Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Best Actor 1959: Laurence Harvey in Room at the Top

Laurence Harvey received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Joe Lampton in Room at the Top.

Room at the Top is an intelligent film about a working class man who will do what ever he can to reach the top.

Laurence Harvey of course portrays this young man, and if there is one emotion that is featured throughout his performance is just the incredible anger of Joe due to his position in life, and the way he is treated by the upper class as well. Laurence Harvey shows throughout his performance a seething intense anger that has clearly grown throughout Joe's entire life. It is a vicious anger that Harvey shows the cut throat nature of the character.

The other primary feature of Joe is his incredibly ambition. Harvey is extremely good at portraying this aspect of Joe. I find in particular the early scenes of the film where he almost entirely non verbally portrays this aspect of the character. Harvey has just about perfect reactions, and looks at possibly ways or fashions he will be able to "improve" his current condition, showing a completely unshakable desire to reach the top.

The most important part of his performance though is his affair with an unhappily married woman Alice (Simone Signoret). Their chemistry is something else, it has this almost mysterious quality to it that it astonishing. Their relationship grows from a mutual desperation at first which first springs in an incredible scene due to brilliant direction of the film, and as well as both actors pitch perfect connection in that moment.

Their relationship certainly is a tragic one but it is incredibly the way they develop a love relationship with one another despite the nature of their relationship. It is not an external loving relationship but rather one of a deeper connection between the two, that goes very deeply too deeply due to the situation they are in. Both actors create such an authentic relationship that makes the film as haunting as it is.

Laurence Harvey makes Joe's transition work fantastically as he gives up his actual love for material awards. Firstly through his seduction of a rich young man, which Harvey portrays in a very cruel, and brutally honest fashion. Secondly through Joe's negotiation to a position which Harvey's shows Joe's entire ambitious, and finally with his final dealings with Alice. Their final scene is heartbreaking due to Singoret's complete emotional honesty, and Harvey's cold brutal facade Joe uses to hide his true feelings for her.
Harvey's performance is just about perfect particularly his he shows the incredible grief of Joe, as well as his acceptance of finding his Room at the Top at such a price. I hate to do this, but there are just a few minor squabbles I have with his performance. Firstly his accent he uses is a bit inconsistent although, not ever in a distracting manner, and just one brief scene where Joe violently reacts to Alice telling him about a nude photo she had taken in her younger years. Although I believe it is in Joe's character Harvey's performance just seems slightly forced in this brief scene. Still these are incredibly minor details of the performance that certainly do not at all hinder the incredible strength and power of this complex performance.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad he got 5 - I think he and Simone are perfect.

dshultz said...

If it weren't for those few minor squabbles of yours at the bottom, I'd say we'd have another Whitman-esque upset on our hands, but as you said for Stewart, not a single incorrect moment, so......

Anonymous said...

Brilliant performance by Laurence Harvey, just perfect, still Stewart's is better but it's almost a tie for me. Unbelievable!