Room at the Top (1959)

Room at the Top
Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by Neil Paterson from a novel by John Baine
Romulus Films/Remus
First viewing/FilmStruck


Susan Brown:  Darling, you’re crying! I believe you really are sentimental after all.

This is a beautifully shot film with perhaps Lawrence Harvey’s best performance and an Oscar-winning turn by Simone Signoret.

Joe Lampton (Harvey) has worked himself up from his depressing home town and working class origins through education and service in the RAF, which he mostly spent at a POW camp. He gets himself a position as an accountant with the Town Council of a less depressing factory town.  Joe has dreams of wealth and status.  He is well aware that he is a babe magnet and focusses his efforts on Susan Brown, the naive single daughter of the richest man in town.  Her family and friends have nothing but contempt for Joe and his origins and try hard to separate the two.

In the meantime, Joe begins an affair with an older married woman, Alice Aisgill (Signoret).  Poor Alice has one of the worst husbands in movies and what begins as a “loving friendship” with Joe becomes love for her and, more gradually, for him.  Joe’s inability to shed his dreams of a home at The Top ends in tragedy for both of the lovers.  With Hermione Baddeley as Alice’s friend.

This is a hard-hitted entry in the British Angry-Young-Man genre prevalent at the time.  Joe is less angry than deluded and confused however.  I generally find Harvey to be wooden but here he is fairly good and does well with a Northern working class accent.  Signoret is always magical and deserved her award in a very strong year for actresses.  She can say so much with her face and eyes.  The movie is also brilliantly lit and shot.  Recommended.

Room at the Top won Academy Awards for Best Actress (Signoret) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Harvey); Best Supporting Actress (Baddely) and Best Director.


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