From the Terrace
This is as sexy as Hollywood pix got in 1960. John O’Hara’s novel about class snobbery and the drive for success posits Paul Newman as a moody go-getter. In glossy soap opera fashion, his silver spoon-fed bride Joanne Woodward morphs into an unfaithful monster. Some adulterous relationships are excused and others not in this glossy, morally rigged melodrama. In other words, it’s prime entertainment material.
From the Terrace
1960 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 144 min. / Ship Date January 19, 2016 / available through Twilight Time Movies / 29.95
Starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Myrna Loy, Ina Balin,
Leon Ames, Elizabeth Allen, Barbara Eden, George Grizzard, Patrick O’Neal, Felix Aylmer.
Cinematography Leo Tover
Art Direction Maurice Ransford, Howard Richmond, Lyle R. Wheeler
Film Editor Dorothy Spencer
Original Music Elmer Bernstein
Written by Ernest Lehman from the novel by John O’Hara
Produced and directed by Mark Robson
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
1960 saw the release of a fascinating movie about love in the upper strata of American business. The hero and heroine find themselves compromised by a working culture where philandering and adultery are the norm, and a system that punishes honesty and rewards hypocrisy. But they struggle through problems of scandal and shame, to find true love.
That’s of course a description of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, which won the 1960 Oscar for Best Picture. Released the same year was a nominally similar movie about love and ambition in America, from Mark Robson, the director of the garish success Peyton Place. From the novel by John O’Hara, From the Terrace is a sprawling, oversexed soap opera starring one of the reigning Hollywood acting couples of the day, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Our hero goes through the entire picture with a disenchanted, hangdog look on his face, clearly having strong doubts about his career. Yet this is exactly what the public wanted to see Newman in — a glossy spectacle about well-dressed stars engaging in illicit affairs.
Mark Robson’s melodrama is splashed across the screen in ‘Scope and Color by Deluxe. The career plans of returning Navy veteran David Alfred Eaton (Paul Newman) don’t include helping his domineering father (Leon Ames) run his steel mill. Alfred runs away from his alcoholic, unfaithful mother (Myrna Loy) to get in on a business deal with a rich school chum, Lex Porter (George Grizzard of Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent). While womanizing in New York, Alfred meets and woos Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward), eventually prying her away from her beau, Dr. Jim Roper (Patrick O’Neal) and winning over her upper-crust snob parents. Marriage follows, but business goes bad for Eaton when his partners cut him out of decisions — as they are already rich, they don’t share Alfred’s need for fast profits. Then Alfred rescues from drowning the grandson of tycoon James MacHardie (Felix Aylmer), and becomes a go-getter for the old man’s Wall Street firm. He rises quickly, but the long hours ruin his home life. Mary turns cynical and falls back into Roper’s arms, encouraged by her hedonistic friend Sage Rimmington (Elizabeth Allen). Alfred finds that his promised partnership depends on his holding his ‘family’ together for the image of the company. But while on assignment in Pennsylvania he meets the woman of his dreams in Natalie Benzinger (Ina Balin). How does he reconcile all these conflicts: domineering boss, tramp wife, guilty affair with Natalie? To make things worse, a co-worker is blackmailing Alfred.
I’m not sure that Douglas Sirk, the king of the women’s film, would touch this story with a ten-foot pole. Sirk’s peculiar alignment with the ‘women’s soap’ was subversive in nature, and producer-director Mark Robson plays everything flat and literal. Later critics found social criticism in Sirk’s soaps, but all that From the Terrace yields is a focus on filmable sensations for the matinee aiudience. Even Paul Newman seems frustrated, playing what would seem a consistently amoral heel, as a paragon of virtue.
From the Terrace serves up glamorous thrills in the high-toned world of chauffeured Eastern wealth, where business and social concerns are inseparable: the rich discriminate against the slightly less rich. The moralizing screenplay condemns certain kinds of hypocrisy, while extending sympathy for others. The carte-blanche endorsement of Paul Newman’s go-getter hero requires harsh judgments be levied on other cast members. If Douglas Sirk stooped to approach this story, he’d surely pretend to tell it straight, while visually undermining every word in the screenplay. His glossy soap Magnificent Obsession is so extreme, Sirk and his producer Ross Hunter seem to be laughing at the public for buying such slop.
