Issac's Review of Room at the Top
Room at the Top(1959)
Simone Signoret's Oscar-crowning film is a Black & White adaption of John Braine's renowned melodrama ROOM AT THE TOP, directed by British Jack Clayton (which is his maiden work in the director chair and the film was a huge success in that year, nabbed 6 Oscar nominations including BEST PICTURE, DIRECTOR, ACTOR, SUPPORTING ACTRESS and two wins, BEST ACTRESS and BEST ADAPTIVE SCREENPLAY). However, compared with his later accomplishments THE PUMPKIN EATER (1964, 8/10) and THE INNOCENTS (1961, 9/10), the film's sentimental gloss couldn't outlive the modest platitude of the over-familiar story.
A working-class man's oscillation between an affluent young girl and a 10-years-older married woman ends with a tragedy which devastatingly foreshadows his ominous "bright future" of his marriage and even the entire life. If one can pay no heed to the agism and sexism undertones of the narrative (which is a bona-fide reflection of that time though), the film sails adeptly alongside a nimbly yet convincingly deployed ill-doomed love story between two so-called "loving friends", their intimacy has been nurtured through an irresistible mutual attraction, peeped by the close-ups examining the highly theatric conversations such as, the dated "you cannot imagine a man looking at a naked woman without wanting to make love to her" argument, which may sound abrupt in this day, nevertheless, it has an earnest confessional self-conscious at that time I dare to assume.
While it is unambiguous to say that Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret both hold the passion burning amid them, which contributes to the major relish extracted by the contemporary mass, Ms. Signoret stuns in her not-that-ample screen time by rendering her pathetic anguish and determined desire to even every minimal gesture or movement (albeit her heavily accented English), same could be referred in her another English-speaking, Oscar-nominated film SHIP OF FOOLS 1965, 6/10. Taking the most poignant scene, the farewell at the train station, it is a tour-de-force achievement which certainly intrigues me to dig into her more naturally-spoken French filmography (besides ARMY OF SHADOWS 1969, 9/10).
Laurence Harvey obtained his sole Oscar nomination for the role, he takes up nearly every scene and did a commendable job in all the transitions and outburst, he and Simone's after-coitus wrangle is so pungent yet thrilling to witness. But Heather Sears' ingenue performance seems to be a false move, it serves merely as a female exploitation and typecast if compared with Winona Ryder in THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993).
Hermione Baddeley has established a record of getting an Oscar nomination by being on screen for only 2 minutes and 32 seconds, fairly enough, it is a marginalized role, which could be one of the most pertinent case in challenging the Academy members' bizarre percipient prowess.
The film's final curtain drops onto a numb face of Harvey's groom contrasting with his cheerful wealthy bride, a solemn force can later be juxtaposed with the similar composition in Mike Nichols' THE GRADUATE (1967, 8/10).