Separate Tables (film)

Separate Tables is a 1958 American drama film starring Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Burt Lancaster, and Wendy Hiller, based on two one-act plays by Terence Rattigan that were collectively known by this name. Niven and Hiller won Academy Awards for their performances. The picture was directed by Delbert Mann and adapted for the screen by Rattigan, John Gay and an uncredited John Michael Hayes. Mary Grant and Edith Head designed the film's costumes.

Separate Tables
Original film poster
Directed byDelbert Mann
Produced byHarold Hecht
Written byTerence Rattigan
John Gay
John Michael Hayes (uncredited)
StarringRita Hayworth
Deborah Kerr
David Niven
Burt Lancaster
Wendy Hiller
Music byDavid Raksin (score)
Harry Warren and Harold Adamson (song "Separate Tables")
CinematographyCharles Lang
Edited byMarjorie Fowler
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • December 18, 1958 (1958-12-18) (New York, USA)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.1 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]
244,284 admissions (France)[2]


The film is set in the Hotel Beauregard. Major David Angus Pollock (David Niven) fails to hide an article about himself in the West Hampshire Weekly News. His attempt to keep the article from the eyes of the other guests at the residential hotel only succeeds in heightening their awareness of it, particularly the strict Mrs Railton-Bell (Gladys Cooper) and the more relaxed and compassionate Lady Matheson (Cathleen Nesbitt). The two women read that Major Pollock has pled guilty to sexually harassing several young women in a theatre. However, the filed complaints are, in themselves, questionable. Mrs Railton-Bell wants Major Pollock expelled from the hotel and holds a meeting with other long-term residents to decide the issue before presenting it to the manager, Miss Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller). Mrs Railton-Bell leads the meeting arguing for the Major's expulsion, and despite the opposing views of the other residents, she informs Miss Cooper.

Anne (Rita Hayworth) and John (Burt Lancaster) meet outside. Anne coolly teases John, informing him that she is engaged; John tells her he is engaged as well, but does not disclose that he is engaged to Miss Cooper. John claims that though Anne could have married other men who were wealthier and more important, she wanted to marry a man in a lower economic class in order to manipulate and degrade him fully. Despite this, John and Anne admit they are still attracted to each other. She asks him to come to her room.

As they walk into the hotel, Miss Cooper tells Anne she has a phone call. Miss Cooper asks John, knowing Anne is his ex-wife, to reevaluate the real reason for Anne's visit. John defends Anne at first, claiming that all his misfortunes are his own fault, but changes his mind when Miss Cooper tells him Anne is talking on the phone to his publisher, the only person who knows John and Miss Cooper are engaged. John confronts Anne in her bedroom. She attempts to seduce him, but he tells her that, in the light, he can see that she has aged; without her physical beauty, it will be impossible for her to manipulate people. She begs him to stay, but he runs out of the hotel after striking Anne at the top of the staircase. Anne has an emotional breakdown, and Miss Cooper comforts her. Anne reveals that she is not really engaged and has been abusing sleeping pills to ease her pain, often during the day.

The next morning, Mrs Railton-Bell's daughter Sibyl (Deborah Kerr) tells Major Pollock that she knows what he did. He explains that he always has been fearful of people and that it is easier for him to be familiar with strangers. Major Pollock tells Sibyl that he and she get along well with each other because they are both afraid of life. As he returns to his room to pack, Sibyl worries he will not find a new home.

Miss Cooper tells John, who returns in the morning, that Anne is emotionally unwell, and asks him to see her before she checks out of the hotel. After John leaves, Miss Cooper attempts to persuade Major Pollock to stay, but he refuses. The hotel residents eat their breakfast at separate tables in the dining room. John and Anne appear to reconcile, but do not know if they will ever be happy, together or apart.

When Major Pollock enters the room, there is an awkward silence until John greets him. The others do the same and cheerfully converse with him. Mrs Railton-Bell is angered at this and demands Sibyl leave with her. Sibyl refuses and insists on remaining to finish her breakfast. After her mother leaves, she starts to talk to Major Pollock, who decides to stay at the hotel.



The film took the two plays and opened them to create a screenplay that introduced some new parts, and stars Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Wendy Hiller, Burt Lancaster, and May Hallatt, who already played Miss Meacham on stage. Variety wrote "Rattigan and John Gay have masterfully blended the two playlets into one literate and absorbing full-length film."[3] The film was nominated for seven Oscars, Best Picture, Best Actress (Kerr), Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Black and White), and Best Dramatic or Comedy Score, and won two (Niven for Best Actor and Hiller for Best Supporting Actress).[4]

Burt Lancaster was also co-producer (Clifton Productions, a subsidiary of Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions). Rita Hayworth was married to James Hill at the time.[5]

Rod Taylor agreed to play a small part in the film because of the quality of the production.[6]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1959Academy AwardsBest PictureHarold HechtNominated
Best ActorDavid NivenWon
Best ActressDeborah KerrNominated
Best Supporting ActressWendy HillerWon
Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another MediumJohn Gay, Terence RattiganNominated
Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy PictureDavid RaksinNominated
Best Cinematography, Black-and-WhiteCharles LangNominated
David di DonatelloBest Foreign ActressDeborah KerrWon
1958NBR AwardsTop Ten FilmsSeparate TablesWon


Separate Tables was released to DVD by MGM Home Video on December 11, 2001 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD and by Kino Lorber (under license from MGM) to Blu-ray on July 29, 2014.


  1. "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, January 6, 1960 p 34
  2. French box office in 1959 at Box Office Story
  3. Staff, Variety (January 1, 1958). "Separate Tables".
  4. "Awards for Separate Tables". TCM. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  5. "Separate Tables (1958) - Articles -". Turner Classic Movies.
  6. Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood (Bear Manor Media, 2010) p58
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