Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: FROM THE TERRACE (1960) starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Ina Balin.
The main reason to watch this movie is Paul Newman at the very height of his incredible Technicolor good looks. And hey, that's quite good enough for me.
FROM THE TERRACE (1960) is directed by Mark Robson from a screenplay by Ernest Lehman - based on the book (with quite a different ending) by John O'Hara. In truth I did try to re-read the book, but it was hard going so one reading, oh-so-long ago, will have to suffice.
This is a typically glossy film of the period except that here it's Joanne Woodward (who usually played a drab) who gets to parade around in jewels, designer duds and platinum hair, not her usual ambience. She has little to do except play a spitefully unfaithful wife whom it is impossible to like. This is difficult because the tendency is always to like Joanne Woodward, here you can say she's definitely cast against type.
David Alfred Eaton (Paul Newman) is a young man on the go. He is the son of a distant self-made business man (Leon Ames) and, if I remember correctly, a mother who drinks, played by Myrna Loy. Alfred has much to recommend him: good looks, drive, intelligence, good looks, pluck, a will to succeed and finally, good looks and uh, well, good looks. Hard to avoid that.
When Alfred meets the blond vision of his dreams, society miss Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward) she is unfortunately already taken, engaged to Jim Roper (Patrick O'Neal) a future doctor. Roper is perfect hubby material for Mary since he practically oozes money and sophistication and is just as shallow as she is.
But Alfred doesn't pick up on the warning signals. He is brash enough to think he's got the world by the tail.
What with one thing and another, the feckless Mary soon ditches Jim and gets engaged to the besotted Alfred who can't get over his good fortune. Mary has the connections he lacks, she has the society family (which, needless to say, is not overjoyed to see Alfred join their ranks) and best of all, she will be the perfect sort of wife for a young man who plans on hitting it big in business.
Alfred makes himself believe that the hard-to-please Mary wants the same things he does. Uh-oh.
Some time later, husband and wife are on their way someplace, bickering in the car. Poor discontented Mary can't understand that to keep her in the style that she is accustomed to being kept, Alfred must work hard and often be away from home for days and weeks on end. (His work has something to do with airplanes, I think. I'm doing this post from memory just to be contrary.) So what is a lovely, hot-blooded, passionate woman (cold appearance to the contrary) to do - languish on her own? I think not.
Anyway, while driving along a winter road, Alfred and Mary spot a young boy ice skating on a pond. When the boy plunges through the ice, Alfred pulls the car over, jumps in and rescues him.
It turns out that the boy is the grandson of Felix Aylmer (James Duncan MacHardie) the very wealthy chairman of a Wall Street firm. The boy's father, however, is a round little weasel who though grateful that Alfred saved his son's life, still recognizes in Alfred, an alpha-male rival to reckon with. When old Aylmer offers Alfred a job at his firm, Alfred readily accepts and soon is on the fast-track towards the top. (Goodbye to his airplane business, hello, Wall Street!)
As his marriage disintegrates, Alfred suspects that his wife's old boyfriend Dr. Roper is back on the scene. And of course he is, in fact, he hardly ever left. Honestly, that Mary is such a slut. But she does wear awfully chic clothes.
In the meantime, Alfred is warned by old Aylmer that he (Aylmer) abhors scandal and that if Alfred aspires to join the board of directors, he must avoid scandal in any way shape or form. Uh-oh.
One day Alfred, away on business in Pennsylvania, meets the beautiful and virginal Natalie Benzinger (Ina Balin) and her parents. Natalie's dad owns the business that Alfred's firm is interested in. The Benzingers have a large comfortable home in the country filled with the sorts of things that tell us that they are nice people, comfortable in their own skins - not at all the sort who carry on as most of Alfred's country club friends do. Alfred is bowled over by the family's warmth and Natalie's quiet beauty and manner. In truth, she appears to be the polar opposite of slutty Mary back in their NY penthouse carousing with the good doctor.
Alfred and Natalie are obviously smitten but since nothing can be done about it, they say goodbye.
But one evening Alfred and Mary run into Natalie who's in the city for some shopping. Clever Mary instantly realizes that Natalie and her hubby have met before and that they are in the thrall of some deep emotion.
Back at the penthouse, Mary rubs salt in Alfred's wounds and calls Jim Roper to arrange a date while poor Alfred stands there like a shlump.
Natalie, in the meantime, throws caution to the winds and asks Alfred to arrange a hotel room assignation. Uh-oh.
After a nice love scene (finally) between Alfred and Natalie, photographers break into the hotel room and take pictures of the couple in a clinch. The next day a package of pictures arrives on Alfred's desk.
Remember that round weasel I told you about? The father of the boy that Alfred saved from drowning? Well, his resentment of Alfred has only grown as he's watched Alfred's rapid rise in a company owned by his own family. Not only that, but the weasel has become involved in some nefarious and illegal business dealings which Alfred knows about and refuses to keep secret. Uh-oh. You know where this is headed.
Well, in the end (a dilly as Alfred is about to be named a member of the Board of Directors), Alfred must choose between success and the woman he loves.
The odd thing about this film is the total lack of sizzle between Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (his wife in real life of course) and the crackling sizzle between Paul Newman and Ina Balin. Occasionally Newman's good looks would overpower the women he played against, I mean, look at him. But Ina Balin, who was not conventionally beautiful, held her own. To my eye, they look good together. Go figure.
Joanne Woodward is a wonderful, occasionally powerful actress but her one weakness (if she has any) is that she can be a little distant no matter the role she's playing. Sometimes this works very well for her and sometimes it doesn't. My favorite role of hers (though she was superb in THREE FACES OF EVE for which she won an Oscar) is as the young girl opposite Yul Brynner in the pretty lame adaptation of Faulkner's THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Talk about sizzle.
Brynner and Woodward though they do not have a love scene in the entire film and for most of that he is her overbearing guardian and she just a young gangling, coltish sort of girl, sizzle enough for several films. Brynner's smoulder alone....Well, it did something to me, sitting in the movie audience all young and impressionable.
FROM THE TERRACE features a hefty cast of reliable character actors who help things along. Among them: Myrna Loy, Leon Ames, Malcom Atterbury, George Grizzard, Barbara Eden, Elizabeth Allen, Ted de Corsia (playing very much against type), Patrick O'Neal and Howard Caine as the weasel.
Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten, Overlooked Films, Television and/or Other Audio Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. We're an esoteric bunch.
Source of scenes from the movie.