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Film / Room at the Top

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Room at the Top is a 1959 British drama film directed by Jack Clayton, adapted from John Braine's 1957 novel of the same name.

Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) is a young working-class man on the make. A war veteran who spent three years as a POW, he has left his grim sad-sack Yorkshire hometown of Dufton, and arrived in the slightly less grim Yorkshire town of Warnley, where he has gotten a job as an accountant in local government. The intensely ambitious Joe wants more out of life, however. When he notices lovely young Susan Brown, daughter of the local factory owner, he seems equally charmed by her beauty, her upper-class refinement, and the fact that she and her family are very rich.

To get into Susan's good graces, Joe joins the local amateur theatrical group that Susan is a part of. There he meets Alice Aisgill (Simone Signoret), a French expat stuck in a very unhappy marriage to a local businessman. Joe, while putting the full-court press on Susan in his effort to get into high society, finds himself increasingly drawn to the sensual Alice.

English-language debut of Simone Signoret, who had been a star in France since the early 1940s. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. Two of her co-stars, Laurence Harvey and Hermione Baddeley, were also nominated; at two minutes and nineteen seconds, Baddeley's is the shortest performance ever nominated in any acting category.


  • Artifact Title: Sort of. In the film there's a couple of vague references to "the Top" being the nicest part of Warnley where the rich folk live. In the film, there is a specific metaphor relating to the boarding house where Joe is staying; the top floor has the nicest rooms in the boarding house and a "room at the top" of the boarding house is a metaphor for rising to the upper class.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Joe set his sights on Susan as a gateway into the British upper class, a way to wealth and comfort. He gets her, and the wealth and comfort, but only after he no longer wants any of it, having fallen in love with Alice.
  • Betty and Veronica: Susan is young, refined, shy, and a virgin. While dating her Joe starts a Friends with Benefits affair with Alice, who is overtly sexual, but also kind and generous.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: The very first shot of Room at the Top has Joe blowing smoke rings on the train. Helps to establish him as brash and confident.
  • Blunt "Yes": Mr. Brown when trying to get Joe to dump Susan with by offering him a job. Subverted in the end as he actually isn't trying to buy Joe off; it's really a Secret Test of Character.
    Joe: Are you trying to buy me off?
    Brown: That's right, I'm trying to buy you off, and I'm paying a damn fine price for it.
  • Downer Ending: Alice dies, and a broken-hearted Joe is stuck in what promises to be a loveless marriage to Susan.
  • Dramatic Shattering: Joe is holding a glass of champagne that he doesn't really want, as he's in no mood to be congratulated for his engagement to Susan. After he is informed that Alice died in a car wreck the previous evening, he throws down his glass and it dramatically shatters.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Happens twice.
    • Alice gets trashed in the local bar after Joe breaks up with her for good. It leads to tragedy when she tries to drive home.
    • Then Joe gets good and drunk after finding out about Alice's death, leading to him taking quite the beatdown from some local toughs from the bar.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Both Joe and Alice are framed this way after they park at the overlook above the town, right before their first kiss.
  • Gold Digger: Joe's real motivation for romancing Susan, even though he doesn't want to admit it, not even to himself. When he's telling his aunt and uncle about his new girl they observe that he doesn't tell them anything about the girl, instead talking nonstop about how rich her family is.
  • Ironic Name: The bombed out, dirty, poverty-stricken street where Joe's childhood home was is called "Hope Street". And the sign that says Hope Street is hanging askew from one corner.
  • Love Epiphany: Oddly, it takes sex with Susan for Joe to realize that he doesn't love her, he loves Alice. In the very next scene Alice and Joe are getting back together in the local bar. Unfortunately, thanks to the Law of Inverse Fertility, it's too late.
  • Match Cut: From Alice's melancholy face after breaking up with Joe, to Susan's blissful post-orgasmic face following sex with Joe.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Handsome young Joe, at least in the opinion of the secretaries in the office, all of whom coo at him and cast long looks when he first arrives.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Alice's casual comment about how there are nude pictures of her floating around somewhere—when she was younger, she modeled for a photographer—causes Joe to flip out with a ridiculous display of jealousy, leading immediately to their first breakup.
  • Revealing Hug: The aftermath of Joe deflowering Susan finds her resting against his stomach, looking up with an expression of contentment and sexual satisfaction. Cut to Joe, on the other hand, frowning and discontented. He has just had his Love Epiphany about Alice.
  • Romantic Rain: It's pouring as Alice and Joe arrive at her vacation cabin for their romantic getaway. Later, they have a romantic stroll along the beach as the rain continues to pour.
  • Secret Test of Character: Mr. Brown dangles a lucrative job offer in front of Joe, on the condition that he has to agree to never see Susan again. After Joe angrily refuses, Brown reveals that it was a test, that in fact Joe has to marry Susan because she's pregnant.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Joe is strongarmed into marrying Susan because he has knocked her up. This is only half of his decision-making however, the other half being George Aisgill's angry refusal to let Alice go and his vow to make Joe's life hell if Joe doesn't break it off.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Alice, stuck in a horrible marriage with George who doesn't give a damn about her and cheats on her constantly, finds love in an affair with Joe.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film is set in 1947, as revealed by the date on a letter to Joe. Notably, Dufton still has unrepaired damage from a German bombing raid.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: Joe has spent the whole first half of the movie chasing after Susan because she is both good-looking and rich. After he finally has sex with her, he realizes that he doesn't love her at all.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Joe, a working-class orphan, is this as far as the Brown family is concerned. Mr. Brown and arrogant rich boy Jack Wales deliberately insult Joe at a dinner, revealing that he doesn't know any of the important people either in his hometown or in his old army regiment.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: One sequence has Joe going back home to Dufton and visiting his old house, now a pile of rubble. No one in the neighborhood knows him and the one person he tries to talk to shuts a door in his face.