Superb drama, marred by an unexpected failure among the brilliant cast. It's Deborah Kerr, overacting a repressed spinster almost to the point of retardation. That Delbert Mann could pull such fine work from the rest of the ensemble makes the usually strong Kerr's performance all the
more curious, for hers is a career built on underacting.
Terence Rattigan's original play consisted of two one-acts set in the same Bournemouth, England locale. It was a tour de force for Eric Portman and Margaret Leighton, who played it successfully in London, then in New York during the fall of 1956. Rattigan collaborated with John Gay to blend the
two stories into one that used four leads instead of two. The title refers to the practice of seating solo guests at their own dining tables. The small hotel is at the seashore, and the dining room is filled with a host of lonely people. Niven is a very British retired major who waxes on about his
experiences in the war's North African campaign, but his stories have the ring of prevarication about them. Cooper is a stern and forceful matriarch (a Cooper specialty; was anyone ever better at these roles?) with daughter, Kerr, a mousey spinster fascinated by Niven but far too shy to let him
know. Hiller, who runs the hotel, devotes herself to the comfort of others. It distracts her from troubles with her lover, Lancaster, a reclusive American writer who drinks more than he creates and spends much of his time in his room (with his macho bluster, Lancaster brings a Hemingway feeling to
the role). Aging socialite Hayworth, Lancaster's former wife, arrives unexpectedly at the hotel, and everyone's lives begin to unravel simultaneously.
This is adult, intelligent stuff, marvelously shaded by the amalgamation of talents. That Niven and Hiller are sublime is almost to be expected. But one watches Hayworth with genuine surprise, as the poignant divorcee watching her beauty slip away. This kind of part is usually the province of
Englishwomen--Vivien Leigh, for example. It's the only strong mature role she ever got to play. Lancaster, cast against two women whose talents have an air of gentility, is able to tone down his trademark bravura. Besides Miss Kerr, wouldn't it have been lovely to have been spared Vic Damone's
insistent croon over the opening credits?
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