Room at the Top
Room at the Top poster 2.jpg
Original British 1959 quad size film poster
Directed byJack Clayton
Screenplay byNeil Paterson
Based onRoom at the Top
by John Braine
Produced byJohn Woolf
James Woolf
Starring
CinematographyFreddie Francis
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Music byMario Nascimbene
Production
company
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 22 January 1959 (1959-01-22) (UK)
  • 30 March 1959 (1959-03-30) (US)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Budget£280,000[1]
Box office$2,400,000 (US)[2]

Room at the Top is a 1959 British film based on the 1957 novel of the same name by John Braine. It was adapted by Neil Paterson (with uncredited work by Mordecai Richler), directed by Jack Clayton (his feature-length debut), and produced by John and James Woolf. The film stars Laurence Harvey, Simone Signoret, Heather Sears, Donald Wolfit, Donald Houston, and Hermione Baddeley.

The film was widely lauded, and it was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two: Best Actress (Signoret) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Paterson). Its other nominations at the 32nd Academy Awards were for Best Picture, Best Director (Clayton), Best Actor (Harvey), and Best Supporting Actress (Baddeley).[3] Baddeley's performance, consisting of 2 minutes and 19 seconds of screen time, is the shortest ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar.[4]

Plot

In 1947, in West Riding of Yorkshire, England, Joseph (Joe) Lampton, an ambitious young man, moves from his hometown, the dreary factory town of Dufdon, to the somewhat larger town of Warnley to assume a secure, but poorly paid and dead-end, post in the Borough Treasurer's Department. Determined to get ahead, and ignoring the warnings of his colleague and roommate Charlie Soames, he pursues Susan Brown, the daughter of a local industrial magnate. She has been dating wealthy Jack Wales, but Joe is able to charm her. Mr and Mrs Brown attempt to deal with Joe's social climbing by having Joe's boss encourage him to pursue a woman of his own class; getting him a job offer back in Dufdon, which he refuses when he discovers the machination; and sending Susan on a trip abroad, but Susan remains smitten.

While he is wooing Susan, Joe also begins to see Alice Aisgill, an unhappily married Frenchwoman ten years his senior who came to England as a teacher a decade earlier and married George Aisgill, a haughty and abusive upper-class Englishman who is now having an affair with his secretary. Joe thinks he is just killing time with Alice and Alice says they can just be "loving friends". Their feelings for each other begin to turn into something more and Joe starts to lose interest in his pursuit of Susan. The relationship is passionate, tempestuous and after a particularly heated argument, Joe switches his focus back to Susan. He manages to take her virginity but he finds himself drawn back to Alice.

Joe and Alice go away for a vacation and Alice is overjoyed that Joe seems to have decided to end his quest for wealth and social status in favour of simply being happy with himself and with her. They decide she will ask for a divorce when she gets home but when she does, George refuses and declares he will ruin Joe and Alice, both socially and financially, if their relationship continues. While Joe is brooding over this, Mr Brown delivers the news that Susan is pregnant and that he expects Joe to stop seeing Alice and marry Susan, in which case Joe can come work for him for a large salary.

Seeing no way around his obstacles to a relationship with Alice, Joe tells her that he is going marry Susan. The heartbroken Alice gets drunk in a pub and the next morning, while his co-workers are celebrating his engagement, Joe hears that she drove her car off a cliff to which she and he used to go together and died slowly over the course of several hours. Devastated, Joe leaves the office and wanders to the flat where he and Alice had their trysts but Alice's friend Elspeth, who owns the flat, drives him away by screaming at him and blaming him for Alice's death.

Joe goes to a pub on the waterfront, where a woman named Mavis comes on to him because he is well-dressed. Although he is very drunk and does not seem very interested in her (he calls her Alice), Joe keeps a man from taking Mavis away against her will. When Joe is alone, the man and some of his friends beat Joe unconscious. In the morning, Charlie finds Joe lying in the street with a battered face but Joe's only concern is his guilt over what he feels he led Alice to do.

A short time later, Joe and Susan get married. With a rich wife and high-paying job, he has got everything he thought he wanted. As they are driven away after the wedding, Susan's effusive praise of the ceremony halts when she notices there are tears in Joe's eyes, which she interprets as him being "really sentimental, after all".

