Devotees of grim drama and great acting are in for a treat this Saturday, September 20, when the 1964 British classic The Pumpkin Eater screens at the Tattered Cover Free Film Series at the Starz FilmCenter. Adapted from a best-selling novel of the day by Penelope Mortimer, it features Anne Bancroft, at the peak of her craft, as an exhausted mother of eight children who discovers that her third husband (Peter Finch, also in best form) is having an extramarital affair. Jack Clayton, whose directorial career spanned everything from the gritty British "kitchen sink" melodrama Room at the Top to the lavish Robert Redford-Mia Farrow version of The Great Gatsby, does some of his very best work here. So does Bancroft, whose tormented performance as the wronged wife may be even better than her more heralded one in The Miracle Worker.The star-studded supporting cast is uniformly expert: Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Maggie Smith and James Mason all have superb moments. Not only that, but the screenplay was fashioned by playwright Harold Pinter, a master of elliptical dialogue and unexpected dramatic turnings and, at the time, a prime exponent of the so-called Theater of the Absurd. Little seen in recent years, this relentlessly dour but dramatically fascinating film combines all the virtues of the well-made play with first-rate filmmaking.
The Tattered Cover series is hosted by Colorado Public Radio film critic Howie Movshovitz; Showings begin every Saturday at 7 p.m. Starz FilmCenter is in the Tivoli building on the Auraria campus; for information, call 303-820-3456.