A Sound B Extras D+
starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Myrna Loy
screenplay by Ernest Lehman
directed by Mark Robson
by Walter Chaw The term "melodrama" comes from the Greek and the French, finding its literal meaning in something like "musical drama," and Mark Robson's From the Terrace (1960)--packed front to back with Elmer Bernstein's gorgeous but intrusive and, in at least a few moments, hysterical orchestrations--fits the bill nicely. Adapted from a John O'Hara bodice-ripper by chronic adaptor Ernest Lehman and released during the gap between the Lehman-scripted marvels North by Northwest and West Side Story, the picture drips with the charged sexual innuendo of the former (and of Robson's Peyton Place, come to think of it) while falling short of the caustic social commentary of the latter.
In many ways, From the Terrace gains its interest mainly from being a soapy calm before the medium-cool storm of 1960s American cinema, its forced artificiality not a statement so much as a steadily eroding façade that Paul Newman would almost single-handedly subvert with a remarkable string of anti-heroic films (beginning the very next year with The Hustler), that Billy Wilder would demolish with his The Apartment (released the same year, and possessed, oddly enough, of a similar tableau of the mendacity of rows of desks), and which Steven Sondheim would bury (again in the very next year) with a corrosive reworking of a rooftop dance that changed the way angry dialogues were spoken in the United States.
Alas, that still leaves the problem of From the Terrace, which is essentially a Sirk played straight and a predictor of, of all things, The Devil's Advocate. Alfred Eaton (Newman) is the son of an unholy jerk of a captain of industry and a lush (Myrna Loy) who is jettisoned summarily after being positioned as the star of the show for almost the entirety of the first act. A gloomy loner of the kind that Newman would play to greater effect in worthier pictures (and already had as the vaguely miscast Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Alfred wins the cold, cold heart of Mary (Joanne Woodward) and, in his quest for respectability amongst the snob barons of the East Coast (a lot like Jett trying to win over the snob barons of Texas in George Stevens's Giant, as it happens), launches himself into an epic winker that uses, in its best moment, a rocking dinghy as a euphemism.
Morally bankrupt along strict matinee-idol lines that paint Newman the hero no matter the lowness of his behaviour, From the Terrace, in addition to being spitefully misogynistic in a way that illustrates a particularly vituperative breed of sexual jealousy, is a great deal like a male The Hours in its bizarre belief that its hero's shit don't stink. Adultery only okay when it's of the "noble" variety engaged in by the Byronic conqueror (Alfred meets his virginal seductress in lovely Natalie (Ina Balin)), every woman in the picture, save Alfred's inamorata ("Your wife, she's lovelier than I thought she'd be"), is brittle, unfaithful, and grasping, and no less so is Alfred himself, who, cast in the role of a philanderer, remains somehow lily clean. Hypocritical in the extreme from opening scenes of disgruntled domestics to closing shots of just desserts, From the Terrace is protracted flim-flam dated almost immediately upon its release. It's a film only a dinosaur Republican could love, is what I'm saying: old values predicated almost entirely on woman-hate, obsessive love of commerce, all leavened by a faux-piety as contemptuous as it is empty. The whole of it is summed up in one line from Alfred's dad to his blue-eyed boy: "You love him as though he never lived in his mother's body."
Fox releases the CinemaScope production in an absolutely stunning 2.35:1 anamorphic video transfer capable of rendering one speechless. Colours are vibrant and warm in a way they only are in 'scope pictures, and the negative is remarkably unmarred by defect; my only complaint the minor one that the transfer is so picture-perfect that scenes featuring rear-projection are just that much more obvious. A shot of Newman's eyes in chapter ten provides a showcase moment. The Dolby 2.0 stereo mix impresses with its split activity, exhibiting some minor distortion in the fifth chapter that is notable primarily for its uniqueness. Bernstein's score swells lucidly while dialogue bounces around with logic and clarity. A very short dummy-up of a newsreel featuring Balin "mobbed" by an admiring crowd ("Movietone News: From the Terrace Star Mobbed"), as well as nice-looking trailers for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hombre, The Hustler (like the movie, the best of the bunch), The Long, Hot Summer, The Verdict, and From the Terrace round out the sparse presentation. Originally published: July 1, 2003.