Saturday, May 16, 2009

More room at the top

Several weeks ago, I briefly mentioned the movie Room at the Top, and my disappointment that the DVD has apparently been discontinued by the manufacturer. TCM is showing it tomorrow at 8:00 AM ET, and it's a pretty darn good movie.

The movie is reminiscent of A Place in the Sun. Laurence Harvey plays a British World War II vet who, having served, is looking to move up in life. He's left the grimy town in which he grew up, and has moved to a "better" town to take a job with the municipal government. There, he meets an older woman (Simone Signoret) with whom he falls in love. But, it's a problematic relationship in that she's separated from her husband, who won't give her a divorce. (Worse, he can get pictures of Signoret and Harvey together, meaning that he can be the one to win alimony.) If that's not bad enough, poor Signoret is about to be hurt by Harvey: he meets the daughter of the town's plutocratic factory owner (played not by Elizabeth Taylor, but by Heather Sears), and promptly falls in love with her -- although unlike A Place in the Sun, her parents don't like the idea of her having a relationship with this middle-class-at-best civil servant.

Harvey is quite good here. When he starred in The Manchurian Candidate, his character made a comment about there being two types of people: those who are naturally likable, and those who aren't, and that the character was definitely of that second type. The same is true of Room at the Top (and, indeed, is true of Montgomery Clift's character in A Place in the Sun). Harvey seems like such a user, not caring about the people around him, and only out to get what he thinks is in his own best interest. It's bound to have a tragic ending, although I'm not about to reveal the nature of that tragedy.

The movie was also considered shocking when it was released in Britain 50 years ago. This was the sort of subject that just wasn't discussed in the more class-conscious Britain, especially the blunt references to sex. (Not that sex was discussed in Hollywood movies, either....) True, a half century on, it seems relatively tame, but Room at the Top was one of the earliest of the more realistic movies in what was the British equivalent of the French New Wave. If you look at most of the British movies from this era and earlier that I've recommended, they're either comedies or else not much more realistic than the Hollywood equivalents. (Sure, there were World War II movies, but Hollywood was making those, too.) Room at the Top represents a break from tradition, and as such deserves to be seen.

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