Terence Rattigan’s audience-pleasing play about private lives in a modest residential hotel hasn’t real depth as a character study, but in its original form the two One-Acts were catnip for actors with the four leading roles designed as a tour-de-force double-act for a couple of star performers. This idea is jettisoned for the film version which has Rita Hayworth & Burt Lancaster as a couple with a past and Deborah Kerr & David Niven as a couple with psychological crutches, and intercuts the two storylines into one grand arc. Alas, ‘opening up’ the play & interweaving the action just makes this airless film stagier than the actual play.* Director Delbert Mann seems unaware of the dull visual look, perhaps he was too busy encouraging his cast to telegraph whatever meager sub-text Rattigan doles out like thin tea sandwiches. Then again, rather like a nice tea service, what it lacks in nutrition is made up in cosy comfort & tastiness. But note that as the hotel manager, Wendy Hiller is immune to these shortcomings, unable to put a foot wrong under any circumstances. A shame that she loses a fine little scene from the play that has her finding new lodgings for Niven’s character.
DOUBLE-BILL: *You can see for yourself in a superb BBC collection of Terence Rattigan plays that has Eric Portman (from the original production) & Geraldine McEwan in the leading roles of both One Acts. (Like the film, the two storylines get woven together, and most successfully.) Even more enticing is an unavailable John Schlesinger tv film from ‘83 that has Alan Bates & Julie Christie doubling up, plus Claire Bloom & Irene Worth in support! Yum!
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: We’re not exactly surprised when Niven is revealed as a fraud, Rattigan clues us from the start. But why choose to hide behind the facade of an insufferable bore?