Life at the Top (1965)


It’s been ten years since unscrupulously ambitious Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey, The Manchurian Candidate and Darling) entered into a marriage of convenience. Now Joe has everything he wanted in life: a high-paying job, a big house, nice cars and a solid position in the community. Joe is still not content; he has found out the hard way that life at the top is not all that good.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“It’s not a question of what I want, it’s a question of what I settle for.”

Long-belated sequel to Jack Clayton’s 1959 groundbreaking British New Wave film, Room at the Top, is nowhere as good as the original. Laurence Harvey is once again fantastic as the ruthless social-climber, but the film lacks focus and mots characters have not progressed in a logical manner.

Life at the Top also lacks technical finesse. Ted Kotcheff (First Blood) took over the directorial reins and he is respectful to the original, which was beautifully directed by Jack Clayton. Kotcheff and acclaimed cinematographer Oswald Morris (Oliver!) do their best to match the first film’s beautifully executed deep-focus camera work and for the most part they succeeded. But it’s still below the high standards set by Clayton and his cameraman, the great Freddie Francis (The Innocents).

The main problem here is best-selling author Mordecai Richler’s (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Joshua Then and Now) remarkably flaccid screenplay — it’s talky and it doesn’t stay true to the characters.

Narrative issues notwithstanding, the film’s superb actors bring their A-game, elevating this sequel towards something watchable.

As I said before, Harvey is great and so is Jean Simmons (Elmer Gantry), who took over Heather Sears’s role of the wife. Unfortunately, Simmons is much older than Sears, and she approached the role in a different way. It doesn’t seem like the same person from the original movie and I’m not talking about physical appearance. Some people change over the years, but here the changes don’t make much sense. I don’t blame Simmons, who is always good. She was simply put in an impossible situation.

Donald Wolfit (Lawrence of Arabia) and George Aisgill (The Mirror Crack’d) return as Mr. Brown and Allan Cuthbertson respectively. Honor “Pussy Galore” Blackman adds some pizzazz to the movie — Blackman plays a sassy career woman who has a fling with Harvey’s character.

The strong supporting cast also includes Michael Craig (The Angry Silence), Robert Morley (Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), and Nigel Davenport (A Man for All Seasons). Look closely for Edward Fox (Never Say Never Again) in a tiny role as an office employee.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Life at the Top feels more like an unnecessary epilogue to a great film than an actual sequel. Given the fact that this sequel took almost seven years to materialize, I find it hard to believe that they could not come up with a better script. What does work is the excellent cast, specifically Harvey, who does a great job recreating his most famous movie role. Harvey alone makes this movie watchable. B&W, 117 minutes, Not Rated.


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