Best “New” Film Of The Week

A couple of hours ago I wrote a tidy little riff about Jack Clayton‘s Room At The Top (’59), and then it was accidentally erased. The point is that I finally saw this sharply-written, very cleanly composed film last night for the first time and was seriously impressed by it. The first belch of British kitchen-sink drama (resentful, self-destructive working-class blokes and their birds + lots of drinking, smoking, arguing and shagging), Room opened in the U.S. in May 1959. It was followed four months later by the film version of John Osborne‘s Look Back in Anger with Richard Burton and Claire Bloom, and a new genre was off to the races. When the late Simone Signoret won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Laurence Harvey‘s somewhat older love interest, she became the first non-integrated, foreign-based actress to do so. I’d forgotten she was fairly hot at the time. But it wasn’t long after her Oscar triumph that Signoret decided to (is there a p.c. brownshirt way to put this?) let herself go and become a character actress. She died at a relatively young age, 64, in 1985.

  • Maurice

    I posted a comment yesterday right before the post was erased – was wondering what happened. Anyway, good to see this appreciation of one of my all time favorite films. It had quite an impact on me when I first saw it in 1959 and have watched it a number of times since then. A terrific cast, and Signoret – unforgettable.

  • Guy Lodge

    First non-American actress to do so? I think you’ll find Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Anna Magnani, Greer Garson, Audrey Hepburn and Luise Rainer all won before her.

    Great film, though.

    • pizan܍amore

      Maybe he meant that she was the first non-American actress to win an Academy Award for portraying Laurence Harvey‘s somewhat older love interest.

      But since Julie Harris only scored a BAFTA nomination for portraying Harvey’s somewhat older platonic interest a few years earlier, he didn’t need to be quite so specific.

      Turns out Jack Clayton was involved in that film, too:

      Sure, that’s probably what he meant.

    • Jeffrey Wells

      I meant to say the first non-American actress based on and working from foreign turf, Hadn’t all these actresses been more or less integrated into the U.S. filmmaking community when they won their awards?

      • Michael Gebert

        Non-Hollywood, in other words, and that is correct.

        In any case, glad to see some attention paid to this, which has really lasted the best of all the kitchen sink films, I think– raw class-escaping ambition, cynicism, and foreign sex, everything British films weren’t about then. This and Alfie are my favorites, which raises the question, how did they fail to remake this one when Jude Law was hot?

        • Perfect Tommy

          Just be thankful it didn’t happened. They took the abortion out of Alfie and the fun out of Sleuth, so who knows what they would have removed from a Room remake.

          • Michael Gebert

            Yeah, both of those are utter ruinations of favorite movies. Sleuth is just tonally wrong from beginning to end, but with Alfie, it’s like deciding not to have a third act or a character arc at all.

  • brenkilco

    Your observation about Signoret’s looks is as true as it un-pc. The leading lady of Casque D’or that all the belle epoque gangsters are killing each other over is scarcely recognizable a decade later in the grim spy film The Deadly Affair.

    Harvey was a curious case. More than one critic has noted that he was probably the most unappealing actor ever to achieve success as a leading man. I wll alway remember him, however, as the would be murderer in the single classic episode of the rather lame Rod Serling show Night Gallery. It was called The Earwig. And if you happened to catch it as a kid you probably still remember it.

    • cinefan25

      He was also very memorable in a Columbo episode in which he played a murderous American chess champion.

  • George Prager

    Can we list all of the “Angry Young Man” films? (It’s worth noting that the “Room At the Top” author wasn’t much of an angry young man, except that he was angry that he was poor and wanted to make money so he wrote a book).

    Room at the Top
    Look Back in Anger
    Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
    A Kind of Loving
    The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
    This Sporting Life
    Billy Liar
    The Leather Boys

    am i missing any?

    • Michael Gebert

      I’m sure there are some more obscure ones, but that’s pretty good. Maybe a really late entry like Charlie Bubbles. Or you could argue that The Ipcress File is “What if Goldfinger was an Angry Young Man movie?”

      • George Prager

        Those two have a connection, and maybe Get Carter (Angry Young Man becomes a gangster) with John Osbourne the mob boss.

  • Joburg man

    Room at the Top is a fantastic film. Glad you finally got a chance to see it.