Room at the Top (1959)
Director: Jack Clayton
In some ways this film is the British answer to A Place in the Sun: a young man determined to marry into a higher class finds himself in a love triangle between a wealthy girl and a poorer woman. Clayton's film, however, feels grimier in its outlook, and the emotional landscape is much messier than in A Place in the Sun. Joe Lampton has real affection for the downtrodden Alice, while wealthy Susan Brown is not a beacon of goodness, an ideal the way Elizabeth Taylor was for Montgomery Clift.
The film is full of great performances, with Simone Signoret winning Best Actress at the Oscars for her tender and melancholic portrayal of Alice, a woman simply looking for kindness and love. Laurence Harvey is equally good as Joe, a part where he has to struggle between being ambitious and cruel, yet also loving and tender. The black and white cinematography creates of world of shadowy streets, stuffy pubs, opulent yet cold homes. It also hightlights the actors' faces, especially Harvey's oft furrowed brow.
I wonder if Room at the Top had been nominated for the Oscars in any other year than in 1959, it would have swept the categories it was nominated in. Unfortunately it was up against the juggernaut that was Ben-Hur, which didn't engage me as much as this tight little story about the clash of ambition and love.