February 25, 2010
It's official -- Anne Bancroft is awesome.
I watched The Slender Thread last week, and was super impressed with Anne Bancroft's performance as a suicidal crisis center caller. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen her in anything before (I know, I added The Graduate to my Netflix queue and will be watching it soon!) so I'm now trying to play catch-up, though it seems like she doesn't have a massive filmography since she spent a lot of time on Broadway.
Last night I watched The Pumpkin Eater (1964) which co-stars Peter Finch and James Mason. Oh, I don't know if I've mentioned this but I'm also on a huge Peter Finch kick (if you haven't seen it yet, please watch Girl with Green Eyes. Amazing!!), so The Pumpkin Eater is a new-favorites goldmine!
Anyway, The Pumpkin Eater is about a woman with a massive amount of children who divorces her husband so that she can marry Peter Finch instead. At first he seems up for the challenge of raising the kids, even eager. But once he's settled down and realizes that alone time with his wife is almost non-existent, he gets the wandering eye. The film is about Anne Bancroft's struggle with his infidelity and her own fertility. Her performance was so real; in one scene, overcome with stress she starts crying in the middle of Harrods department store. And she cries like I cry when I'm overwhelmed with grief; she cries like a real person, hyperventilaing and almost choking on her own tears. It's not typical movie weeping, it's full-out crying. It was so painful to watch, because it felt so real.
The Pumpkin Eater featured a screenplay by Harold Pinter -- quickly becoming one of my favorite writers -- and it had the same quiet pace with small sudden bursts of energy that made me love his two Dirk Bogarde films, The Servant and Accident. I'm consistently amazed by how much is said in his films, considering the dialogue is relatively sparse. And it's all so real. I love how he has his characters repeat dialogue; it's something that happens so often in real life but you seldom see it on screen. James Mason's character, in particular, has a habit of repeating himself in an endearing, sad, lonely way.
One of the most poignant scenes in the film, though, had nothing to do with Anne Bancroft, Peter Finch or James Mason. When Anne's mother, played by Rosalind Atkinson, was coping with the loss of her husband the soft, tender sadness she displayed gave me goosebumps. Her sadness was completely different from Anne Bancroft's episode in Harrods -- it had a permanence about it, as though this sadness was the new way of life. She keeps dwelling on the fact that he's being cremated, since she can't bear the thought of him lying underground. It is a disturbing thing to harp on, yet you know that we all think things like this when people we love pass. It's almost comforting to hear someone saying it aloud.
I think that might be what this film is about; unspoken truths being spoken aloud. And it does that brilliantly.