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DVD SAVANT

From the Terrace


From the Terrace
Fox Home Entertainment
1960 / color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 149 min. / Street Date May 20, 2003 / 14.98
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 by Mark Robson
Directed by Mark Robson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Paul Newman goes through this huge, oversexed soap opera with a disenchanted look on his face, and he must have had strong thoughts about his career when he saw a similar movie about love and ambition in America, The Apartment, win the Oscar for 1960's best picture. Mark Robson followed up the equally huge and oversexed Peyton Place with this turkey from a John O'Hara trash novel, the kind written to keep lonely housewives warm at night. The starpower and regal production values can't hide the trite, sanctimonious values on display. The movies were a few years away from being able to graphically show the sleazy goings-on so glamorized in From the Terrace, and when they did, we ended up with unsavory messes like The Love Machine and Glass Houses. This is the kind of glossy cheap tease that's still popular, mostly in the miniseries format.

Synopsis:

Navy veteran David Alfred Eaton (Paul Newman) has big plans that don't include helping out in the family factory of his domineering father (Leon Ames). He runs away from his alcoholic, unfaithful mother (Myrna Loy) to get in on a business deal with a rich school chum. While womanizing in New York, he 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 snob uppercrust parents. Marriage follows, but business goes bad for Eaton when his partners cut him out of decisions - being rich already, they don't share David's need for fast profits. Then David rescues the grandson of tycoon James MacHardie (Felix Aylmer) from drowning, and becomes a go-getter for the old man's Wall Street firm. He rises quickly, but the long hours ruin his home life, and Mary starts to drift back to Roper, encouraged by her hedonistic friend Sage Rimmington (Elizabeth Allen). David 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? Another co-worker is blackmailing him, too!

I'm not sure the king of the women's film, Douglas Sirk, would touch this story with a ten-foot pole. Sirk's peculiar alignment with the 'women's soap' was subversive in nature, a concept that the creators of last year's clueless Far from Heaven didn't understand, with their pointless Imitation of Cinema.

From the Terrace's only reason for being is to provide the middle class with some thrills in the high-toned world of chauffeured Eastern wealth, where the rich discriminate against each other for being the wrong kind of rich, and business and social concerns are inseparable. The moralizing screenplay condemns certain kinds of hypocrisy, while extending sympathy for others. Its carte-blanche endorsement of the go-getter hero played by Paul Newman requires harsh judgments be levied on the rest of the cast. If Douglas Sirk stooped to approach this story, he'd surely pretend to tell it straight, while visually undermining every word in the screenplay. See Savant's reviews of Criterion's All that Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind.

Ernest Lehman, 'the great adaptor', polishes 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 is dropped like a hot potato - she's unfaithful, you see, something unpardonable in a mother.

With his credentials established as a loner fleeing a disfunctional (but rich) family, Newman makes like a predatory bachelor in New York. His courtship with Woodward is ellipsed down to a skit - she resists him, then she's crazy about him. Newman is above moral judgement - we're informed that he lives the life of a playboy, as evidenced by the eager attention of every woman he meets, including a luscious early-career Barbara Eden. But we're actually shown none of his philandering, a convenience to keep Newman's halo polished for the benefit of the censors. When offered the trap of a cushy job by Woodward's father, Newman shows his true virtue by turning it down.

The wedding isn't shown directly, as the story proceeds to skip through time, collapsing what might be six or seven years into an undisclosed timeline. From the Terrace plays so fast and loose with the concept of marriage, it's probable that Lehman didn't want to give reminders that solemn vows were exchanged. Sure enough, Newman's dedication to his work overwhelms his concern for Woodward. All she wants to do is ignore the teases of her friend Sage (excellently played by Elizabeth Allen of Donovan's Reef) and be a happy wife. Sage tries to talk Woodward into seeing her view of married life - that everybody sleeps around as if it were a big game. The rest of From the Terrace pronounces this to be true. Deprived of the presence of her mate, Woodward transforms from loving partner into a wanton witch who flaunts her affairs, and blackmails her own husband with her infidelities.

Why does Woodward have to go from dream wife to slut? So that good old Newman can have his cake and eat it too, namely, stray blamelessly into the arms of the waiting Ina Balin. Her bucolic country life and loving family (don't worry, they're rich mine owners) is presented as if it were Shangri-La. Balin works for charity, speaking kindly of the wise faces of the old miners she visits, like royalty showing benevolent appreciation for the underclass.

