious when she discovers the major anxiously looking through the evening newspapers and becomes suspicious when he clumsily tries to detract attention from the tabloid paper he is scanning. Determined to examine the tabloid, Mrs. Railton-Bell sends Sibyl upstairs, then with Gladys' assistance finds an article detailing the recent arrest of the major for indecent behavior at a local movie house. The article further relates that the major's war service was as a lieutenant in charge of a West Indies supply depot. Gladys beseeches Mrs. Railton-Bell to keep the truth from Sibyl, but Mrs. Railton-Bell is determined to have the major thrown out of the hotel and summons the others to meet in the lounge. When Sibyl returns and asks about the impromptu meeting, Mrs. Railton-Bell assures her daughter that her fragile nerves could not withstand the truth, but when Sibyl persists, her mother gives her the newspaper article, which stuns her. With only Mr. Fowler, Gladys and Anne attending the gathering, Mrs. Railton-Bell details her proposal to expel the major. John returns in the middle of the discussion and, spotting Anne, joins the others, only to dismiss the major's misfortunes as embarrassing and petty, but not meriting eviction. Ignoring John's comments, Mrs. Railton-Bell brusquely assumes she has Gladys's support, then presses Mr. Fowler, who reluctantly agrees that the major is not fit to remain. Having overheard the discussion from the library, Miss Meacham offers her opinion that she has no interest in the major or Mrs. Railton-Bell's proposal. When Mrs. Railton-Bell declares a majority consensus, John insists that Sibyl should have a vote, but Sibyl bursts into a hysterical denunciation of the major's behavior and flees. Later, Anne follows John out to the patio and they discuss their marriage difficulties, which culminated in John resorting to physical abuse in frustration over Anne's coldness. After Anne insists that despite their very real problems, she cares for him, John admits he still finds her desirable. Anne convinces John to come to her room, but when they come inside, Pat notifies Anne that she has a phone call. As Anne goes to answer the phone, John attempts to explain to Pat about Anne, after which Pat expresses amazement that John believes Anne's tale of seeking him out only to offer him help. When John insists Anne's intentions are sincere, Pat reminds him that the only outsider who knows of their engagement is John's publisher, to whom Anne is speaking on the phone. Realizing that Anne has known of his involvement with Pat all along, John nevertheless goes to Anne's room later. When Anne turns off the lights and attempts to seduce him, he angrily rejects her and berates her for lying. Anne pleads for John to let her explain her motives for wanting to see him and follows him to the landing, where he shoves her to the floor. Hearing the commotion, Gladys finds Anne on the landing and summons Pat. The next morning, Anne is packed and ready to depart, but awaits John, who did not return to the hotel all night. The major greets Sibyl and begins a war story, but she cuts him off, revealing that all the guests have read the tabloid article. Although mortified, the major tries to answer Sibyl's demand for an explanation, claiming that he has always been timid and fearful of people, especially women. He admits to finding confidence in the military and embellishing his exploits to win respect. When the major suggests that he and Sibyl are very much alike in their fear of life, she is affronted. Worried about what will become of the major, Sybil retreats to the porch in confusion, where she is comforted by Anne. John returns and questions Pat, who assures him that Anne is well, admitting that the two remained up all night talking and that she is now sympathetic to Anne, who revealed that she is not engaged. When John derides Anne as a manipulator, Pat points out that Anne is not the monster John has always claimed, but rather a fearful, lonely woman. After John refuses to admit empathy for Anne, Pat observes that he has been unhappy throughout the years of their acquaintance and should admit that he still loves Anne. When the major arrives to ask for his final bill, Pat tells him that he is welcome to stay on at the hotel. The major replies that he regrets disappointing Sybil and admits that he is a coward about facing the others. At breakfast, John apologizes to Anne, after which she admits that she still loves him and fears a life of loneliness. The major arrives for his last meal and after a strained silence, John greets him, as do Miss Meacham and Mr. Fowler. When Gladys speaks kindly to the major, the disapproving Mrs. Railton-Bell demands that Sibyl leave with her, but Sibyl refuses and after her mother departs, also addresses the major. After John admits to Anne there is little chance for them to succeed together, she notes there is as little chance for them to find happiness apart. Pat then informs the Major that his taxi has arrived, but he dismisses the car, declaring that he will remain.
