At first sight. Helene Hanff‘s bestselling 84 Charing Cross Road is not the stuffofgreat film drama. A simple story of a durable hands- across-the-sea correspondence between American bibliophile Hanff and British bookseller Frank Doell. it is a romance consisting of little more than the affectionate exchange ofletters. Anne Bancroft. who plays Hanff in the film. was keen to see the project developed but sceptical that it would ever see the light of day. ‘I was concerned about this from the very first minute I read it.‘ she explained in London on the day of the Royal Film Performance premiere. ‘The idea that it could be a movie always bothered me because I thought a film certainly needs a lot more action, you know; somebody should pull out a gun at some point or have a car crash or something. It just doesn‘t seem right. certainly not in today’s market. that people should just send letters back and forth. I mean. we don‘t even have scenes where we talk to each other!‘
Bancroft‘s qualms were only finally laid to rest when she viewed the completed film and. in London. she still seemed mystified as to how the challenge had been met.
Hanff‘s story. covering a twenty- year period from the late Forties to the late Sixties. can also be viewed as a celebration of the ‘special relationship' between Britain and America and has previously been transformed into a BBC production in 1975 and a stage play that was seen in London in 1981 and on Broadway the following year. Bancroft wanted the film version to open out the story whilst remaining clearly focused on the relationship between Hanffand Doell and their mutual love ofold books. ‘The reason I was originally attracted to the book was because I had a friend who loved books and who found in books everything that Helene did. So. I guess I recognised my friend. who I loved very dearly and. in fact. he died whilst I was filming this. What opera means to me. books meant to him; I was always a very good reader but I never
‘I’m not a letter writer’
read like him. I‘m not a letter writer either. I‘m not even a telephone caller but. I must say that since making the film I have written more letters. You learn something from every film you do.‘
Bancroft is one ofthe American cinema‘s most distinguished actresses and has managed to buck the trend of a very youth-orientated profession by finding better opportunities and scaling greater heights as the years go by. In the 19503 she was a ‘8‘ picture actress under contract to Twentieth Century Fox; her talent largely unrecognised. her ambitions frustrated. Attempting to remedy the situation she bravely quit Hollywood and headed east to Broadway and triumph in Twofor the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker. The screen version of The Miracle Worker revitalised her film career and she really hasn‘t looked back since.
chosen to do as a star. taking care to balance the demands of family and her quest for a good script. Unusually. 84 Charing Cross Road was begun within a fortnight of completing her last film 'Night Mother which is. as yet. unreleased in Britain.
The intense. claustrophobic study of a suffocating mother-daughter relationship. 'Night Mother has been compared to Bergman‘s Autumn Sonata. An exhausting film to make. Bancroft feels it should not be denied a screening in Britain. ‘That film had more lines in it for each of us than Hamlet and we were on the screen every single minute which meant we were working every single
The quality and diversity of her film work is impressive. ranging from The Turning Point to Agnes of God. from The Pumpkin Eater to Silent Movie for her husband Mel Brooks.
However. she is still most fondly recalled as the seductive Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. ‘It was a wonderful role in a marvellous film so I'd be happy to be identified with it. Every time it‘s on television I can‘t move the next day because every young man will rush to open doors for me. I love it.’
Because she was so indiscriminately employed in the 1950s. Bancroft tends to be highly selective about the work she has
Best known as Mrs Robinson in the film The Graduate, Anne Bancroft’s most recent venture is one half ofa curious affair. She talks to Allan Hunter.
minute. Even in her close~ups I had to be off-screen. saying my lines. We just spoke from the beginning ofthe day until the end. Can you imagine talking for nine hours a day constantly? It‘s worse than a telephone operator. So. when I got to 84 Charing Cross Road it was a breeze by comparison. But I loved doing 'Night Mother because I so passionately loved the material and that character.‘
The fact that 'Night Mother was a commercial failure in America clearly distresses Bancroft and she talks fervently about the need to avoid the Hollywood pursuit of an easily digested mass-market hit. ‘Everybody just wants to copy success, nobody wants to originate it.‘ she laments. ‘You try not to get caught up in that. it's a terrible trap. don’t know how it is in your country. but ifa film doesn‘t make money it
‘I like to be alone”
seems to have no value in our country. I know that 'Night Mother in twenty years will have great value. I don’t care what the businessmen say about it because that‘s all they are — businessmen. I‘m proud to have done that film regardless of the fact that it didn‘t make a penny. I think it‘s a great film.”
84 Charing Cross Road has been a respectable financial success and should be another hit for Brooksfilms. the company that has previously made Elephant Man. Frances, My Favourite Yearand The Doctor and the Devils. Mel Brooks is currently completing Spaceballs which aims to do for science-fiction what Blazing Saddles did for the western. Bancroft has no plans to work with her husband in the near future and fully intends to take a break after the back-to-back rigours of ’Night Mother and 84 Charing Cross Road. ‘l‘m happiest in my garden. I usually take down a tape recorder and play some opera and work away. I like to be alone very much. I‘ve been that way all my life and I never knew I liked being alone until I met Mel. who hates being alone. He really loves to be with other people but he was trained to write with other people when he learnt his craft on Your Show of Shousf
Bancroft still has ambitions for the future and has made herselfa promise to appear on the British stage once her fourteen year-old son Max has grown up and left the family nest. Ever willing to face any new challenge. she even directed a film called Fatso. an experience she is not keen to repeat. ‘I hated it so much.’ she says with feeling. ‘I loved the writing. The writing of the script was really wonderful but as soon as I gave the script to Twentieth Century Fox everything changed. Fiftymillion people had something to say about it. whilst when you‘re writing it‘s just you and those people in your head and it‘s so wonderful. I‘m so happy that I never have to direct again.‘
84 C haring Cross Road is scheduled to open at the Odeons in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 15 May. Cheek cinema listings for details.
The List 15 — 28 May 3