Clayton. Jack Clayton directed only seven films, and the one that was the most popular (The Great Gatsby)- isn’t remembered all that fondly (and certainly isn’t his best). The Innocents is the film everyone always forgets when listing the greatest horror films of all-time. Clayton is also an important figure in the British new wave, or the angry young man/men series of films in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Both Room at the Top– a remarkably assured debut- and The Pumpkin Eater land in that subgenre and he’s beside/behind only Tony Richardson here in that movement. Oddly enough, like Richardson (with Tom Jones), Clayton’s best work is outside that genre.

Best film: The Innocents. One of the great psychological and gothic horror films of all-time, and also a remarkable example of the artistic use of deep focus composition. It is the horror movie that Wyler/Welles/Kurosawa never made.

remarkable example of the artistic use of deep focus composition.

front-left foreground with subject in the deep background right again and again

One of the great psychological and gothic horror films of all-time

yet another example here- very strong

total archiveable films: 4

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  1 (The Innocents)

most overrated: Nothing here for Clayton as far as overrated films. The Innocents is only TSPDT consensus top 1000 film—and Room at the Top isn’t doing too poorly either- it lands in the top 2000.

most underrated :  The Pumpkin Eater

  • A very solid entry in the British social realism movement/wave of the late 50’s and early 60’s – the Angry Young man/men subgenre– (Clayton’s own Room At the Top ) and others from Long Distance Runner and The Entertainer
  • A well-deserved nomination for Anne Bancroft- her 2nd of 5 noms
  • Influenced by Antonioni’s trilogy (l’avventura, la notte, l’eclisse)- blue, moody and depressing for sure— it’s easy to ridicule for being self-serious in retrospect— but there’s worthy narrative and thematic material here (meditation on marriage, alienation and disconnect) and technical style achievement (though not on the level of Antonioni or like a Cassavetes who would go down this road as well)
  • Small role for Maggie Smith- great scene
  • Fascinating and technically difficult flashback—editing dissolve keeping her sad face going from transition
  • Freeze frame of holding hands holds over for flashback
  • Window boards breaking the two (Finch and Bancroft)— shot of Bancroft behind bars of the stair case
  • 45 minutes in at the salon we have a Bergman framing two faces shot
  • Reoccurring close-ups rewards Bancroft’s gift as an actor
  • James Mason shows up late- 55 minutes in- but it’s a key role and he’s excellent
  • Thematic formal rigor with the biggest betrayal being Finch getting another woman pregnant after she got fixed because of his urging
  • Does a reverse tracking shot in (not tracking reverse but film reverse speed) you can only tell by the cigarette if you look closely. It’s a great shot nonetheless
  • Lots of dissolve edits to lend to the mood/pace
  • Again, it’s complex thematically—it doesn’t simply treat her as the victim to a bastard of a husband (though Finch was a bastard)—she’s on her 3rd The obsession with having kids is never really fully explained

A very solid entry in the British social realism movement/wave of the late 50’s and early 60’s – the Angry Young man/men subgenre– (Clayton’s own Room At the Top ) and others from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and The Entertainer


gem I want to spotlight :  Room at the Top

  • the film, and Clayton, are central figures in that social realism British new wave of the late 50’s and early 60’s that include the loneliness of the long distance runner (Tony Richardson’s work in general), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Pumpkin Eater (also from Clayton)—very anti-Hollywood and angry films—love them all
  • Won the Oscar for writing and Simone Sigoret- she won best actress and she’s terrific here
  • The first just outright reference to sex in British film and we also have the use of “bitch” in very harsh terms several times
  • The nom for Hermione Baaddeley is 2 min and 19 seconds of screen time- the shortest ever
  • A darkly funny but sexist scene where Harvey grades women—he’s quick-tempered and angry—the film borrow a lot from an American Tragedy and A Place in the Sun but Harvey isn’t half as likeable as Montgomery Clift (both in acting and character)
  • Very strong debut for Clayton
  • The war hovers on this film, the character, pessimism
  • Class struggle story
  • The scene where Harvey and Signoret park—we have a gorgeous tracking shot to them from the beginning of the car and then we have a close of their silent faces, in deep shadows, it’s a great sequence
  • Signoret is incredibly sexy and beautiful but also has a pain in her eyes- again- an amazing performance- both strong and tender and vulnerable but only under the surface
  • I wish Clayton had spent more time on Signoret and less on Harvey—the film drags a little without her and he’s not a great actor- though, like in Manchurian Candidate– he’s pretty well cast—he’s pretty cold and unsympathetic
  • Clayton also frames and then reframes within the same shot several times—very well done


stylistic innovations/traits:                             

  • deep focus brilliance— I’m not going to call him Welles or Kurosawa—but it is there- and quite spectacular, particularly in The Innocents

deep focus work here in The Pumpkin Eater

again in The Innocents

and a decade later, in color, in The Great Gatsby

  • Freezes and dissolves in the editing of The Pumpkin Eater helps develop mood

freezes and dissolves throughout Clayton’s work- this beautiful one from The Innocents

  • Acting nominations all over the place from Bancroft to Signoret, and it is right there with the best work of Kerr in her fantastic career
  • A few times Clayton captures dialogue framing with faces just like Ingmar Bergman or La Pointe Courte from Varda
  • Frames a shot, a long shot, then tracks the camera, and then reframes within the same shot- Renoir did this all the time

top 10

  1. The Innocents
  2. The Pumpkin Eater
  3. Room at the Top
  4. The Great Gatsby

a frame within a frame here in The Great Gatsby

By year and grades

1959- Room at the Top R/HR
1961- The Innocents MS
1964- The Pumpkin Eater R/HR
1974- The Great Gatsby R


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives