……………………… – – these lines were spoken by, the character of, Ann Shankland (played by Rita Hayworth); in a scene from the brilliant movie, Separate Tables (1958). Late last night, I watched this amazing downloaded movie; which has been magnificently transported from the stage to the screen. Separate Tables, directed by Delbert Mannis, is based on a collective of two one-act plays by Terence Rattigan (namely Table by the Window and Table Number Seven).

This entire very bold Hollywood movie, is rigged with Sexual Tension, Sexual Repression and Sexual Harassment! AND 2018, with Hollywood’s #MeToo movement, feels like the perfect time to watch this movie. With a spectacular cast confined into the lonely Beauregard Hotel in Bournemouth, in the southern coast of England, UK; the film deals with love, lust, loneliness, bitterness, desire and depression. The star that stole the show (for me) was Gladys Cooper, as the harsh, unpleasant and domineering, Mrs. Railton-Bell; although it’s Wendy Hiller (as Miss. Pat Cooper), that took home the Oscar, for ‘Best Actress in a Supporting Role’. Nominated for 7 Oscars, this movie grabbed two. The other went to, actor David Niven (for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’); for his marvelous performance as the kindly n’ somewhat comical, yet pretentious, retired army officer; Major Angus Pollock. Another sidekick worth checking out is May Hallatt, as the stoic, yet enjoyable, Miss Meacham (who appeared in the same role on the original, West End and Broadway, stage production)

Several story lines intersect one another; but there are two major tales, that surface to prominence. One deals with Major Angus Pollock’s close platonic friendship with a repressed spinster, Sibyl Railton-Bell (Deborah Kerr); and Sibyl’s mother’s (Mrs. Railton-Bell) various schemes to ruin it. When it’s reported in the newspaper, that Major Pollack has pleaded guilty of sexual harassment of six women, at a local cinema; this gives Mrs. Railton-Bell a perfect reason, not to just get the Major, away from her fragile daughter’s life (who on learning this has a sort of nervous breakdown), but to be thrown out of residence from the Beauregard Hotel; and sent as far away as possible, in disgrace, from Bournemouth. Apparently, the original draft of this 1954 British play, however, saw the Major, not pleading to a misdemeanour of sexual harassment of women, but homosexual importuning, and suffering from his sexual repression in a homophobic world. In the movie, he does hint at it; saying he can’t help the way he is, and speaking of how he was picked on, at school, for being less masculine. It’s a pity, due to code of ethics of that era; the play and film were repressed from showing, what it initially intended. By the changing of the sexual repression of a gay Major, into that of a straight man sexually harassing women; ironically makes it an actual perversion; that needs to be forgiven. A sympathetic light is thrown the way of the Major; but for something, that in reality is far worse than just being a gay man struggling to keep his sexuality a secret, at the same time secretly acting on his desires; ironically in a public place. The world has definitely come a long way since then; or has it?

The other story line deals with a divorced couple, who meet after several years, at the Beauregard Hotel. We discover that the sophisticated wife, Ann Shankland (Hayworth) had sent her ex-husband, John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster), to prison for assaulting her. The washed out, drunk, John Malcolm; is another lowly character, Mrs. Railton-Bell has no regard for. After divorcing John, Ann had later re-married and re-divorced; it appears to have happened more than once; but she’s never lost her love for John. John, though he has a secret girlfriend, Miss. Pat Cooper (whom he says, he wants to get married to), is still in love with Ann. John & Ann, suffer when they are together, and suffer when they are apart. It’s a love-hate relationship; that cannot survive, without one another. Despite the sexual assault and the tensed, stressful, coexistence; they need each other; in a savagely animalistic sense, of love and lust.

Separate Tables has some superb character sketches. An excellent study into human psychology in the modern era. Everything about the movie blends in beautifully; the characters, the set of the hotel, the dinning tables. Along with the two leading plots, the other story lines that intersect, include; a modern young couple secretly in love (Rod Taylor & Audrey Dalton); the compassionate and understanding, elderly, Lady Matheson (Cathleen Nesbitt); the “self sufficient” hotel owner/manager and secret lover of John Malcolm, Miss. Pat Cooper; the elderly gentleman, Mr. Fowler (Felix Aylmer); and the strong built and bravely blunt, Miss Meacham, who too like the Major, seems to be afraid of people, as she states comically “..they are so complicated, …that’s why I prefer horses”. She’s a tough broad, with a touch of masculinity; which could imply her own sexual repression, that of a lesbian woman, but that’s unclear. Of course, though a dull spinster herself, Miss Meacham, is very different to the other young spinster, whom we see openly suffer from sexual repression; i.e. Deborah Kerr’s Sybil (spoken of above). It is obvious that the homely, plain-Jane, Sybil (a complete contrast to her stylish mother), has feelings for the major; but she’s unable to do anything about it. The Major doesn’t reciprocate to her subtle advances, but happens to be sympathetic towards her. Again, which makes sense, as in the original draft, the Major was meant to be gay.

Another thing to look out for, are the glamorous costumes designed by Mary Grant, and the Oscar favourite, Edith Head. Overall a wonderful movie; despite the significant change of the homosexual subject matter, into sexual harassment towards women (even though one’s sexuality oughtn’t have been a crime, even back then; while sexual harassment, always should be).

Separate Tables (1958)
My Rating: 10/10 !!!!!!!!!!

Bookish Nuwan
Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

P.S. Also see my Special Blog Post, I did yesterday, as a PAGE; That Book, That Movie (of 2017)!!

 

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