THE PUMPKIN EATER (1964 Britain)

200_sMany people have addictions. But Jo Armitage has an unusual one: reproducing. She’s as pregnant as often as she can be. This is her balm to get through the hell that is her life. The slightly soapy plot is treated for the most part as serious drama, but does have its satirical aspects. This is the chic angst of the wealthy rebelling against themselves.

The memorable Anne Bancroft is the mother of eight children in a comfortable neighbourhood of London. The family benefits from the inherited wealth of the matriarch, who wears the finest of clothing and shops at Harrods. She dotes on her children but still has time for what appears to be a healthy marriage to Jake (Peter Finch). He is hubby number three and she falls in love with him at first sight.

Initially, he is comfortable with their chaotic home life, but gradually drifts apart from Jo, whose time is taken up by her children. She soon suspects him of adultery, spending her time alternatively adoring and despising him. There are chilling hints of how she got to be this way — her mother and father have no respect for psychological boundaries. They walk all over their immaculately privileged daughter as if she isn’t even there. And she never says a word.

PumpkinEater-1759In a supporting role, James Mason does a superb job of playing a sleazy and perverse film producer. He is married to a much younger woman, Philpot (a carefree yet amoral Maggie Smith). When he takes Bancroft on a trip with the brood of children to the local zoo, his self-hatred and rage is projected onto Bancroft as she is informed that her husband has impregnated Philpot, wants to have that child, while convincing Bancroft to abort her child.

Can’t you just feel the betrayal, the pettiness, the heartbreak, the shattered dreams?

How this connubial terrorism be resolved is the subject of the rest of the plot, if in fact marital conflict can ever be “resolved”. Needless to say, Jo is suicidally depressed and is obliged to see a domineering psychiatrist. These scenes reek of paternalism as the headshrinker and Jake form a united front to convince Jo that there is something wrong with her. This being 1964, she is helpless in the face of their smug chauvinism of course.

Meanwhile, Jake is mightily pissed off but I cannot recall the reason why. Probably because he had been caught cheating and she keeps questioning him. Lets just say he’s the sort of man who likes to exercise total freedom of choice within his marriage. Forget about the vows. If he feels like doing it, then bellowing how innocent he is after the fact, he will. His point of view is: she should just shut up and accept me as an alpha womanizer.

1964 Anne Bancroft The Pumpkin EaterThe script is by Harold Pinter, adapted from a Penelope Mortimer novel, and the dialogue consists of people repeating lines back at each other, awkward pauses, unanswered questions, veiled insults, etc. The performances are all good, and there are plenty of visually arresting edits, deep focus shots, and extreme close – ups of faces. Very classy mature stuff. Director Jack Clayton was certainly the right man for the job.

The vaguely jazzy music is wistful and stately, coming as it does from George Delerue, who scored the roughly contemporary ‘Jules et Jim.’ Like that picture, this one combines slow pacing with emotional dramatics beneath its smooth black and white surface. Thoroughly unlikable characters get to wear some fine clothing as they saunter through the wealthier suburbs and retreats of London.

Highlights include a sensational scene by the brilliant and scary actress, Yootha Joyce, from under a hair dryer in a salon. It reveals how hateful and desperate many ‘ordinary’ people are behind the bland facade they project. There is also a clever sequence at a rather awkward party, where Bancroft is moving from one guest to another amid the drunken gibberish. Her changing facial expressions are interesting to watch. She had such an emotional face.

The movie ends on a particularly depressing note. Jo and Jake – despite the recent slug fest over his extra marital activities – are back together in the bosom of their large family. Surely they were not going to try for a ninth child? Nurse, bring me those forceps!



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