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Harvey, Laurence (1927-1973)


Main image of Harvey, Laurence (1927-1973)

Laurence Harvey (real name Hirsch Skikne, also cited as Larushka Mischa Skikne - he was born in Yomishkis, Lithuania) was in the right place at the right time just once: his performance (Oscar and BAFTA nominated) as Joe Lampton in Room at the Top (d. Jack Clayton, 1958) remains a significant indicator of the winds of change in British cinema.

He is the screen's answer to the theatre's Jimmy Porter, much more so than the screen's own Jimmy Porter as filtered through Richard Burton's mellifluous tones. Harvey's last moments as he gets into the bridal car to be driven to "the top" remain a moving statement of ambition achieved at the cost of self-betrayal.

His performance as the working-class man on the make opened the doors for Tom Courtenay, Albert Finney and others who breasted the New Wave of British cinema. Unlike them, though, he tended to draw critical opprobrium for most of his work.

He wasn't a newcomer when he played Joe. Educated in South Africa, he came to England to study at RADA and quite soon became a by-word for living picturesquely beyond his means. Means, that is, generated by a series of modest programmers like Man on the Run (d. Lawrence Huntington, 1949), the lead in 'B' films such as The Scarlet Thread (d. Lewis Gilbert, 1951), playing charming wastrels across the social spectrum in, e.g., I Believe in You (d. Michael Relph, 1952) and The Good Die Young (d. Lewis Gilbert, 1954), made for Romulus to whom he was under contract; doing a somewhat wooden Romeo for Castellani in Romeo and Juliet (UK/Italy, 1954) - and so on.

Then Joe made him a major star for a while, sought on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US he played opposite Elizabeth Taylor (you couldn't aspire higher in 1960) in Butterfield 8 (d. Daniel Mann, 1960) and his characteristic affectlessness was brilliantly used in John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Back in Britain, he reprised Joe in Life at the Top (d. Ted Kotcheff, 1965), more respectable than most sequels and owing much to the continuities he brought it, and was well-served by the intelligently observed superficialities of Darling (d. John Schlesinger, 1965).

He died sadly young (of cancer) after another dozen or so indifferent films shot all over the place, with an ineptitude that knew no geographic barriers. He also directed The Ceremony (US/Spain, 1963). He married (1) Margaret Leighton (1957-61) and (2) Joan Cohn (1968-72), widow of fabled ogre Harry.

Biography: The Prince: Laurence Harvey by Des Hickey and Gus Smith (1975).

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Julie Christie gives an Oscar-winning performance as an amoral socialite

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Cliff Richard comedy about the discovery of a new musical star

Thumbnail image of Good Die Young, The (1954)Good Die Young, The (1954)

Cynical heist thriller that was unusually bleak for the cosy mid-50s

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Wartime drama about British soldiers fighting the Japanese - and each other

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The first 'kitchen sink' drama kick-started a British film revolution

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