Room at the Top (1959)

room

Starring: Laurence Harvey, Simone Signoret, Heather Sears, Donald Wolfit, Donald Houston, Hermione Baddeley

Director: Jack Clayton

Summary: A young accountant tries to claw his way to the top in the boardroom and the bedroom

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Harvey), Actress (Signoret)*, Supporting Actress (Baddeley), Adapted Screenplay*

Positives

-Dramas about class are a British specialty, but the movie this reminds me a lot of is American-it’s A Place in the Sun, except turned on its head. Laurence Harvey gives a stiff performance, but it really fits his character, an ambitious, abrasive, immature man who is totally driven to get the top by any means necessary-the result is a person who initially only sees women for the sex they can give him and their family bank account. What makes this a better movie than A Place in the Sun though is that the film treats Harvey’s character as the scumbag he is, and his character actually grows over the course of the film, even if it’s too late.

-Simone Signoret won the Oscar for her performance, and while I am a little surprised she won, but she’s really good as the experienced, intelligent but fragile underneath lower-class woman Harvey becomes attracted to. She’s believable and her slightly worn-out looks (i.e. that she’s pretty for her age, but was stunning in her prime) serve her very well.

-For the time, it’s extremely daring and forthright about its characters freely engaging in sex and affairs without strong moral judgment in a way that was unheard of for the time, and when you combine it with fellow nominee Anatomy of a Murder, you can tell attitudes about permissible content in movies are already changing dramatically.

Negatives

-Sometimes it feels like Signoret’s character is inconsistent and only does things because the plot demands she does. On one hand, a lot of the time she feels like a worldly, strong, totally self-assured, comfortable in her own skin character; others, she falls apart because she’s self-conscious about her age and cannot stand to live without this one guy. It would be like if Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate fell apart when Dustin Hoffman left her, it doesn’t fit.

-A lot of the attraction when it first came out was from its daringness, which has been lost over the years. Freely talking about sex in a movie is no longer shocking and it entirely has to entertain as a story about class struggle, which it does but still.

Other Stuff

-Baddeley is one of the most absurd acting nominations I’ve ever seen-she has the record for shortest screentime of any Acting nominee ever at 2 minutes and 2 seconds. After the movie, I was like “which one was Baddeley?”, look up the name, didn’t remember that character, and then looked up a photo and said “her?!?” She has does nothing of any note whatsoever in this movie.

Overall

This is still a good movie with interesting things to say about class struggle, and many of the performances good and the central character has a great arc to him, even if the shock value is gone.

Rating: B

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