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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"The Pumpkin Eater" (1964)

"Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, had a wife and couldn't keep her..." This is a disquieting character study of an upper middle class British woman (Anne Bancroft) who realizes her cad of a husband (Peter Finch) is a serial cheater. The sad truth rocks her world and the film is a fluidly episodic reveal of how she slowly comes undone from the pressure of trying to understand what she really wants from life. A happy marriage? Good sex? A bunch of kids? A tasteful home? We may not get the answers but Bancroft gives a heartfelt and fragile performance nonetheless, you feel her pain and it aches. When she finally confronts Finch about his misdeeds her rage is cathartic, it shatters the screen. Harold Pinter did the screenplay from a novel by Penelope Mortimer and yes, you get some of those dreaded Pinteresque pauses and his menacingly banal dialog, but Finch and Bancroft pull it off. It helps that the scenes are short snippets, just fleeting glances at the marriage's disintegration. It's all shot in stunning black and white (Bancroft resembles a Modigliani painting come to life) and the jumpy cutting keeps things moving. Credit goes to Jack Clayton for the cool direction. A fleeting bit of a young Maggie Smith is on hand, she steals her few scenes, and so is an acidic James Mason as the cuckold husband of Finch's mistress. The whole piece is like bracing swig of a strong gin and tonic in a chic London flat. It's not necessarily festive and fun but the icy buzz packs a punch.

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