The hoary coincidence of Newman rescuing the drowning grandson of a grateful Daddy Warbucks is bad enough, but From the Terrace caps the Newman-Balin heavy-breathing forbidden courtship with a chance curbside meeting ("Oh, I'm just in town shopping!") that leads to a perfectly idealized vision of adultery - two sensitive, respectful souls (sniff) just looking 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 Woodward and dependable creep Patrick O'Neal. They don't even embrace in bed, and he keeps both feet on the floor to talk to her about how love is a worthless joke he doesn't want to discuss. He's a psychiatrist, see? That makes him cynical, godless, and snide.

All of this helps Newman come to the Big Decision. Mr. Honorable is cornered by business demands, blackmailed by a nepotistic rival (played by Howard Caine as sniveling vermin, just to make Newman seem all the more gallant) and watched over by the calculating monster that once was Woodward. Then he surprises everyone but us with a Big Speech, smugly asserting his moral superiority over all present, and gallops back to Shangri La. There awaits the impossibly noble Ina Balin, standing next to a clean, rushing stream of water. Yes, Newman has turned down the big job, but found Love at last.

All of From the Terrace's little lies and evasions warp reality in the interest of finding any available excuse for hot extramarital thrills. They have a cumulative effect, pretending to uphold the Truth while peddling the same old nonsense - women are mostly treacherous, ethics and hard work spell success, and reaching the top always requires a terrible compromise. Anything one does is justified - provided one is a top-billed Seeker of Truth with a bad childhood. Newman's character says he wants to be Big and 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 rich mines? It's a great world, where one's toughest choices are between being statospherically Rich, and just filthy Rich. 1

Paul Newman coasts on his looks and humorless attitude in this one. Woodward is interesting, and enjoys her survey of most of the seven deadly sins. But her character is hobbled by an awkward change from virtue to vice. Myrna Loy makes such a positive impact, that we're shocked when she just disappears, especially after the story invests a half-hour on her. Most of the other playing is fine. I've already mentioned the interesting Elizabeth Allen and yummy-looking Barbara Eden. Felix Aymler is good as the big Wall Street wheel. Ted de Corsia, known for his despicable villains and crooked cops, is especially winning as Balin's father, the idealized family man.

Ina Balin won the plum role as the 'good' adultress, who has a rendezvous with Newman in a laughable drive-In movie scene - wearing pearls! She maintains a reasonable level of respect for her unworthy role, having to make sure 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.


Fox's DVD of From the Terrace looks great, with a remarkably clean CinemaScope image, kept sharp via 16:9 enhancement. The main music theme begins with the melody line of Mildred Pierce and then goes into a forgettable digression, but it's all perfectly reproduced. Newman and Woodward are a very handsome couple, and the picture's easy to watch. Viewers unconcerned with Savant's wailing above will probably think it's fine.

Besides a trailer, there's a phony publicity-driven Movietone Newsreel that pretends that Ina Balin is being 'mobbed' at a premiere. It also takes the time to show us co-attendees Peter Falk and David Hedison and mention their current Fox pictures in release. Balin has a big image on the attractive cover, but her name isn't mentioned anywhere, possibly because of billing restrictions. The profile photo of Newman's playboy pal (I'm not sure of the actor's name) caught my eye - he appropriately looks just like Hugh Hefner, sans pipe.

For the really obsessed, Mark Robson exercised a possible private joke, or personal favor, in the casting of The Seventh Victim's Elizabeth Russell. The famous consumptive Mimi of Robson's first directorial assignment is seen for only half a second, in a bit part as the wife of Myrna Loy's lover, the one that Newman pulverizes. Heck, how do we know Loy and this guy weren't in some perfect relationship, like Newman and Balin? Because he's a lower-middle-class nobody, that's why. From the Terrace encourages the thought that rich is rich and less than that isn't worth spit.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, From the Terrace rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer, newsreel
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 30, 2003


Footnote:

1. My only defense for all this venom is to point reverently to the good example of Billy Wilder's The Apartment. It places its thesis in the context of much lower stakes (a decent job in a corporation) and acknowledges that lots of people sleep around without holding a flaming sword of judgement over anybody. It's only moral is that 'being a mensch' and showing consideration for other people is the cure for both avarice and lust. The lovers in The Apartment stop being cynical and go noble at the end independently, with no immediate reward except their self-respect. Contrast that with Paul Newman's calculated end-run around Terrace's demonized villains, knowing there's a Perfect Woman waiting for him in the clean, clean woods. The moral emptiness of From the Terrace is staggering. Naturally, the bluenoses of 1960 chose the Billy Wilder masterpiece to condemn as immoral and cruel, not the Robson movie. If a movie disturbs the sleeping conscience of the repressed, their response is to look for something to blame.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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