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"Throughout the 1950s, a group of young British writers were referred to as "angry young men" because, in their novels and plays, they excoriated what they perceived to be the dominant materialistic values of their society following World War Two. They included playwrights John Osborne and Kingsley Amis and novelists John Braine, John Wain, and Alan Silitoe. This film is based on Braine's novel Room at the Top; Neil Patterson received an Academy Away for best adapted screenplay. Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) is the focal point. Driven by smoldering ambition to overcome his modest circumstances and deeply resentful of the wealthiest man in a North Country village (Brown, played by Donald Wolfit), he finally obtains a position in Brown's company and begins his difficult journey to "the top" while including marriage to Brown's daughter Susan (Heather Sears) among his ultimate objectives. Along the way, he meets an older but still attractive Frenchwoman, Alice Aisgill (Simone Signoret) with whom he has an affair. For Joe, it is a mere dalliance along his career path; she, however, falls in love with him. Beyond the passionate sex which she enjoys as much as he does, Alice also helps Joe to refine his social graces and increase his understanding and appreciation of the cultural arts. (Signoret received an Academy Award as best actress for her performance in this film.) Joe seems grateful for her contributions to his self-improvement but really has no long-term interest in her. He remains obsessed with reaching "the top" with wife Susan at his side, possessing great wealth, power, and prestige. And then he learns from Susan that....Alice is the most sympathetic character in the film, largely because Joe exploits her so callously. As for Brown, "what you see is what you get": a class-conscious, hard-driving, no-nonsense capitalist. Unlike Joe, no need for dissembling. Brown is at "the top" and (by God) he intends to remain there. Susan is of great importance to Joe (and to her father, of course) but is of little importance to the film's story line except as one of the ambitious goals which motivate Joe. He really cares little for her as a person, one way or the other. Were she in his own social class, Joe would probably have little to do with her...except, perhaps, for occasional sexual gratification (for himself). At least Alice offered more than sex...she offered unconditional love. Only at the end of the film does Joe begin to realize what he has gained by reaching "the top" and at what a cost. Both in the novel and in this film, Joe symbolizes just about everything which enraged Braine and other British writers. Years later, in a brief excerpt from "The Paradox of Our Time," George Carlin observes that "We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years." He could well be describing Joe Lampton and countless others who seem to know the cost of everything but the value of nothing, who (in Socrates' words) live unexamined lives, in Thoreau's words "lives of quiet desperation."Those who share my admiration of this film are urged to check out A Place in the Sun (1951), Look Back in Anger (1958), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1961), and A Taste of Honey (also 1951)."
The Angry Young Man Succeeds?
William Hare | Seattle, Washington | 02/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was the era of John Osborne and Britain's "Angry Young Man" whose influence was becoming so widespread in the post-Suez period. Laurence Harvey gives a masterful performance as an opportunistic young man who, on the surface, has apparently succeeded, but yet, if this is so, why does he have a funereal look on his face as he is being transported from the church sitting next to beautiful Heather Sears, his new bride and daughter of the wealthiest man in town?The answer to that question lies in the woman who took her life, and was Harvey's true love, Simone Signoret, who delivered one of the most captivating performances of the post-World War Two period in achieving a notably deserved "Best Actress" Oscar. When Harvey arrives in the small English factory town he resents the lowly position he has, seeking to graduate to the world of wealth. The restrictive surroundings mandate that the only way for him to do so in that town is to successfully romance Sears, the daughter of a wealthy factory owner, which he does. Eventually he impregnates her and the two marry after her father, who earlier sought to get rid of Harvey by arranging a possible position for him in another town at an excellent salary, rescinds his opposition.The heart and soul of the movie is Signoret, whom Harvey meets at a local drama club, where they appear in a play together and immediately establish a torrid romance. Harvey knows that, from the standpoint of a deep, abiding, romantic love, he vibrates with the older French woman in a way he never can with Sears. It all comes down to ultimate opportunity, and so Harvey leaves the woman he deeply loves. When the heartbroken Signoret takes her life Harvey is left with the trappings of success while enduring a painful inward death.As a form of expiating what he has done, Harvey seeks out physical punishment by behaving in an unruly manner at a local pub. His actions invite reprisal from a group of young toughs, who resent him as an interloper from the upper class who has come to sneer at them. He is savagely beaten on a bridge near the bar a few minutes after his departure from the pub. He makes no attempt to defend himself and encourages the beating, his eyes containing a dead look as he thinks about the recently deceased Signoret. The scene contains such a realistic ring that, when director Jack Clayton and crew were shooting it late one evening, townspeople confused it for the real thing and contacted the police. Clayton directed with a sure hand, insuring that the emotions appeared genuine, always asserted with tangible meaning at the proper level with none of the overacting of soap opera. Harvey is seen as a young man torn emotionally between his genuine feelings for Signoret and his quest to escape a humdrum life in a small town, the prospect of which clearly terrifies him."
