One of her least-heralded turns was as Dinsmoor, the Miss Havisham figure in Alfonso Cuarón's flawed but exciting update of Great Expectations, set in the Florida Keys. The narrator (Ethan Hawke) tells us that Dinsmoor's room "smelled like dead flowers and cat piss," and you could smell it when Bancroft sashayed in. She wasn't the standard-issue, musty Miss Havisham but a flamboyantly posturing, pantsuit-clad dragon-lady with face cream and "chica-boom" slang. She seemed to be having so much fun that it was a huge letdown when the movie didn't give the character the spontaneous combustion of Dickens' desiccated Havisham.
But then, Anne Bancroft was often abandoned in the third act.
A side note: It was startling to hear—in an otherwise good piece—an NPR correspondent refer to Mrs. Robinson this morning as an "icon." I have accepted (with gritted teeth) that the word is now routinely applied to celebrities—but Mrs. Robinson? A symbol, maybe. A new archetype, maybe. But no one would regard her as sacred or worthy of emulating.
Update: Thanks for all the e-mails, but please understand: This appreciation was not meant as a comprehensive overview of Bancroft's long career. Many wonder why I didn't mention Home for the Holidays, 84 Charing Cross Road, Malice, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and even Prisoner of Second Avenue. (It's weird that no one has written about The Miracle Worker!) And I really don't think that one tiny mention of the possibility that Benjamin is a Berkeley "agitator" is proof that the counterculture is a part of The Graduate. Now let's return to Michael Jackson, the Runaway Bride, and all the other things that are more important than the Downing Street memo. .... 8:37 a.m. PT
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