“Why does anybody do anything that they shouldn’t?”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
The dominant theme throughout the storyline is moral condemnation against anyone straying even slightly from “proper” British norms, as embodied by Cooper’s stereotypically tut-tutting busybody:
The sway she holds over her dowdy, severely repressed grown daughter (Kerr) would be tragic if it weren’t so Hollywoodized (Kerr is oh-so-clearly “acting”).
The gradual revealing of Niven’s shocking secret drives the narrative, though even that has been seemingly modified from its original impact. (Harassing random women in dark movie theaters is gross — but not anything close to what his character is accused of in the play.)
The parallel subplot about beautiful Hayworth coming to visit the boarding house and disrupting Lancaster’s new life is meant to shock its residents (and us) out of whatever complacency we exist in, but frankly, she’s a non-starter.
Hiller (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) provides a solid grounding to the film as the house’s ever-present manager, but her romance with Lancaster is underdeveloped and not terribly realistic:
Meanwhile, blink a few times and you’ll miss Rod Taylor in a throwaway narrative thread about unmarried lovers (shocking!) trying to hide their obvious affair — which wouldn’t be nearly such a problem if progressive Dalton would just agree to get married already:
Peary doesn’t review Separate Tables in GFTFF, but he comments on David Niven’s Best Actor win in Alternate Oscars, where he notes that “Niven gave what was probably his most respectable performance… playing what was probably his least respectable character.” He adds that, “As usual, Niven gave a solid, professional performance,” though “this time he was more serious than he had been in the many thankless roles he’d had in his career” — and he argues that “Niven’s popularity in the Hollywood community — he was a nice, witty, gracious gentleman — was a contributing factor to his victory.” Indeed, Niven’s fine performance here is noteworthy, and one wishes the story focused even more on his character’s troubled past; at least he’s provided a measure of compassion in the film’s moving final moments.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments: