Cinema: The New Pictures, Apr. 20, 1959

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The Shaggy Dog (Buena Vista) of the title is a real, live, winsome, mop-footed old English sheep dog named Chiffon (real name: Sam) that opens doors and dresser drawers, climbs ladders, sits commandingly at the wheel of a speeding car, and even gargles before going to bed at night (on the sound track, anyway). Unhappily, Producer Walt Disney tells his shaggy-dog story so doggedly that he soon runs it into the pound. The story: a Renaissance ring that has the power to put a human being into the body of an animal falls into the hands of a teen-age boy (Tommy Kirk), who thereupon starts sprouting long white hair, soon finds himself living a dog's life. His father (Fred MacMurray) is of course horrified to hear him bark like a dog. The young pups who make up most of Producer Disney's audience will snap happily at this scented rubber bone.

Room at the Top (Romulus; Continental), a film version of the bestselling novel by Britain's John Braine (TIME, May 27, 1957), is a powerful, disturbing piece of cinema realism. On the face of it. the film is a social satire: a hilarious lampoon of British provincial society, an ironic study of Angry Young Manners and morals, a Swiftian extravaganza on the problems of a social climber in a society without stairs. But behind the comic mask there is the tragedy of social change, which is here expounded as the agony of moral growth, as the spiritual disaster of a young man who might be called the Julien Sorel of the welfare state.

Braine's novel, in fact, presents a startling parallel to The Red and the Black. Like Julien Sorel in Stendhal's masterpiece, Hero Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) is a handsome young parvenu of considerable practical intelligence. Rising 25, he sits at his desk in the town hall and dreams the usual "clerk's dream" of sports "cars, town houses, Riviera villas, linen sheets—and women who look right in them. "I'm going to have the lot," he announces grimly one day, and, like Sorel, he sets his cap for the daughter (Heather Sears) of one of the richest men in town. "You know, Susan," he tells her, "you're beautiful," and sighs with carefully rehearsed despair that she is "a dear kipper" —too dear for the working-class likes of him. But when he begins to mumble modestly about his sufferings as a P.W. in Germany, the young lady's upper-crusty young swain (John Westbrook) considers it high time to pull rank. A flick of his Better-Schooled tongue, and the hero cringes like the lout he secretly knows he is.

Praise be to the moviemakers, they do not indulge in any sentimental petting of the underdog. The social education of Joe Lampton is a painful, truthful exposition of human character. Before half an hour has gone by, it is apparent that Joe is an aggressive, self-seeking, foulmouthed, dirty-minded, ill-educated, mean-spirited little brute with more feeling in his wallet than in his heart. Yet it is also apparent, after the camera makes a visit to Joe's home town, that he has good reasons for being what he is; Dufton is a bombed-out, soot-seared 19th century factory slum. And something, perhaps the innocence of Joe's vulgarity, suggests that underneath his soot there is a soul.

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