MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

THINGS MEN NEVER NOTICE ABOUT WOMEN

Avoiding old masculine bias, a new film captures a woman’s-eye view of women

WENDY MICHENER February 20 1965
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

THINGS MEN NEVER NOTICE ABOUT WOMEN

Avoiding old masculine bias, a new film captures a woman’s-eye view of women

WENDY MICHENER February 20 1965

THINGS MEN NEVER NOTICE ABOUT WOMEN

Avoiding old masculine bias, a new film captures a woman’s-eye view of women

MOST MOVIES are made by men, and as a result the vision of womankind displayed in the movies has usually been man’s vision. You don’t have to be a raging feminist to notice that even “women’s pictures” show women as men like to see them, not necessarily as they see themselves.

But in the movies, as elsewhere, women have lately made their own views more concretely felt, and perhaps for this reason an important new British movie, The Pumpkin Eater, turns out to be a different kind of woman’s picture—it shows a woman’s life at least partly as a woman might see it. This is especially noticeable because The Pumpkin Eater has begun to make the rounds at just about the same time as a very old-fashioned women’s picture, Marriage ItalianStyle, the second film in which Vittorio de Sica has directed Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

“You’re a saint,” Sophia Loren’s maid says to her. And so she is: a woman saint, designed by several imaginative men. Sophia is sexy and exuberant, an earth-mother in the Italian manner. She is a prostitute who redeems herself by caring for three children, all of them fathered by clients. She is fiery, direct, unneurotic. Her only emotions are accredited, earthly, motherly, and wifely ones.

Marriage /talian-Style is de Sica’s adaptation of a 1946 play by Eduardo di Fillip, a wildly popular Neapolitan writer. The characters, Sophia included, are the sort of people Mastroianni was talking about when he recently described Neapolitans: “The people are wonderful. They have all the Italian defects, which is good.” They are the most “Italian” of the Italians, and both the story and the manner of telling it are what Italy’s movies have conditioned us to think of as typically Italian—exaggerated, passionate, stylish in the grand manner, and somehow frivolous. In a word, operatic.

Many North American reviewers have called Marriage Italian - Style “soap opera” and certainly its shrewd mixture of laughs, tears, sex, and strife, pushes it towards that category. It even ends with wedding bells. At the same time it is agreeably more. Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni are two of the great stars of this decade, and theirs is a magnificent union of talents: not a battle of giants but a perfect re-match of championship players. As in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, they are directed by a man who is capable, above everything else, of drawing the best performances from his actors. And they are set in a beautifully made film, with exquisitely “real” sets and magnificent color (good color is harder to do than Hollywood thinks). Marriage Italian-Style is old fashioned, corny, and even grotesque. It is also one of the season’s great pleasures.

The Pumpkin Eater, on the other hand, is a devastating experience—a sort of new style “weeper” to replace the silly Susan Hayward ones. The original Penelope Mortimer novel told the unhappy heroine’s story in her own words. What emerged was a vivid and touching account of how the world looks to a woman battling against the chaos of life with the only weapon at her disposal—her ability to have children.

In the film, Jack Clayton’s hypnotically stylish direction and Harold Pinter’s sensitively realistic script produce a degree of objectivity, but the viewpoint of the heroine nevertheless comes through. Jo Armitage (played with well-channeled passion and nice English accent by Anne Bancroft) is a mother of several children who abandons her husband in order to marry a man she “really” loves, a movie scriptwriter (Peter Finch). She continues to have children until her parents, and especially her husband, begin to believe she must be out of her mind. (Large families are clearly no longer in style.) Her point of view is that there doesn’t seem to be much else that she can do.

Finally she is persuaded to have an operation rather than a ninth child, and almost immediately she discovers that her husband has been having an affair with a beautiful movie actress. This pushes her to the edge of destruction.

The Pumpkin Eater carries on some of the traditional baggage of women’s pictures—(the suffering heroine, traumatic infidelities)—but it breaks from the tradition in its unsentimental view of, for instance, a mother’s relationship with her sons. When we see Mrs. Armitage with her two boys, briefly home from their private school, we are made to know that she and they have nothing to say to each other. At the same time, the riotous play of small children is seen not through the distant and therefore sentimental eyes of men but through the sharp, close focus of a mother who glories in it but can’t altogether cope.

The Pumpkin Eater is not a perfect account of its subject — too much about it is superficially clever, too much of it wants to make you cry— but it involves the audience in some fascinating conflicts and sets an interesting precedent for a more truthful treatment of women in the movies.

Also showing:

* ALL THESE WOMEN: One of the best directors of this era, Ingmar Bergman, stumbles badly in this farce about a great cellist, the half-dozen women who worship and serve him in a vast country villa, and the corrupt music critic who wants to write his biography. The color photography is icy and dull, the characters half-dimensional and the jokes rarely funny.

WENDY MICHENER