Edward G. Boyle
Charles Lang Jr.
Thomas P. Shaw
Joan St. Oegger
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
That crucial linking device was abandoned, however, when Separate Tables (1958) was bought for the screen by the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster company. The original plan was to film the plays with Laurence Olivier (he would also direct) and Vivien Leigh doubling the leading roles. Then the film company decided a more 'bankable' star was needed for the box office, at which point it was suggested that Burt Lancaster, one of the co-producers, step in to play the drunken journalist. Olivier immediately clashed with Lancaster over the interpretation of the John Malcolm role and, with his wife, pulled out of the project altogether (one version goes that Olivier campaigned for Spencer Tracy in the role). It was then decided that Rita Hayworth, the fiancee of Lancaster's partner and fellow producer (James Hill), should play the fashion model. However, Lancaster and Hayworth decided not to play the characters in the second story and David Niven and Deborah Kerr were cast instead. This had the inevitable effect of making the first half of the play appear tailored for American audiences while the second half was distinctly British. It was at this late date when director Delbert Mann was brought aboard.
"My first instinct," Mann recalled in The Other Side of the Moon: The Life of David Niven by Sheridan Morley, "was that I was quite the wrong kind of director, and I'd never even been to Bournemouth or experienced that totally British small-hotel life; but Harold Hecht sent me there to research it, and within half a day I'd found prototypes of all the characters that Terry had written about, all living there in retirement homes - the old schoolmaster, the little lady who played the horses, the retired Army man....Our main problem was getting a screenplay which would turn the two original plays into just one narrative line, and we had about five attempts with different writers, including Terry himself, before we finally got it right. Even then I still had great reservations about David: the role of the major was so different from anything I'd seen him do before."
Mann needn't have worried; Niven won the Oscar for Best Actor in Separate Tables. His performance, which was a complete departure from his screen image as a debonair sophisticate, proved he was capable of more serious roles yet he didn't capitalize on it, sticking instead to mostly romantic comedies and action thrillers the remainder of his career. As for the other six Oscar nominations the movie received, including one for Best Picture, Separate Tables only won in the Best Supporting Actress category. Wendy Hiller took home an Academy Award for her portrayal of the hotel proprietress, Miss Cooper, but Deborah Kerr lost in the Best Actress category to Susan Hayward for I Want to Live(1958). And the Best Picture Oscar for 1958 went to Gigi.
Director: Delbert Mann
Producer: Harold Hecht
Screenplay: John Gay, John Michael Hayes (uncredited), Terence Rattigan (also play)
Cinematography: Charles Lang Jr.
Editor: Charles Ennis, Marjorie Fowler
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: David Raksin
Cast: Deborah Kerr (Sibyl Railton-Bell), Rita Hayworth (Ann Shankland), David Niven (Major Pollack), Wendy Hiller (Pat Cooper), Burt Lancaster (John Malcolm), Gladys Cooper (Mrs. Railton-Bell).
BW-100m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Jeff Stafford
Wendy Hiller, 1912-2003
Wendy Hiller was born on August 15, 1912, in Bramhall, and raised in Manchester, where her father was a cotton-cloth manufacturer. Educated at Winceby House, a girl's school in Sussex, Hiller found herself drawn to the theater, and after completing secondary school, Wendy joined the Manchester Repertory Theater, where she was a bit player and later an assistant stage manager. In 1934, she earned critical acclaim and stardom when Manchester Rep cast her as the lead in the popular drama, Love on the Dole, written by her future husband, Ronald Gow. The play was such a hit, that Hiller would repeat her role in London and triumphed on Broadway.
Back on the London stage, she was playing the lead in George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan, when she caught the eye of the playwright himself. He cast her as the beloved cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (contemporary audiences will no doubt be aware of the musical version - My Fair Lady) on stage in 1936 and in Anthony Asquith's screen adaptation two years later co-starring Leslie Howard. The film was a smash, and Hiller earned an Academy Award nomination for her striking and original Eliza. Shaw would cast her again as an heiress turned Salvation Army worker in the classic Major Barbara for both stage and the 1941 film version.
