NOT having read Penelope Mortimer's original novel. I find difficulty in deciding whether the film of The Pumpkin Eater (Columbia, "X"). should have been more explicit, indeed what story it should have told.
According to the synopsis it is the story of a marriage. For a start this is questionable. It seems rather to concern a ternporary partnership in the life of Jo (Anne Beneroft), a woman much given to sex and childbearing. Among her husbands the one the film is concerned with is Jake (Peter Finch). author and screenwriter. Their "inability to communicate" is another main theme, again according to the synopsis. It is also a cliche of the moment.
My own interpretation of this strange, puzzling hut indisputably distinguished film would be that its heroine. JO, is a woman of rich and splendid potential; by temperanient a matriarch; who apparently Wastes herself on a series of sova I led husbands.
Insofar as the action of the film concentrates on one of her marriages, on one hueband and his infidelities and brutalities (she is driven to have an abortion and a hysterectomy) the purpose of the story seems to be to show these two tormented and tormenting people, bound to each other by their senses. learning in'the end to put up with the unhappiness they will always inflict on each other for the sake of the comfort and pleasure they can still give each other.
That may not have been the intention of Harold Pinter's screenplay. with its intriguing. elliptical dialogue. But it was what I could only conclude. Not that this is the whole sum of the picture. For this is one of those movies of such quality and form it is difficult to be sure of the content.
Jack Clayton, director of The Innocents, and Room at the Top is one of our few formalists among directors. Visually, this is a beautiful picture with the sumptuous texture of Oswald Morris' photography and a use of silence even more impressive than the tare music by George Delcrue.
Even if the form appears more powerful than the content I am restrained from judging the work as a whole because of the exceptional quality not only of camera work, a remarkable tension like a conductor's success in holding the orchestra. but the equally exceptional quality of the acting.
In the resplendent cast which includes Maggie Smith, Cedric Hardwicke, Alan Webb. Richard Johnson, two stand-out performances are Eric Porter's psychiatrist and James Mason as the husband of one of Jake's mistresses (Janine Gray).
Peter 'Finch's part is as decidedly unsympathetic as his seducer in The Girl with Green Eyes. But there is no shadow of a doubt now. that Anne Bancroft, seen already as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, is a star of first magnitude, a smashing actress and a smashingly beautiful woman.
The impression of power and depth that she gives matches the dark sharp density of the camerawork and sustains at least the illusion of saying something vitally important.
QAMUEL BRONSTON'S emer gence as the producer of monumental spectacular colourfilms always looks like a bid to inherit the mantle of Cecil B. De Mille. If with The Magnificent Showman (Coliseum, "U") he hoped to emulate the old Hollywood ringmaster's The Greatest Show on Earth, the new film is an excellent illustration only of how far from his target he has been.
Bronston has always seemed to me a victim ef what I think Betjeman describes as ghastly good taste. At least he doesn't have the courage of his bad taste as De Milk always had.
Here, as in The Fall of the Roman Empire, neither expense nor trouble seems to have been spared. As circus-owner, Brartston appointed the apparently ever-lastingly popular John Wayne. Even in a Wild West number, he dares to echo the wonderful therne-tune from Wayne's relatively youthful drive, Stagecoach
Wayne was given an heiress. Claudia Cardinale, international eueeli Of today's young Italian beauties. She responds with a sub Lollobrigida performance. Opposite her is John Smith, a young man I understand was popular here in a TV serial, but looks as unoriginal as his name.
Ever since the silent Vartdcvile or Chapki's The Circus the cinema has found the circus a rich source of inspiration. The cinema venerated these and other movies in the spirit of a celluloid circus daring to look up to the lion-tamer's older tents and caravans.
But in the great circus films. from Germany or Hollywood, from Belgian Feyder's (lens de Voyage, to Swedish Bergman's Tinsel mid Sawdust, circus has been an object of sophisticated film treatment.
Samuel Bronston employs Ben Hecht on the screenplay and Henry Hathaway to direct The Magnificent Showman suggesting a certain sophistication again. Rut the story and its treatment are infinitely elementary. Nothing could be more predictable, to use the current jargon, than the family reunion at which the film eventually arrives.
It is a shallow sentimental story played out against the background of a circus which seems far from the most magnificent show on earth. None of the human actors is at his' or her best. Only the unlucky animals keep their dignity for those who can stand circus animals.
There's a Wagnerian fire at the end. But Bronston, by avoiding the worst excesses of this kind of movie, also misses all the outrageous gusto of De Milk.