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.

1310_fromtheterrace5a

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. 

What a Way to Go (1964)

Shirley MacLaine is a one-woman show in this goofy, dark comedy about a lady whose four husbands can’t help but make loads of money and then abruptly die. Edith Head had full reign and a limitless budget, it seems, creating exotic, costume ensembles–some of the best of her career. Though she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume, I’m surprised one of her eight golden statues wasn’t for this film. Rarely will you find a film where the costumes speak for the character and take on a life of their own. The more outrageous the lifestyle, the more outrageous the outfits and wigs. Whether she went to the bank, lounged at the pool, or wore her furs, Shirley looked fabulous. Love gushing colors and opulent production sets? Love wacky comedy and a cast of Hollywood A-listers that rival the costumes? Then you’d like J. Lee Thompson’s, What a Way to Go. 

fefa8f78efaccebc97a46614402b277d

Zany films take time to get into them. If you approach it as a Greek Comedy, it is easier to swallow the farce that borders on the absurd. What a Way to Go features stereotypes, the woes of relationships, and should not to be taken seriously. There’s a prologue, five acts, a deus ex machina at the climax for a happy ending. It is in line with the 1960s trend for big budget, sexy, wacky plots that wear thin.

Shirley MacLaine plays Louisa May. She is her own narrator who confesses about her curse to a shrink played by character actor, Robert Cummings.  She has $218,000,000 dollars she is trying to give back to the IRS because she thinks she bewitched and caused the death of four husbands. Always wanting the simple life, she thinks she has found her perfect mate. Unfortunately, they are corrupted by greed and attacked to death by the instruments of their obsession.

There’s a pattern to Louisa’s storytelling. After she gets her husband, there’s a sub-play giving homage to a genre of the film industry. The mega-star matches perfectly with the character he represents. This repetition is clever even if it chops up the story line into bite-sized morsels, and it begins to feel more like a variety show. I think it’s subjective whether you like the format or not. It’s different, and few films can boast of the star power of the cast.  What fun Shirley MacLaine must have had with these gents!

phot9846

Dick Van Dyke has always been a slap-stick, vaudevillian actor, so he plays the goofy first husband to perfection. Louisa asserts their marriage felt like being in a silent film, and this cues the black and white tribute. Ironically, Love Conquers All is their motto, and it proves fatally wrong.

MacPAULway-to-go!-screenshot

Paul Newman, as husband # 2, represented the spirited American bohemian in France espousing the definition of the artist with avant-garde approaches to creating real art. Larry Flint and Louisa pay tribute to French cinema. With their vignette, I smiled throughout as camera angles mimicked all that is stereotypical of sexy French cinema. The parody continued with the corruption of Larry Flint when he rubs elbows with the elite of the art world. Andy Warhol said, “Art is anything you can get away with” and it’s relayed here in the ludicrous costumes Louisa wears. They are works of art created by her husband. His demise is fitting, and by this point, I’m buying into the film and enjoying it.

Robert Mitchum played Rod Anderson, Jr., the maple syrup tycoon, who had already earned his fortune, so Louisa thought she couldn’t ruin his life. This segment of the film pokes fun at Old Hollywood’s grand pictures that featured the super-wealthy and their exotic lifestyles. The parody was fantastic, from the couple sleeping in a champagne glass to the arrival of Louisa in another over-the-top ensemble. I loved it. However, nothing compared to the next marriage with her fourth husband, Pinky Benson.

WAWTG8

Who knew Shirley MacClaine could dance? She stepped in line with Gene Kelly and looked as graceful as any previous partner. Since the film was a farce in the first place, you can’t really call Shirley MacClaine’s melodramatic performance (whenever she cried) as well acted, but when you consider all she had to do as the central character, I thought she was magnificent. Her dancing really blew me away.  No wonder she was offered a few year’s later with her dancing musical, Sweet Charity (1969).  Gene Kelly–sigh–this was the one act where I thought the male actor acted instead of acting ridiculous. I cared for him as the salt-shuffling clown whose demise was predictable.

