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From the Terrace (1960)

I have no heroes, only some people I love. Alfred Eaton (Paul Newman) returns home to Eastern Pennsylvania after serving in the Navy in World War II, driven to be as successful as possible out of hatred toward his wealthy father Samuel (Leon Ames) and pity for his cheating drunken mother Martha (Myrna Loy). Both of them adored his older brother who died of spinal meningitis and he can never live up to the expectations they had for his sibling. He is unendingly ambitious: founding an aircraft construction company with his friend Lex Porter (George Grizzard); seeking out like a heat missile and marrying socialite Mary St John (Joanne Woodward); and leveraging a fortunate encounter with a powerful financier James Duncan MacHardie (Felix Aylmer) whose grandson he rescued from an icy pond into a new career on Wall Street which however crucifies his marriage with the hours he’s obliged to keep if he wants to make partner by 40. When he is sent out of town for a couple of months he meets the beautiful, truthful Natalie Benziger (Ina Balin), Alfred has a crisis of conscience but upon his return to NYC he realises Mary has been openly carrying on an affair with her former lover and fiance, psychiatrist Jim Roper (Patrick O’Neal) … I knew you were going to kiss me today but I didn’t know I was going to kiss you back, and it isn’t going to happen again, so don’t try to get me off alone somewhere. A remarkably smooth soap opera, perhaps not so surprising when you realise it’s an Ernest Lehman screenplay adapted from the titular 1958 novel by that arch ironist, John O’Hara. Are you getting anything out of all your success besides more success? There are the kind of cuts and elisions that only come from the most confident and skilled of storytellers and they’re all over this Oedipal melodrama replete with a vicious siren in the shape of Woodward, cast opposite Newman, her new husband in real life and in their third film together. Truly a film for adults, with suggestive moves, insinuations, loucheness, extra-martial relations and cynicism all part of a scintillating symphony of pain in the tale of a social climber with a soft heart and a tough mind. Newman sleepwalks through parts of this but Woodward is terrifyingly good: what a gorgeous, sexy couple they make. They fairly scorch the screen with their chemistry: You’re not going to want anyone else as long as you live! she purrs at him. You truly believe her. Ina Balin makes for an unusual heartbreaker; while veterans Ames and Loy are superb in their respective roles as Alfred’s parents in the opening scene-sequence which tells us all about why this man can never be satisfied – because he could never satisfy the parents who wish he were dead. Newman plays hurt well as the scion of parental abuse and when Ames says the following line it’s just shocking: You’re not big enough to walk in my shadow, and you’ll never be! The trade-offs Alfred makes, the 24/7 relentless drive for success, the impact of his choices against the backdrop of old school snobbery about the nouveau riche and WASPy class versus moneymaking vulgarity creates a rich tapestry for this high-octane mid-century drama in which people do no end of surprising things, appearances to the contrary. It’s hypocrisy 101 in this brilliant, brutal study of human behaviour. Elmer Bernstein provides a striking score and the exquisite costumes are by Travilla. Everyone is so beautiful, and tragic. And the dialogue? To die for! Directed by Mark Robson. I needed love wherever I could find it!

About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

2 responses to “From the Terrace (1960)

  1. LOVE the movie! I really love Loy here, and Woodward seems to be having a blast as the “bad girl.”

  2. Loy’s subplot was kinda sacrificed. Agree on Woodward!

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