Main cast

Adaptation

There are some differences between Braine's novel and the film. For one, Joe's friend Charlie Soames is a friend from his hometown of Dufton in the novel, whereas, in the film, he meets Charlie in Warnley (which is called Warley in the book). Also, in the book, more is made of Joe's lodging at the Thompsons', which, in the novel, he arranged before his arrival in Warley (in the film, Charlie arranges it soon after they meet): it is through his association with the Thompsons that Joe is able to gain entry to a higher social circle than that to which he had previously had access, and Mrs Thompson's room is noted as being at "the top" of Warley geographically, which serves as a metaphor for Joe's social-climbing.

Production

Producer James Woolf bought the film rights to Braine's novel, originally intending to cast Stewart Granger as Joe and Jean Simmons as Susan. Vivien Leigh was originally offered the part of Alice.[5] Woolf hired Clayton as director after seeing The Bespoke Overcoat,[6] an Academy-Award-winning short film that was produced and distributed by companies founded by the Woolf brothers.

For the production, in addition to filming on sets at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, there was extensive location-shooting in Halifax, Yorkshire, which stood in for the fictional towns of Warnley and Dufton. Greystones, a large mansion in the Savile Park area of Halifax, was used as the location for exterior scenes of the Brown family mansion; Halifax railway station doubled as Warnley Station in the film; and Halifax Town Hall was used as the Warnley Town Hall. The wedding was filmed at All Souls church, Boothtown, Halifax. Some scenes were also filmed in Bradford, notably the one in which Joe travels on a bus and spots Susan in a lingerie shop and those outside the amateur dramatics theatre.

Reception

The film was critically acclaimed[7] and marked the beginning of Jack Clayton's career as an important director. It was the third most popular film at the British box office in 1959 (after Carry On Nurse and Inn of the Sixth Happiness),[8] grossing $700,000.[9]

Room at the Top is seen as the first of the British New Wave of kitchen-sink-realism film dramas.[10] It was followed by a sequel in 1965 titled Life at the Top.

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Motion Picture John Woolf and James Woolf Nominated
Best Director Jack Clayton Nominated
Best Actor Laurence Harvey Nominated
Best Actress Simone Signoret Won
Best Supporting Actress Hermione Baddeley Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Neil Paterson Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source Won
Best British Film Won
Best British Actor Laurence Harvey Nominated
Donald Wolfit Nominated
Best British Actress Hermione Baddeley Nominated
Best Foreign Actress Simone Signoret Won
Most Promising Newcomer to Film Mary Peach Nominated
Cannes Film Festival[11] Palme d'Or Jack Clayton Nominated
Best Actress Simone Signoret Won
Faro Island Film Festival Best Film Jack Clayton Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Simone Signoret Nominated
Samuel Goldwyn Award Won
Jussi Awards Best Foreign Actress Simone Signoret Won
Laurel Awards Top Female Dramatic Performance Nominated
National Board of Review Awards Top Foreign Films 2nd Place
Best Actress Simone Signoret Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Director Jack Clayton Nominated
Best Actor Laurence Harvey Nominated
Best Actress Simone Signoret Nominated

See also

References

  1. ^ Alexander Walker (1974). Hollywood, England. Stein and Day. p. 50.
  2. ^ "M-G-M CASHING IN ON OSCAR VICTORY: ' Ben-Hur' Gross Expected to Reach 7 Million by Week's End -- 'Spartacus' Booked". New York Times. 7 April 1960. p. 44.
  3. ^ "Academy Awards Database: Room at the Top". awardsdatabase.oscars.org. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 8 October 2016.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "Screen Time Central: Shortest Performances". screentimecentral.com. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  5. ^ David Thomson Have You Seen, London: Allen Lane; New York: Knopf, 2008, p.736
  6. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p51
  7. ^ "British 'Room' Rousing $19,500 Sets London Pix Pace". Variety. 4 February 1959. p. 13. Retrieved 4 July 2019 – via Archive.org.
  8. ^ The Times, 1 January 1960, page 13: Year of Profitable British Films - The Times Digital Archive, accessed 11 July 2012
  9. ^ "Gag-Films Rule British Trade". Variety. 20 April 1960. p. 47 – via Archive.org.
  10. ^ Roberts, Andrew (21 June 2009). "The film that changed British Cinema". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  11. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Room at the Top". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 15 February 2009.