The ensuing years could very well have been Hiller's time for screen stardom, yet despite her blazing acting ability, regal presence and distinctive voice, her film forays were too few, as she concentrated on the stage and spending time with her husband Gow and two children. Still, when she did make a film appearance, it was often memorable: a materialist turned romantic in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's glorious, I Know Where I'm Going! (1945); a lonely hotelkeeper in Delbert Mann's Separate Tables (1958), which earned her an Academy Award as best supporting actress; an obsessive mother in Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers (1960); a unfaltering wife to Sir Thomas More in Fred Zinneman's brilliant A Man for All Seasons (1966); and as a compassionate nurse who cares for the deformed David Merrick in David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980).
Ill health became an issue for Hiller in her later years, but she made one elegant return to the camera when she was cast as a former society beauty who is interviewed 50 years after her fame in Moira Armstrong's The Countess Alice (1992). In a performance that was touching, but never maudlin, Wendy Hiller proved that few could match her for presence, integrity and dignity. Her contribution to her craft did not go unnoticed, as she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1975. She is survived by her son, Anthony, and daughter, Ann.
by Michael T. Toole
Wendy Hiller, 1912-2003
I didn't mean any harm.- Ann Shankland
That's when you do the most damage.- John Malcolm
We all make mistakes.- Ann Shankland
You specialize in them.- John Malcolm
You're making it a bit too obvious, you know, that you hate the very sight of me.- Ann Shankland
The very sight of you is perhaps the one thing about you I don't hate.- John Malcolm
Are you on the side of Mr. Malcolm and his defense advice or are you on the side of the Christian virtues -- like Mr. Fowler and myself?- Mrs. Railton-Bell
Never in my life have I heard a question so disgracefully begged. You should be in politics, Mrs. Railton-Bell.- John Malcolm
The trouble about being on the side of right, as one sees it, is that one often finds oneself in the company of such very questionable allies.- Mr. Fowler
You know something, Ann? No one I know of lies with such sincerity.- John Malcolm
And what do I know of morals and ethics? Only what I read in novels. And as I only read thrillers, that doesn't amount to much.- Miss Meacham
Delbert Mann specifically shot May Hallatt's pool split in a long take with a moving camera - he wanted to show that a stand-in was not doing her trick shot for her. Unfortunately, the picture was taken from him, and re-edited with the middle of the shot removed, destroying that effect.
The play Separate Tables consisted of two acts, both taking place at the "Beauregard Hotel," one featuring "Major Pollock" and "Sibyl Railton-Bell" and the other featuring "John Malcolm" and his ex-wife, "Anne Shankland." Margaret Leighton and Eric Portman starred in both the London and Broadway productions of the play, in which the actors assumed the roles of the first couple in Act I, then appeared as the other couple in Act II.
A February 1957 Daily Variety news item indicates that Laurence Olivier was to direct and star with his then-wife, Vivien Leigh, in the film adaptation, which would merge the two acts and require another set of actors. When Burt Lancaster decided to take the starring role of John, Olivier and Leigh quit the production. A modern source indicates that playwright Terence Rattigan quit the production with the Oliviers, necessitating script completion by John Gay. Another modern source indicates that Lancaster was compelled to take the starring role to secure financing for the film from United Artists.
Although an October 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that veteran Broadway, radio and television star John Gibson was set to appear in the film, and Hollywood Reporter production information adds Mark Sutherland to the cast, neither man's appearance in the final film has been confirmed. Vic Damone sang the song "Separate Tables" over the opening credits, but received no screen credit. Film editor George Boemler was listed in Hollywood Reporter production charts, but did not receive an onscreen credit.
Separate Tables received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Black and White), for Deborah Kerr as Best Actress and for Best Score. David Niven won the Academy Award for Best Actor and Wendy Hiller won the award for Best Supporting Actress. In 1983 a television production of Separate Tables was broadcast, returning to the original play structure, with Julie Christie starring as Sibyl and Anne and Alan Bates co-starring as Major Pollock and John, under the direction of John Schlesinger.
1958 Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor--Drama (Niven).
Voted Best Actor (Niven) by the 1958 New York Times Film Critics.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best American Films by the 1958 National Board of Review.
Released in United States Winter December 1958
Released in United States Winter December 1958