Confessions of a teenager.
Robert Morris | 06/19/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was barely in my teens when I first saw this movie. Mylene Demongeot's comment about Ms. Signoret's Oscar triumph have been forgotten. That summer of 1959 is long gone; but I still cannot erase the image of Harvey and Signoret on the beach in raincoats [sans everything else]; her husky voice [Kathleen Turner inherited that charm]; and that unforgettable backward handwave as she walks away from Harvey. ONE of the all time ultimate movies about finding love in the wrong way, and very much about a woman and a man in love.Harvey, social climbing his way to the top [perhaps reflecting his own, beautiful, flawed, tragic life] has never been better - went on to do "Life at the Top" later. Wolfit, now forgotten by the younger ones - and possibly the inspiration for Albert Finney's "Sir" in "The Dresser" - is a formidable presence. Shot in velvet black and white this film pulsates with gritty sexuality.Worthy of being viewed over and over - together, alone, sad or happy - it always returns like the wayward lover it is, and leaves you depleted, but sated."
Masterful film, poor transfer
Robert Morris | 09/01/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't think I need to add anything to the glowing reviews this film has received -- back when it was released in 1959 or now on Amazon's website. I hope that Criterion gains the rights to re-release the film with a clean, sharp image. Screenplay, two extroardinary central performances (Harvey and Signoret seem made for it), direction and location filming add up to a realistic, brutal love story of a young man with values in the wrong place. See it anyway. The beginning of the DVD is also partially missing -- an altogether careless, rush job."
Sex only at face value with hidden issues beneath
clare pope | Bronx, NY | 12/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Strong feelings of hate, anger and saddness could not have been evoked without the tremendous performances of Simone Signoret and Laurence Harvey. Simone Signoret was ideal for the part of Alice, the very intelligent, worldly but totally feminine character, and Laurence Harvey lived that part as the boy from the working class, not trying to deny it, but utterly ruthless in his pursuit to reach the top in the factory in Northern England.The sex scenes were only incidental in comparison with the deep issues beneath the surface. Oh, yes, Joe was a cad with a capital C. He cared for Alice to a point, but he was looking to further his own nest, namely with the daughter of the factory owner. So, he had a full relationship with Alice while seducing Susan in order to gain his own ends, to marry to the boss's daughter. You feel compassion for Alice with the cruel creton she is married to, and let's face it, the way she is being used by Joe. Anger and hatred are stong feelings only too good for Joe. This movie is over 40 years old, but comparisons can be drawn to issues of the present day of abrasive, coarse young people along with their own arrogance employing all kinds or any kind of measures to get places in the corporate world with no concern of stepping on or hurting anyone along the way. And at the other end of the spectrum, comparisons could also be drawn to an era before WWII, when at the turn of the century, Clive (?) seduced the young woman, and at the same time, he was trying to inveigle his way in the factory with the boss's daughter in "An American Tragedy."Laurence Harvey had a true to life 'industrial north' accent. The black and white clearly depicted the bleakness of an industrial Yorkshire town during the post war period in England.Although this film was produced in 1959, and might be thought of as dated, the issues of ruthless ambition, marital abuse, and class distinction as very well played by the factory owner's wife still exist and might even loom larger than life today."