Film screenwriter Jake Armitage and his wife Jo Armitage live in London with six of Jo's eight children, with the two eldest boys at boarding school. The children are spread over Jo's three... See full summary »
Film screenwriter Jake Armitage and his wife Jo Armitage live in London with six of Jo's eight children, with the two eldest boys at boarding school. The children are spread over Jo's three marriages, with only the youngest being Jake's biological child, although he treats them all as his own. Jo left her second husband Giles after meeting Giles' friend Jake, the two who were immediately attracted to each other. Their upper middle class life is much different than Giles and Jo's, who lived in a barn in the English countryside. But Jo is ruminating about her strained marriage to Jake, with issues on both sides. Jo suspects Jake of chronic infidelity, she only confronting him with her suspicions whenever evidence presents itself. And Jo's psychiatrist believes that Jo uses childbirth as a rationale for sex, which he believes she finds vulgar. These issues in combination have placed Jo in a fragile mental state. They both state that they love the other, but neither really seems to like ... Written by
Patricia Neal was offered the lead, but it was not 100% confirmed she would get the role. She then opted, to her later regret, to make Psyche 59 (1964) instead, since it was an official offer. See more »
The long tracking shot near end of film (in which camera begins on Jo smoking in bed, then winds through closeups of mementos in her living room) was shot backward; at beginning of shot smoke is going into her cigarette, not out of it. See more »
Virtuoso film-making highlights a brutally satiric examination of modern marriage
The Pumpkin Eater, which for many years was my favorite movie, is a neglected masterpiece of the British New Wave. I'm not sure whether its lack of recognition is attributable more to its misanthropic point of view or to Jack Clayton's sparse filmography (he never developed the immediately recognizable personal style required for elevation to the auteur pantheon). It didn't help that initial reviewers badly misunderstood the film -- Dwight Macdonald thought it was a typical "women's film", meant to provide erotic titillation! On the other hand, feminist critics probably weren't eager to defend a film that could be interpreted as anti-abortion propaganda (also a misreading). Perhaps a more mature feminism will reclaim this film.
Admittedly, the movie is difficult to understand on a first viewing -- both because of its intricate flashback structure and its complexities of tone and attitude. It took me several viewings to fully sort out the plot, and several more to realize what I was actually seeing -- a very, very black comedy. In this respect it's worth placing with the darkest works of Evelyn Waugh or Henry Green.
The film catches its participants at the top of their form: Pinter never wrote a better screenplay, Anne Bancroft (arguably) never gave a better performance, Peter Finch certainly didn't, and Maggie Smith and James Mason are deliciously evil in supporting roles. There are too many marvelous moments to list them all, but watch especially for the zoo scene between Bancroft and Mason (who are clearly having a great time) and for the slyly-written scene where Finch learns that his wife is pregnant -- again.
So why is it no longer my favorite movie? My admiration for its technique is unabated, but as I get older I find the film's nasty tone harder and harder to take. There's not an admirable human being in the whole movie -- they're all foolish, duplicitous, or vindictive. I can't live with these people, much as I've enjoyed eavesdropping on them over the years.
57 of 65 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?