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 »
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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
The film never explains its title, which refers to a traditional child's rhyme: "Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater/Had a wife, but couldn't keep her;/So he put her in a shell/And there he kept her very well." This serves as the epigraph of Penelope Mortimer's original novel. See more »
When Peter Finch first offers Anne Bancroft a can of beer, it's Carlsberg (product placement?), but, at the end of the film, when she is re-imagining the scene, it has become a can of Whitbread. See more »
If "The Pumpkin Eater" has a fault it is that it's so glacial, so cocooned in its world of upper-middle class ennui it may leave you feeling a little drained. Otherwise, this is quite close to perfection. Adapted, superbly and to the extent that he makes it his own, from Penelope Mortimer's novel, by Harold Pinter it tells the story of Jo, (Anne Bancroft), a thrice married mother of several children, (by all three husbands), whose life has started to spectacularly unravel. Jo seems to be the kind of woman who can't stop having children but who doesn't seem cut out for motherhood. Inflicting her existing brood on Jake, (Peter Finch), husband No. 3, does little for their marriage. Jake is an incorrigible philanderer or maybe he just can't stand being at home with a pack of screaming, spoiled brats. Then again he's 'a screen-writer' so his profession offers both glamour and the opportunity for multiple infidelities. Things come to a head when Jo has a mental breakdown 'in Harrods of all places' to quote Jake.
Being Pinter, the film is both elliptical and chilly. It's magnificently made, (the director is Jack Clayton), but you struggle to feel anything for Jo or Jake. It's a world that Pinter and company know well but the rest of us may well feel we are being kept at a distance. But don't let that put you off; if you want your mind engaged at the expense of your emotions you will have a high old time. This is classy, intelligent stuff.
It is superbly cast and played. Some performances don't amount to more than cameos, (Cedric Hardwicke and Alan Webb as Jo and Jake's fathers, Maggie Smith smilingly stealing Jo's husband right from under her nose and best of all, Yootha Joyce as the vindictive and unstable woman in the hairdressers). At the centre there is Bancroft and Finch as the couple struggling through their marriage and they are both marvelous. Finch, in particular, gives Jake an air of likability that may be absent from the script and Bancroft gets Jo's vulnerability spot on. As the husband of Jake's most recent conquest, James Mason is magnificently venomous and his scenes with Bancroft at the zoo and his final scene with Finch, ('You made me wet'), are master-classes in the art of acting.
The movie came out in 1964 and quickly disappeared. Watching it recently with a friend he described it as 'a miserable film' and while I think it a superb film, a near-masterpiece, I know exactly what he means. It is a film distinctly lacking in 'nice' characters and it generates very little warmth. Audiences who, back in the sixties might have admired the film, were unlikely to feel anything towards it and consequently it is seldom revived. A pity because, cold as it is, it is also one of the finest films of its decade.
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