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From the Terrace (Blu-ray Review)

22 Feb, 2016 By: Mike Clark

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time
$29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ina Balin, Myrna Loy.

After fairly recent readings of Butterfield 8 and A Rage to Live, I’ll have to agree with those who say John O’Hara’s writing is still packed with observational sting (and, of course, I’ve always been ready to praise Appointment in Samarra to the death). But the critical dismissals he endured from a lot of possibly calcified literati suggests a little of what Paul Newman’s character goes through in the 144-minute movie of O’Hara’s late-career 900-page novel. That is, the “you’re not one of us” snubs — or, in the Newman character’s case, “your family’s money isn’t ‘new.’” (His father merely owns the biggest factory in town).

Though it was never likely that putting it to rigid WASP-ism was ever going to get your name commemorated on an Ivy League dorm, alcohol-tinged sexual/financial scandals hit the book-buying public where it lived, and the screen treatment of From the Terrace (which, for multiple reasons, altered the book) probably benefited at the box office by the cracks in the Production Code that were quickly evolving into an all-out Pompeii crumble. By this time in entertainment, happy marriages were for the suburban small-screen sitcoms at home, even if I always did harbor teen fantasies about leaning Donna Reed against a kitchen Westinghouse while her dentist TV husband was at the office scraping tartar. Terrace, though, is a movie where you actually root for adultery — and in CinemaScope.

Not counting the three times he directed her but stayed behind the camera, Newman and Joanne Woodward teamed 10 times on screen — nine of them as co-leads and one (Harry and Son) with Woodward in a subordinate role. Terrace was the third and arguably the sexiest of these collaborations for the actress, who sports a not unpleasantly jarring silver look (the hair is long-ish, too); for some reason, it brings to mind the time that, at least per legend, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford almost convinced Yogi Berra that Kim Novak’s hair was naturally lavender. The Woodward family money is “old,” which makes her a catch to some, including a psychiatrist played by Patrick O’Neal in a thankless role as a kind of stud-on-retainer. But Woodward and family are transparently the kind of tough cases that the audience automatically knows are going to give usurper Newman problems, agreed-to marriage or not. All of them have sticks right up there, and any slim chance of removing them would demand a labor expenditure akin to what Alan Ladd and Van Heflin have to put in removing the tree stump in Shane.

Newman, just back from World War II, has his own family woes. Factory Dad (Leon Ames, a long way from Meet Me in St. Louis or even his paternal lead in the TV version of “Life With Father”) is a tough case who saves his affection for the memory of an older son who died in youth. Mom (Myrna Loy) has been unloved for so long that she’s taken up with both booze and what appears to be a loser of a lover (and certainly a loser on the wrong end of Newman’s fists). Despite fairly major billing, Loy has only a few scenes early on, but she really makes a lot of them in the kind of role she didn’t often play. I’ve always loved the idea of major stars from one generation sharing the frame with major stars of another, and the Newman-Loy interaction is one of the high points here. Her sympathetic debauchery really convinces, though do note that Loy’s autobiography is among the most head-on-straight examples of its genre.

Newman’s life motivation is to make more money than his father in any business that’s not the factory, and he becomes such a workaholic that you can’t blame Woodward for turning O’Neal into a professional escort (with the usual services rendered). At this point, the picture becomes as episodic as 144 minutes portend, a kind of this-happened-and-then-this-happened borderline trashy narrative that doesn’t necessarily make a movie good but does make it compelling for the duration. The director was Mark Robson, an actor-friendly non-stylist who nonetheless made a lot of my mid-level personal pets from Champion to Bright Victory to Return to Paradise to Trial to The Harder They Fall (also one of the most resonant Val Lewton’s: The Seventh Victim).

Three years pre-Terrace, Robson had scored perhaps the biggest wave-maker of his career: the mammothly popular adaptation of Peyton Place, a book whose sexual content presumably rendered it unfilmmable by ’50s Hollywood despite changing times (though less changed in ’57 than in 1960). Compared to Place’s incest-rape, married Newman’s take-up with a non-materialistic type played by Ina Balin (and motivated by true love) probably seemed as easy as sinking a two-inch putt at an O’Hara novel’s country club. Balin’s career was unrealized (I always liked her in The Comancheros), but she ended up devoting herself to humanitarian issues before her death at 52. Robson went on to direct both Valley of the Dolls and Earthquake, a pair of camp classics whose beyond-the-paleness likely explains why no one ever talks about him today.

For all its slickness, I do think that Julie Kirgo is on to something in her Twilight Time liner notes when she suggests that the Newman character’s starched-shirt rebellion here was a harbinger of what the ’60s became (the movie came out in early summer, which means that Eisenhower was still president, Gary Francis Powers had just crashed, and Psycho was about to change the industry forever). Though no one will ever call Terrace one of the best movies of its year, it does keep you going with a handsome print and, per TT usual, a separate track that isolates the score (in this case, Elmer Bernstein’s). Given its good relationship with Fox, I wish the company would bring out a widescreen home version of O’Hara’s Ten North Frederick with Gary Cooper, which I saw and liked enough in 1958 at age 11 to swipe and devour my parents’ copy of the book before much time passed. 

About the Author: Mike Clark

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