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  Man at the Top From Boardroom To Bedroom
Year: 1974
Director: Mike Vardy
Stars: Kenneth Haigh, Nanette Newman, Harry Andrews, William Lucas, Clive Swift, Mary Maude, Paul Williamson, John Collin, John Quentin, Danny Sewell, Charlie Williams, Anne Cunningham, Angela Bruce, Margaret Heald, Norma West, Nell Brennan, John Conteh
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Go-getting social climber and business aspirant Joe Lampton (Kenneth Haigh) is now in his forties, and has just earned himself a promotion, though he is not too clear why. He is working for a pharmaceutical company owned by Lord Ackerman (Harry Andrews) who has installed him as managing director, to the bemusement of many as Joe has little experience of chemicals and their financial dealings. What he does not know is why his predecessor left the job: in fact, the man has committed suicide in mysterious circumstances at a park bandstand, shooting himself through the mouth. If Joe was aware of this, would he have taken the job? He is about to do some digging...

Room at the Top was a novel by John Braine which was turned into one of the biggest British films of the nineteen-fifties, arriving right at the end of the decade and poised to bring in the era where the tenet "know your place" was to be thoroughly questioned. It was part of the Angry Young Man movement, affecting every aspect of the culture in Britain, and the actor who had taken the original role in that regard - on the theatrical stage - was Kenneth Haigh who, not being a star in the movies, was not asked to reprise his role for the film of playwright John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, the benchmark text for the style. Therefore it was only right Haigh should be here.

For a start, the actor who had made Lampton such an icon of that period, Laurence Harvey, had died a few years before, but also Braine had often voiced his disappointment that Harvey had not been his idea of the character, so Haigh was an improvement as far as he was concerned when he went on to catch up with him as middle age arrived. Not for this film, but for a television series which was a hit pre-The Brothers, the trucking firm soap that amassed huge viewing figures in the mid-seventies; Man at the Top was one of those series which established there was an audience for material like this on the small screen, and its viewing figures were healthy, hence the subsequent film.

Hammer were snapping up the rights to television properties in the early seventies as their stock in trade horror genre was beginning to wane in popularity, and their decision to add more sex and violence was only going so far in keeping the box office alive. The On the Buses films were their biggest hit of this time, but Man at the Top, a popular TV programme, must have seemed like an equally promising prospect, though as it was it didn't make the impact of seeing Reg Varney chase dolly birds around London. There were similarities, in that Lampton does the same, providing nude scenes that were becoming more prevalent on television, but not to the extent that British studios believed audiences were craving in their visits to the picture palaces: Angela Bruce and Margaret Heald appeared in a shower romp, and Mary Maude gave us an eyeful at her bedroom mirror.

And Nanette Newman? Surely the washing up liquid hawker was not going to descend to that? You're correct, she used a body double, which has annoyed a certain type of viewer ever since, not that Man at the Top was ever anything more than a cult movie for those who could not get enough of the seventies milieu. Witness decade-specific comedian Charlie Williams playing... a comedian, but not in a nightclub, in his living room as he chats with Joe and rolls out a few gags conversationally. Or the way the class system was brought out in the upper class ladies lusting after a bit of rough like Joe (who with all due respect to Haigh, was not exactly Robert Redford), culminating in the extraordinary finale where boss's daughter Maude is so turned on by fox hunting that she demands Joe have her right there and then in the undergrowth, leading to one of the most cynical metaphors for the film's view of how the powers that be regard the masses, in fox hunting form. All the way through, the chip on Lampton's shoulder weighs heavily; this film will remain a cult effort, but its bite makes it worth a look. Moody music by Roy Budd.

[Network release this restored on Blu-ray with these features:

Fullscreen, as-filmed version of main feature
22-minute music suite of Roy Budd's original score
Original theatrical trailer
Image gallery.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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