Separate Tables (1958)

David Niven and Deborah Kerr
David Niven and Deborah Kerr

'Separate Tables' is a classic drama film made in 1958, directed by Delbert Mann and with an all star cast including David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth and Burt Lancaster. The movie was adapted by Sir Terence Rattigan, John Gay and John Michael Hays from two short stage plays by Rattigan which opened in London in 1954. The movie was produced by Burt Lancaster's company, Hill-Hecht-Lancaster.

The film was a box-office success on both sides of the Atlantic and was critically approved as well with seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. It won two Oscars: Best Actor for David Niven (with his only Oscar nomination) and Best Supporting Actress for Wendy Hiller.


The setting is unusual for a transatlantic Oscar-winning movie - a small, run-down hotel in the English seaside resort of Bournemouth. The Hotel Beauregarde is owned by Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller) and has a variety of guests, whose lives interweave and whose personalities are exposed and explored as the plot develops. The lonely major, played by David Niven, is worshipped by the withdrawn Sybil (Deborah Kerr) who is dominated by her mother Maud, played by Gladys Cooper. Pat is loved by the alcoholic American guest, John Malcolm, played by Burt Lancaster, whose past catches up with him in the form of his glamorous ex-girlfriend, Ann, played by Rita Hayworth. Add to this disparate group a pair of young lovers played by a young Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton, and stir into the mix a sordid sexual groping of a strange woman by the major and there are all the ingredients of a soap opera under one roof.

The film depicts three love stories, possibly even four love stories and the hotel is a microcosm of society in which the inhabitants inter-react in a complex but highly interesting way. The various sub-plots are skilfully explored by Delbert Mann and he even succeeds in giving the film an uplifting finish when the Major faces up to his weaknesses and Sybil at last stands up to her domineering mother.

Main Cast

Rita Hayworth ... Ann Shankland
Deborah Kerr ... Sibyl Railton-Bell
David Niven ... Major David Angus Pollock
Burt Lancaster ... John Malcolm
Wendy Hiller ... Pat Cooper
Gladys Cooper ... Mrs. Maud Railton-Bell
Cathleen Nesbitt ... Lady Gladys Matheson
Felix Aylmer ... Mr. Fowler
Rod Taylor ... Charles
Audrey Dalton ... Jean
May Hallatt ... Miss Meacham
Priscilla Morgan ... Doreen

There are a lot of big names in the cast and they do the movie justice. David Niven undoubtedly steals the show with a powerful performance as the seedy, boastful Major and he fully deserved his Best Actor Award. It was the best script of his career but after it the studios continued to give him the lame lightweight "gentleman" roles which underused his talent.

Deborah Kerr was a brilliant actress and never seems to get the credit she deserves. During the 1950's she was given a surprisingly wide range of parts and did them all justice. As Sybil, the unhappy downtrodden spinster smitten by the Major she performs wonderfully well and fully deserved her Best Actress nomination. (The Oscar went to Susan Hayward for 'I Want to Live!'

Rita Hayworth's performance is a revelation. She shows a vulnerable, sensitive side which contrasts and complements the intense masculinity of Burt Lancaster.

Gladys Cooper was an experienced English actress who dominates the film as Sybil's mother, showing an overbearing snobbery and tyrannical control. She is an ideal contrast to Wendy Hiller's calmer, but equally compelling Pat Cooper, the Hotel owner. Wendy deserved her Oscar as much as Niven deserved his.

'Separate Tables' is not an action film but a superb romantic melodrama with great writing and acting. It is a classic movie with highly professional performances from a talented cast. Delbert Mann directs with a light touch and manages to create a slow pace and uses the wonderful script with great skill.


Director ... Delbert Mann
Producer ... Harold Hecht
Production Company ... Hill-Hecht-Lancaster
Distribution Company ... United Artists
Story ... Based on two one-act plays under the same name by Terence Rattigan
Screenplay ... Terence Rattigan, John Gay, John Michael Hayes (uncredited)
Cinematography ... Charles Lang
Music ... David Raksin
Format ... B & W
Initial Release ... 18 December, 1958
Running Time ... 100 minutes

Academy Awards

Two Wins:
Best Actor ... David Niven
Best Supporting Actress ... Wendy Hiller
Five Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Harold Hecht
Best Actress ... Deborah Kerr
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White ... Charles Lang
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture ... David Raskin
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium ... Terence Rattigan, John Gay