Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Bancroft Puts Spice in "Pumpkin"

Cleveland Press November 26, 1964

"The Pumpkin Eater" is a perfect example of what happens when you turn first-rate talent loose on second - rate material.

The story concerns a thrice - married woman (Anne Bancroft) with eight children and a natural inclination to have more.

Told in a series of jumpy and often disconcerting flashbacks, the film covers a period beginning with the shedding of husband number two (when she had only six kids) and the acquisition of husband number three (Peter Finch).

Finch is a not-so-wealthy writer, but he acquires wealth while she acquires two more children and along the way they drift apart.

UNHAPPINESS SETS IN as she realizes he's unfaithful. He, meanwhile, can't figure out why she's angry.

When another pregnancy occurs he talks her into an abortion plus an operation to prevent further pregnancies. On this shaky basis matters are about to be resolved until she discovers that not only does he have another affair going, but that his current inamorata is expecting.

It's enough to shatter an already shaky situation -- and it does.

After almost two hours script writer Harold Pinter suggests a solution that seems to be as much born of fatigue as reason.

A weakness in the story -- which sounds worse in bare outline than it is -- is Pinter's inability to put his characters and their problems into focus.

NEVER CLEAR is whether the wife's problem is a thwarted propensity to have children or nymphomania. A psychiatrist points out that she abhors sex without children. On the other hand, she blithely ships off her two eldest to boarding school in order to remarry and allows servants to raise the others.

Whatever the cause, an unrelieved self-pity pervades the role.

In Miss Bancroft's hands the part comes across much better than it deserves to be. Hers is a performance that squeezes every possible bit of intensity out of the characterization. She packs emotion into every look and gesture.

It is the measure of a great performance, this ability to take a mediocre part and make it look like an actor's dream. In lesser hands it would have been a nightmare.

ONE PARTICULAR aspect of the job performed by the Bronx-born Miss Bancroft will be a joy to those who have squirmed as performers assume another accent, distort it and occasionally forget it.

Never is there any doubt that she is English, yet there is nothing broad about her speech, nothing exaggerated, only a consistent suggestion.

PETER FINCH is good, but unlike his co-star, is less able to overcome the shallowness of the character. James Mason is uncomfortably oily as a deceived husband who takes revenge by revealing all to the wife of his wife's lover.

Jack Clayton's direction is adroit, though sometimes overly arty, as he gives movement to an often static script. Effective is a series of cuts in a closeup of Mason as he tells Miss Bancroft of her husband's infidelity.

Also notable is a wildly swinging, ferocious fight scene between Miss Bancroft and Finch that must have left both bruised.

But suds are suds -- no matter how great the artistry.