Film Spotlight: From the Terrace (1960)

Directed by Mark Robson adapted from the novel by John O’Hara

Two years after they were married, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward starred in From the Terrace (1960), a romantic drama about the throes of marriage and the sacrifice of happiness for money and prestige. World War II is over and David Eaton (Paul Newman), returns home to a heartless father and sloshed mother. His dysfunctional roots take hold in his marriage after falling hopelessly in love with the passionate socialite, Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward). His uptown wife becomes the ice queen and makes it easy for him to fall for dewy-eyed, wholesome Natalie Benziger (Ina Balin).

Joan Woodward and Myrna Loy make the film worth watching while the rest of the cast is mediocre. I never thought I would say it, but Paul Newman’s bland performance could have been played by anyone.

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The Role of Women 

What I liked best about the film were the three faces of women. Myrna Loy plays Martha Eaton, a sad character, and atypical from her former days as temptress during the silent era and her bubbly, popular role as Laura Charles, the comedic sleuth with William Powell.

Nick and Laura Charles with Asta. They would pair up in six
Nick and Laura Charles with Asta. Loy and Powell would pair up in six “thin man” films from 1934-47.

In From the Terrace, Myrna Loy is a neglected housewife, finding solace where she can because her husband can’t overcome the loss of their son. Her last words to David begged for a revisit in the plot. Unfortunately, we never see David revisit his mother or his former life.

Newman and Woodward
Newman and Woodward

Joanne Woodward met Paul Newman on the New York stage in Picnic, and the two became professional equals–Woodward would start the stronger–she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in The Three Faces of Eve (1957). His role in Cat on a Hot-Tinned Roof  (1958) and their steamy partnership in The Long Hot summer (1958) made them a power couple. If you are interested in their early life together with all the sordid details, you can read the 2009 article from The Guardian HERE

Joanne Woodward’s performance in From the Terrace is dynamic. I love how time changes her personality from demur to vixen to vulnerable to bitter. Her wide range ability to portray moods is why I thought she was top rate.

Annex - Balin, Ina (From the Terrace)_01
Ina Balin plays annoying Natalie Benzinger

It’s no wonder that David Eaton falls for warm, dark haired Natalie–the foil to the cold, white-haired wife, Mary; however, the guilt and torture of having an affair didn’t come through from either Balin or Newman. Kisses were cold. The parting durable. The reunion tepid.

The theme of loneliness pervades all the characters of the film. From mourning father to drunken wife; from workaholic David Eaton to his independent wife Mary; to timid, masochist Natalie, all the characters stumble around disillusioned and frustrated.

While this all sounds like downer, the film ends on a high note. Despite the aggravating performance by Ina Balin, I suspect the novel by John O’Hara might be more satisfying. Truly, it’s Woodward and Loy’s multi-dimensional, nuanced acting that makes it worth your time

6.5 / 10. 

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