1959 / Best Actor / Best Actress / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actress

Film #236: Room at the Top (1959)

From the last three posts you’ll see that in the 1960s Oscar was still keen on lavish British costume drama. But, as I discussed when I reviewed Alfie, the academy also had on their eye on the grittier side of British cinema and that point is reinforced in the next film on our list; Room at the Top.

The film stars then unknown Lawrence Harvey as Joe Lampton a small town boy who travels to the Metropolitan Yorkshire town of Warley to secure a fairly well-paid job. Joe immediately falls for the charming Susan however he is stopped in his quest by Susan’s father who is one of the area’s wealthiest gents. Susan also has a fairly domineering boyfriend who talks down to the more common Joe and undermines him wherever possible. To be close to Susan, Joe joins the local amateur dramatics society where he also attracts the attention of the older foreign beauty Alice. When Susan’s father realises how close his daughter is getting to the unsuitable Joe, he sends her away which in turn sees Joe seek solace in the arms of Alice. Joe and Alice enjoy a happy relationship however the fact that they are both fiery characters means that they also have many fights. It is during one of these fights that Susan returns to Warley and when she reunites with Joe he is finally able to seduce her. Though Joe returns to Alice after his dalliance with Susan it later transpires that he has got Susan pregnant and may well be forced into a marriage with the mother of his child. However Alice won’t let her new man go that easy and Joe is torn between duty and love.

Room at the Top is a very interesting film that looks at class and status while also exploring an age-gap romance. The character of Joe is an intriguing one as he always feels slightly inadequate due to his humble beginnings and therefore is fairly defensive. I believe this is why he finds solace in the arms of Alice who is also afraid of growing old. Room at the Top is a very believable film and I can really feel that I’m in a thriving Yorkshire community of the 1950s. In fact while watching the film I was surprised that The Academy actually gave as many nominations to Room at the Top as it did. I think one of the major factors of its awards success was its only star name – leading lady Simone Signoret. In fact Signoret actually won the Best Actress award at the 1960 ceremony for her tender portrayal of this aging beauty. Personally I still think Signoret was incredibly attractive at the time and it was easy to see why Joe fell in love with her. Lawerence Harvey, who was also Oscar-nominated, gave a star-making performance as the flawed Joe who you could easily describe as the anti-hero of the film. The lack of any sort of happy ending was a refreshing change from a lot of the Oscar-films of today and added to the realistic feel of the film. Overall I thought Room at the Top was a decent example of British Realism cinema and one that utterly deserved its Best Picture nomination.


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