‘The Great Adapter’ Ernest Lehman fumbles John O’Hara’s stacked deck of characters from the very start. Method-moody Newman walks out on both his pathetic parents, with undisguised disgust. The direction eventually encourages us to sympathize with Pop, but poor Myrna Loy’s mom is dropped like a hot potato. This becomes a pattern throughout the movie. Malcom Atterbury gets a big scene right off the top, and then disappears. The same thing happens with characters played by Barbara Eden and, to a lesser extent, George Grizzard. Myrna Loy’s non-return is a criminal offense — are we to think that Alfred abandoned her forever?
Established as a loner fleeing a disfunctional (but rich) family, Newman makes like a predatory bachelor in New York. The movie has 144 minutes to play with, yet jerks the narrative forward without connecting the dots. Alfred’s courtship with Woodward is ellipsed down to a skit: she resists him, and then she’s suddenly crazy about him. Alfred is blessed with moral Teflon — we’re informed that he lives the life of a playboy, as evidenced by the eager attention of every woman he meets, including that luscious early-career Barbara Eden. We see none of his philandering, a convenience that keeps a fine polish on Newman’s halo. But when it comes to business ethics, Alfred is incorruptible. Offered the trap of a cushy job by Mary St. John’s father, Newman shows his true virtue and turns it down.
The story proceeds to skip through time, collapsing what might be six or seven years into an indefinite period. From the Terrace plays so fast and loose with the concept of marriage, it’s almost as if Lehman didn’t want to remind the censors that solemn vows were exchanged. Sure enough, Alfred’s dedication to his work overwhelms his concern for Mary. She initially ignores the teases of her friend Sage (excellently played by Elizabeth Allen of Donovan’s Reef), who tries to convince her that all the wives sleep around as if marriage were a big game. Deprived of the presence of her mate, Woodward’s Mary transforms from a loving partner into a wanton witch who flaunts her affairs, and blackmails her own husband with her infidelities.
Why does Mary have to go from dream wife to slut? So that blue-eyed Alfred can stray blamelessly into the arms of Ina Balin’s patient & soulful Natalie Benzinger. Natalie’s bucolic country life and loving family (don’t worry, they’re rich mine owners) is presented as if an industrial town were Shangri-La. The dialogue makes sure that we know Natalie is deep and virtuous. She works for charity, and speaks kindly of the wise faces of the old miners she visits. Less fortunate Americans seem willing to worship the rich. Just by showing a benevolent appreciation for the ‘underclass,’ Natalie coms off as a Saint.
Lovers of pulp romances will not be disappointed. In a hoary, wince-inducing coincidence, Alfred rescues the drowning grandson of a grateful Daddy Warbucks tycoon. Alfred and Natalie’s heavy-breathing forbidden courtship is enhanced with another coincidence, a curbside meeting (“Oh, I’m just in town shopping!”). That leads directly to a sanitized vision of adultery — the two sensitive, respectful souls (sniff) speak of their guilt as they slip into bed. They’re just yearning for a little consolation in the tough, tough world of the rich. Just to be fair, Lehman and Robson balance this meeting of lovers with a nasty liason between Mary and Jim Roper, played by that dependably oily creep Patrick O’Neal. They don’t even embrace in bed, and he shows his brutal nature by declaring Love to be a worthless joke beneath discussing. Roper is a psychiatrist, see? That automatically makes him cynical, godless, and snide.
All of this helps Newman’s Alfred come to the Big Decision. Mr. Honorable is cornered by business demands, and blackmailed by a nepotistic rival. Actor Howard Caine plays him as sniveling vermin, just to make Alfred seem all the more gallant. From the sidelines watches the calculating monster that once was Mary. Alfred surprises everyone but the audience with a Big Speech that smugly asserts his moral superiority over all present.