7-What-a-Way-to-Go

Dean Martin plays his iconic self. He’s a playboy with a drunken smirk on his face. Louisa hates Lennie Crawley. It’s a powerful emotion. That’s all I’ll give away in case you haven’t seen this crazy, beautiful film.

Film Spotlight: The Hustler

My friend Nuwan Sen is hosting the “Essential 60’s blogathon”. It offered me the opportunity to highlight a perfect film, right up there with On the Waterfront, Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now, and Shawshenk Redemption.  Yes, it’s really that good.

I’ve written about The Hustler and The Color of Money before. If you missed it, be my guest and read all about it:  https://cindybruchman.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/scorsese-paul-newman-tom-cruise/

The formula for a great film requires a strong script, great acting, and sharp cinematography, Music always matters as well as creating the culture of the setting–production design, costumes, and sound. The Hustler has it all.

the-hustler-fats-eddie

Fast Eddie wants to become a pool hustler. He challenges the best in New York City, “Minnesota Fats” played by Jackie Gleason. Gleason was an accomplished pool player and the shots seen on the screen were made by him. Even though he was on the screen for only 20 minutes, Jackie Gleason’s presence conveyed the power and cool detachment of a champion.

the_hustler_13

George C. Scott played the stake horse, the pimp, the devil, who backed neophyte Fast Eddie Felson (Newman). His manipulations caused havoc between Eddie’s professional life and his relationship with his girlfriend, Sarah, played by Piper Laurie.

What a tragic character. Sarah was an ex-prostitute who tries to convince Eddie to have a meaningful, functional relationship. Eddie desires her and pool and he finds himself in the middle. Sarah sees how destructive Burt Gordon (Scott) is and tries to warn him with disastrous results. Rarely had an alcoholic, female character presented on the screen from the early 60s evoke greater compassion and authenticity (I can only think of 1962, Days of Wine and Roses, with Lee Remick).

giphy

IMDb and DVD Special Features Trivia

Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills. For four months he practiced–most  shots are Paul Newman. His tutor? No other than 14 World Champion Willie Marsconi who is the silver fox holding the bet money in the movie, and a poster lines the wall of the pool hall. The masse shot (pop the cue ball on the top and it will spin around the balls) were made in the film by Marsconi. Got a minute? Watch it here:

hustler-thetear

George C. Scott refused his Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category because he didn’t believe in actors competing against each other unless if were playing the same role. But when he lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to George Chakiris in West Side Story (1961), it solidified his convictions that Hollywood was political and biased and led to Scott rejecting his 1970 win in Patton.

rr

Robert Rossen was a pool shark himself as a young man. For his film, he hired real street thugs and enrolled them in the Screen Actors Guild so that they could be used as extras. Rossen was heavily involved in the “Red Scare” witch-hunt during the 1950s. He was a member of the Communist Party from 1937 to 1945 and blacklisted by HUAC. After refusing to name names, after being subpoenaed in 1953, he relented to save his career and implicated 57 people as having had communist affiliations. As a result of his cooperation, he was permitted to work again, though he did not return to Hollywood. Ouch! Not a friend of Arthur Miller, no doubt, who went on to write the 1953 play The Crucible and give his approval to the 1996 film adaptation starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.

The Hustler’s strength lies in the culture of men at that time period. This was a time when a man was supposed to be tough, self-centered, kind of the castle, chauvinistic and homophobic. A generalization, but films frequently reveal the expectations of society and this film does that. I admire toughness while cringing from it as a female. In the 50s and 60s, the strong, wide-shoulders, square chin, John Wayne stereotype was alive and copied, for better or worse.

Paul Newman was nominated but did not win the Best Oscar award. He’d have to wait for an honorary one for several more decades. He is the prime reason you should watch The Hustler. His energy and expressive performance is as strong as Brando’s in On the Waterfront.

TRAILER

Don’t forget to check out Nuwan Sen’s blog. He specializes in Audrey Hepburn and classic films. His posts are smart and interesting:  http://nononsensewithnuwansen.wordpress.com/

60s-b

What do you like best about The Hustler?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