Room at the Top is the most scandalous story the late 50’s had to offer. Although black & white with a standard full screen format, Room at the Top is filled with swearing and strongly implied sexual situations. Most of the movie centers around an affair between a younger man and an older woman. Since Room at the Top came out in 1959, it predates Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. I think they got away with so much because the film is a British production not made by a major studio. Room at the Top is based on a 1957 novel that managed to win the movie Best Adapted Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Picture, but only Ben-Hur had any chance of winning.
The title Room at the Top refers to poor former POW Joe Lampton who wants to turn his life around by marrying a wealthy woman. He sets his sights on the lovely young Susan, but he quickly develops a strong connection with the older and less wealthy Alice. I know it’s an affair, but Joe and Alice’s romance is so genuine that you can’t help but root for them. Alice’s husband doesn’t treat her right and refuses to divorce her. Joe has no feelings for Susan, yet he’s forced to marry her through unexpected circumstances. Laurence Harvey gives a complex performance, but it’s Simone Signoret who deserved her Best Actress win with an even more multilayered performance.
Room at the Top is also known for featuring the shortest performance ever nominated in an acting category. Hermione Baddeley’s performance is only 2 minutes & 19 seconds long, but boy does she leave an impression. She plays a friend of Alice who wants her to be happy, comforts her when she’s down, chastises Joe when the unthinkable happens, and reacts with disappointment at his wedding in only four separate scenes. Room at the Top truly is a savage story of lust and ambition.