Life at the Top (1965)


It’s been ten years since the unscrupulously ambitious Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey, The Manchurian Candidate) entered into a marriage of convenience. Now Joe has everything he wanted in life: a high-paying job, a big house, etc. 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 near as good as the original. Laurence Harvey is once again fantastic as the ruthless social-climber, but the film lacks focus and most characters have not progressed in a logical manner.

Mordecai Richler’s (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz) remarkably flaccid screenplay is mostly to blame for the film’s sluggish pace and uninteresting character developments — it’s talky and it doesn’t stay true to the characters.

Ted Kotcheff (First Blood) replaced director 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).

Despite its flaws, the film’s superb actors bring their A-game. As I said before, Harvey is great. He magically overcomes the weak script.

Jean Simmons (Spartacus) took over the role created by Heather Sears. Unfortunately, Simmons is 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. People do change, but here the changes don’t make much sense.

Donald Wolfit (Lawrence of Arabia) and Allan Cuthbertson (The Guns of Navarone) return as Mr. Brown and George Aisgill respectively. Honor Blackman (Goldfinger) adds some pizzazz to the movie. Blackman is excellent as 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 (Topkapi), and Nigel Davenport (A Man for All Seasons). Look closely for Edward Fox (The Day of the Jackal) in a tiny role as an office employee.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Life at the Top is an unnecessary sequel to a great film. 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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