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.
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
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
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.
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 -
Supplements: trailer, newsreel
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 30, 2003
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
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson