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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » From the Terrace (Blu-ray)
From the Terrace (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // January 19, 2016 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Screenarchives]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 21, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Although I am the kind of person who strives to be politically and socially conscious, I am of course fully aware the film is a product of its time -- in fact, the ability to serve as a time capsule, to show us people, places, and ideas that no longer exist is one of the qualities that makes film special. I would not harp too strongly on a film that merely reflected certain outre ideals of the era in which it was made, and there are plenty of films that even indulge in backward notions that I am willing to forgive for one reason or another. I say this because I found From the Terrace frustrating (no, I'm not "outraged", that phrase used to dismiss any kind of social criticism) in what feels like a failure (likely oversight, not intention) to see the events of the story from a perspective other than that of its protagonist.

That protagonist is Alfred Eaton (Paul Newman), a World War II vet who returns home to a tumultuous household. His mother, Martha (Myrna Loy) is an alcoholic, and cheating on his father, Samuel (Leon Ames). Although Alfred is disappointed in this revelation, he undoubtedly understands it: his father has never cared for him, constantly dismissing his achievements, ignoring his desires, all because he had another son, one he loved more, who passed away, leaving Alfred his only child. Samuel believes that Alfred will take over his position running the Eaton steel mill, but Alfred declines, choosing instead to go into the airplane business with his friend, Lex (George Grizzard). At the party where he reconnects with Lex and starts their business partnership rolling, he also encounters Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward), a beautiful blonde who is busy dancing with a drippy doctor, Jim Roper (Patrick O'Neal). Before long, Alfred has convinced Mary to leave Jim and marry him instead.

Although Alfred would appear to have everything he wants in life -- a good job, a beautiful wife, and the promise of fortune in his future -- he is restless. Unable to put up his half of the cash for Lex's airplane venture, he is cut in anyway but feels his input is overlooked. He leaves the company and ends up working for James MacHardie (Felix Aylmer), who runs a New York investment firm. MacHardie's assignments satisfy Alfred's desire to work, but strain the relationship he has with Mary, who is forced to spend her days alone in their upscale NYC apartment. He suspects that Mary is seeing Jim again behind his back, and attempts to forbid her from spending time with Jim, but she is angry at his unwillingness to trust her. While on a scouting assignment in Pennsylvania, Alfred encounters the beautiful Natalie Benzinger (Ina Balin), who strikes more fire in Alfred's heart than Mary has in years.

From the Terrace is a critique of the pursuit of fortune, about the ways that America's equation of money and power corrupt the soul. That's a fine enough message, but seen in the 21st century, it seems inextricably entangled with the crumbling relationship between Alfred and Mary, and what's frustrating is how unsympathetic the film is to Mary's point of view. Alfred's impatience at having to wait for Lex's airplane business to take off before he can make some good money is the catalyst for his change in careers and the downfall of his marriage, but the script by Ernest Lehman, working from the novel by John O'Hara, is so critical of that pursuit of money that it essentially presents Alfred as a helpless sap who doesn't deserve any criticism for falling into that mindset. Had he simply remained comfortable, stayed with his wife, been less invested in outdoing his own father, there is no apparent reason his marriage to Mary couldn't have been a happy and loving one. Although nobody who made the movie was involved with the packaging of the Blu-ray, the description of Mary as "icy" is reflected in the way the film plays out, and yet it's Alfred who fails to put his foot down when MacHardie refuses to let her accompany him to Pennsylvania, who stays in the office instead of meeting her for dinner, who tries and impose rules on who she can see when he's not even there.

By the time Alfred arrives and meets Natalie, it's hard to sympathize with him anymore. Although Natalie is meant to represent something purer, something Alfred actually wants instead of something he's been told he should have, the desire reads as deeply selfish. Mary's arc throughout the movie as she goes from loving Alfred to resenting him is too much of a reaction to his own choices to feel like Alfred is being wronged, even as she concludes that at least their marriage can be a profitable business arrangement for the both of them. Some of this is probably a testament to Woodward's performance, which creates warmth and sincere passion where the script might not have had any, but nonetheless, it remains the movie's Achilles' heel. The film builds to a boardroom confrontation that is meant to be somewhat celebratory, a fist-pumping rejection of everything that was holding Alfred back. Yet, by the time that scene finally occurs, Mary has become part of that list, undercutting Alfred's success with the air of arrogant self-satisfaction.

The Blu-ray
From the Terrace comes with cover artwork of Newman and Woodward in an embrace that manages to simultaneously suggest intimacy but also a bit of darkness (accentuated by the artists' seeming change of Woodward's outfit from a white dress to a black coat). I have to say, though, I've never quite understood why Twilight Time insists on using monochrome images on the back cover photographs for films that are in color. It doesn't really matter, but it strikes me as odd. The one-disc release comes in a transparent Blu-ray case, and there is the traditional booklet featuring liner notes by Julie Kirgo inside the case.

The Video and Audio
Twilight Time presents From the Terrace on Blu-ray in an impressive 2.39:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. This is a very fine, film-like presentation with a healthy amount of natural-looking grain, an impressive amount of fine detail, and no noticeable compression artifacts or banding. Although there is a hint of the blue tint that seeped into TT's transfer of the (coincidentally named) Fox film The Blue Max, things mostly appear nicely balanced and naturally saturated. As is to be expected, the occasional process shot and transition segments are softer than the rest of the picture, but this is natural and not a flaw. There is also little to no noticeable print damage. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack that has no trouble capturing the richness and vibrancy of Elmer Bernstein's score, or the dialogue, which sounds clean and crisp. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
From the Terrace only gets Twilight Time's standard extras: an isolated score track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, a Fox Movietone Newsreel (0:52) carried over from the DVD, and an original theatrical trailer.

From the Terrace features a customarily strong performance by Paul Newman, whose piercing blue eyes and slight edge are put to good use here, and an equally lovely performance by his co-star (and wife) Joanne Woodward, whose slowly dissolving happiness is tragic and heartbreaking. The only problem is that the movie hopes you relate to these characters differently than their performances do, making it a frustrating -- but still entertaining -- experience. Recommended.

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