In The Pumpkin Eater (1964) Anne Bancroft wants two incompatible things: her role as mother of a large number of children and her passion for a film writer (Peter Finch). Because this is a film adapted by Harold Pinter (from a novel by Penelope Mortimer), this central matter is never treated directly. Bancroft and Finch meet while she's married to her second husband (Richard Johnson), then she's suddenly with Finch and her children moving into a new house. If you can accept that you're shut out from much that you'd like to know about the main character, The Pumpkin Eater has many pleasures to offer.
As in many British films of this era, the acting is very good. I don't know how our British friends feel about Anne Bancroft's performance as an Englishwoman, but I enjoyed her considerably. Peter Finch is good in everything (no, wait, there's I Thank a Fool), and supporting performers include James Mason; Gerald Sim, familiar from many Bryan Forbes films, in a bit part as a party guest; a hilarious Maggie Smith as a young girl infatuated with Finch; and Yootha Joyce as the woman you do not want to be seated next to at the beauty parlor. Harold Pinter made a career, and a fortune, by crafting dialogue that makes skillful use of banalities, repetitions, contradictions, and pauses, and Maggie Smith, especially, makes well-written lines even better. Director Jack Clayton does a superb job of getting natural performances from all the children. Not one of the children has a moment that seems stagy or self-conscious.
Two more stars of the film must be mentioned: Georges Delarue, who wrote a spare, wonderful score with a lovely main theme, and Oswald Morris, one of my favorite black and white cinematographers. Virtually every shot of the film is imaginatively framed and beautifully lit. The digitized print is so good that you know this is how Clayton and Morris wanted their film to look. If, like me, you've never thought of Anne Bancroft as a great camera subject, you might change your mind. Morris knows exactly how to photograph her.
In retrospect, The Pumpkin Eater, especially in the scene where Anne Bancroft has a breakdown in Harrods, seems a forerunner of films like Diary of a Mad Housewife and An Unmarried Woman. Has anyone else seen the film recently, or do you have vivid memories of it?