Paul Newman coasts on his looks and humorless attitude in this one. Scene after scene sees Alfred staring at his coffee cup, feeling unhappy and bitter. One situation puts him in a Marlon Brando-ish leather jacket, because he was duck hunting. (DUCK HUNTING?) But there’s no denying that Newman and Joanne Woodward are enormously attractive stars. Woodward appears to be enjoying her survey of the seven deadly sins. Since her character is hobbled by an awkward shift from virtue to vice, the movie suggests that her suddenly severe pulled-back hairstyle is to blame. By the finish, Woodward’s Mary’s smiles are so evil, she looks ready to occupy a throne next to Anouk Aimee in the sin-spectacle Sodom and Gomorrah.
Ina Balin takes the plum role as the ‘good’ adultress, who has a rendezvous with Newman in the back (necking-only) row of a drive-In movie. It’s a laughable scene — she’s wearing pearls! The actress secures a reasonable level of respect for her unworthy role, insuring that unbridled passion pokes through every furtive glance and chaste remark. The actors are really too good for this movie, which I’m sure made all concerned a ton of money.
Myrna Loy makes such a positive impact that we’re shocked when she just disappears from the story. Felix Aymler is good as the big Wall Street wheel. Ted de Corsia was known for his despicable villains and crooked cops, but he’s especially winning as Balin’s father, the idealized family man.
Was John O’Hara’s novel so uncritical of the Alfred Eaton character? The narrative evasions warp reality in the interest of justifying Alfred’s extramarital thrills. The same old nonsense is peddled — sexually frustrated women are vain and treacherous, and that real success is a combination of good ethics and hard work. Alfred says he wants to work in a Big world for Big money and get Bigger than his father. Is he suddenly going to be happy with Ina Balin, perhaps taking over her daddy’s crummy mines? In this fantasy world the toughest choice is between being statospherically Rich, and just filthy Rich.
Although critics didn’t see it in 1960, this is what makes Billy Wilder’s more farcical The Apartment superior to Robson’s movie. Wilder’s lovers are way below the glamorous heights of the economic food chain, where the game is played for lower stakes, mainly a decent job. Success seems to demand a moral compromise. People sleep around without the author holding a flaming sword of judgment over some and making ludicrous excuses for others. The moral cure is ‘being a mensch’ and showing consideration for other people. Contrast that with Alfred Eaton’s calculated end-run around the ‘bad people’ of From the Terrace: Alfred knows that a Perfect Woman waits for him out in the clean, clean woods. Naturally, the bluenoses of 1960 condemned the Billy Wilder masterpiece as immoral and cruel, and not the Robson movie.
All of the reservations above won’t matter to most viewers. This is a very attractive movie, and fans of soapsuds, the Newman / Woodward combo, and Paul Newman’s blue eyes will love it.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of From the Terrace gets a new lease on life with its immaculate HD transfer, which reminds us of how gorgeous Color by Deluxe could look in the old days. Leo Tover’s cinematography pretty much redeems Mark Robson’s sleep-walk of a directing job. The 2-channel stereo sound billboards Elmer Bernstein’s syrupy music score, which cues a plaintive piano every time Alfred and Natalie get within kissing distance. Bernstein fans will be happy that the music is auditable on a separate Isolated Score Track.
Besides the original trailer, a publicity-driven Movietone Newsreel pretends that Ina Balin is being ‘mobbed’ at a New York premiere. It also takes the time to show us co-attendees Peter Falk and David Hedison and dropping the title of Hedison’s new movie, The Lost World. Julie Kirgo’s liner notes sing the praises of author John O’Hara. To me it looks like Ernest Lehman divided O’Hara’s book into sixty scenes, and then threw out thirty of them — the wrong thirty. Kirgo tells us that the novel was updated from WW1 to WW2.
Mark Robson surely exercised a personal favor in the casting of Elizabeth Russell, who played a notable haunted women in his first film, The Seventh Victim. It’s Ms. Russell’s final film part, seven years after her career ended. She’s seen for only a second, as the woman involved with Myrna Loy’s lover, the one that Newman pulverizes. How can we be sure that Mrs. Eaton and this guy weren’t in a perfect relationship, like Alfred and Natalie? Because he’s a lower middle-class nobody, that’s why. From the Terrace reinforces the notion that rich is rich and anything else isn’t worth spit.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
From the Terrace Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good –
Supplements: Isolated Score Track, newsreel, trailer, Julie Kirgo liner notes
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 17, 2016
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