Movie Review: “Room at the Top” (1959)

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The English factory town is dreary, but Joe Lampton has landed a job with a future.  To have something to do at night, he joins a theatrical group. His boss’s daughter, Susan, is playing ingenue roles on stage (and in real life). She is attracted to Joe, and Joe thinks about how much faster he will get ahead if he is the boss’s son-in-law.  This plan is complicated by his strong desire to be with an older woman who also belongs to the theatrical group.  Alice is French and unhappily married to a wealthy and powerful older man.  Joe believes he can get away with seeing both Susan and Alice.

IMDB synopsis

Hey readers,

It’s ALMOST Valentine’s Day- good or ill, depending on how your personal life is going!  Don’t look for good clean romance in this controversial (for its time) Brit film!  The anti-hero (Hey, some women LOVE bad boys!) is played by an intense, enigmatic, and engaging actor- Laurence Harvey (who I’ve seen in The Manchurian Candidate). 

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I learned that Laurence Harvey was born in Lithuania; this explains the sharp features.  He grew up in South Africa, and eventually came to the English stage.

Harvey was born to play Joe Lampton, if not in kin, then in kind. Lampton was a working-class bloke who dreams of escaping his social strata for something better. It was a perfect match of actor and role, as the icy Harvey persona made Joe’s ruthless ambition to climb the greasy pole of success fittingly chilling.

 -Excerpt from IMDB  bio

25 y.o. Joe (Harvey) has recently gotten a job as an accountant in a factory in a small industrial town.  He shares a small flat (as the Brits call an apt) w/ a co-worker, and is friendly with the guys around the office.  The audience slowly learns that there are MANY layers to Joe, though he seems quiet and guarded at first. 

From the moment he glimpses his boss’ bubbly young daughter, Susan, he can’t keep her out of his head.  He eyes her hungrily- a prize to be won.  Though she has a steady man in her life, the inexperienced Susan is quickly drawn to Joe.  “I’ve never met a man like you,” she says with wonder in her eyes.  While Susan ponders what Joe is REALLY like, another woman catches his eye.  

Alice (Simone Signoret- an Oscar winner for this role) is a blonde, buxom, older woman w/ a sad look in her eyes.  When Joe snaps angrily at another man for mocking his working-class roots, Alice goes to console him.  From her expressions, you can see that she relates to him.  Soon they are a VERY hot item!  (This movie contains dialogue and romantic scenes QUITE different from other ’50s films.)

Though Susan wants to see Joe, her family and friends treat him like an interloper to their moneyed circle.  Joe replies politely to these snobs, but his anger is bubbling underneath.  George, another man who likes Susan, mentions his own war record.  We learn that even during wartime, not all men were treated equal! 

Joe lets the rage out when he’s with Alice, but it doesn’t scare her.  Alice stands up to him, saying that he is a “coward.”  Joe is insecure about his background.  He holds double standards, too.

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Joe shares some tender and happy moments with Alice, giving his calculating side a rest.  You may wonder if he really DOES love her!  Signoret does a terrific job of portraying a passionate, vulnerable, yet also strong woman.  Her character really pops off the screen; she kept it “real” (as the kids would say).  Harvey has a strong physical presence and a sense of danger about him- fitting for this role.  He makes Joe a very compelling young man!  Both actors handled some great/snappy dialogue and played emotional scenes very well. 

Check this film out if you want something different, multi-faceted, and intelligent.  Room at the Top is about ambition, lust, love, morality (different for men than for women!), and above all- social class. Accent is sometimes tied to class; Joe switches to his Northern accent (Sean Bean has one!) when he’s angry or talking with family.  But at other times, that accent is much lighter.   The posh set don’t have such an accent, or they hide it!  (Joe is NOT the only one in the town w/ a contradictory nature.) 

Morality is underlying everything, too.  Joes’ roommate/friend warns him that flaunting an affair in this little town is dangerous.  People start to talk- Alice does NOT escape unscathed.  Susan’s patience and virtue are also tested by Joe, but she thinks they can live happily ever after.  Go see for yourself what happens!

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2 thoughts on “Movie Review: “Room at the Top” (1959)

  1. Great review!

    We’re linking to your article for Academy Monday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

    Keep up the good work!

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