Yootha Runs Wild

Anne Bancroft meets Yootha Joyce at the hairdresser’s in Jack Clayton’s film of Harold Pinter’s script of Penelope Mortimer’s novel — THE PUMPKIN EATER.

This must have been an uncomfortably autobiographical book for Mortimer to write. The story of a woman married to an unfaithful, famous writer, seems to echo her marriage to John Mortimer who, apart from writing the Rumpole of the Bailey stories, worked on Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS and father actress Emily Mortimer and another daughter out of wedlock…

I find Clayton’s work as impressive as Neil Sinyard does, and he wrote a book about Clayton to prove his admiration. At the time, THE PUMPKIN EATER seems to have been dismissed by a lot of British critics as imitation Antonioni or something, but it’s uniquely English (even with American and Australian leads) and quite precise in its milieu… Pinter gets a lot of comedy of menace into it, Georges Delerue provides a truly heartbreakingly beautiful score (as he always did for Clayton) and Clayton’s handling is expressive, imaginative, forceful and not notably like anything else going on in British film of the period. The people are wealthy and in the media, so a movie like DARLING… would seem to be the nearest equivalent, but that makes for a pretty small sub-genre.

Anyhow, Yootha Joyce, best known here for her sitcom work (Man About the House and George and Mildred co-starring Ken Russell rep company fave Brian Murphy) is terrifyingly deranged. Directorially, the major device is the inexorable creep in, achieved with a slow jib in and down, which initially seems to be about progressing the intimacy, but soon serves also to impart menace to relentless Yootha. Then cuts take the strain, bringing us even tighter into claustrophobic proximity — at some point in this sequence, we may start to reflect on the brilliance of the setting, the strange no-escape tension of the scene, carried mainly by the social taboo against jumping up and shouting “Get this maniac away from me!”

And strange how the last angle on Bancroft in this scene makes her look like THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE.

Thanks to Chris Schneider for reminding me off this great scene.

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13 Responses to “Yootha Runs Wild”

  1. Terrifying scene. Yootha Joyca slams it right out of the ballpark with great Pinter dialogue — praising Bancroft and then excoriating her, almost in the same breath.

  2. That combined admiration and contempt for a perceived celebrity seems a very modern phenomenon, but obviously it was there all along, or Pinter saw it coming.

  3. I like the bit at the zoo where James Mason’s mouth gets angry.

  4. My very next post (on this film) will tackle that very scene!

  5. You so accurately nailed Clayton’s praxis that helped YJ’s delivery reach the hair-raising level. Beautiful post! Thanks.

  6. Thank you! On Friday, James Mason in the same film…

  7. IAN PAYNE Says:

    THE PUMPKIN EATER was Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s last ever film :

    http://www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk/News/Sir-Cedrics-life-story-comes-home-to-Lye-Library-2.htm

    Yootha was such a great actress and the above film helped to make her a permanent fixture on our screens. I am loving the repeats of GEORGE & MILDRED on ITV 3 at present.

    Ann Bancroft should have won an Oscar for her performance in this film !!

    I used to correspond with Sir John Mortimer on and off and love his RUMPOLE stories, which are repeated on the DRAMA Channel at present.

  8. I was once approached by Mortimer’s company about a book they wanted to adapt… I hated the book (it wasn’t one of his) and couldn’t work out why they wanted to do it. They only liked the ending, which I didn’t even like… the whole thing rather fizzled out.

  9. IAN PAYNE Says:

    Well I never knew John’s former wife wrote THE PUMPKIN EATER, one lives and learns….All I know is that in that film every actor acted really well, so well, they all deserved an accolade. Ann definitely deserved an Oscar!

    When I was writing the bio on Sir Cedric Hardwicke in 2006 I only managed to get a memory of the PUMPKIN EATER and Sir Cedric’s role in it from one former cast member, Frances White, but it was worth it. One is better than none.

    Maggie Smith’s agent told me that Maggie never gives out anecdotes or memories on fellow actors she has worked with in the past, and she’s worked with quite a few.

  10. IAN PAYNE Says:

    Remind me what company that was David, was it a literary agency of some kind ? I knew he was a former barrister……

  11. This was a film/TV company — but I don’t know how active they were and I couldn’t quite work out why they were pursuing this project. I can’t recall the company name.

  12. The story of The Pumpkin Eater, about the wife of a philandering writer, takes on fresh significance when you know who she was married to. Of course it would be a mistake to view it as pure autobiography, but there must at least be a touch of impure autobiography.

  13. Semi-autobiographical I wonder – is that the same as impure autobiography ?

    Whatever it was it was a darn good story !!

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