Monday, April 9, 2018

From the Terrace

FXM Retro brought From the Terrace back into the rotation a month or so ago, and it's getting another pair of airings tomorrow, at 3:30 AM and 12:35 PM.

Philadelphia, 1946. A train pulls into the station, and there's a passenger in need of medical assistance. Or maybe not. Martha Eaton (Myrna Loy) is simply dead drunk again (probably the result of 25 years of drinking with William Powell in all those Thin Man movies). Her husband Samuel (Leon Ames) has to pick her up and take her to the hospital. Meanwhile, returning to this lovely family scene is their younger son Alfred (Paul Newman). Since a title card showed us it was 1946, you can guess that he's returning from World War II, ready to start life. Frankly, he wants to get away, and who can blame him? Mom drinks because Dad doesn't love her, or anybody, ever since Alfred's elder brother died. And Mom has been looking for love with some guy in Philadelphia.

So Alfred goes off to New York, becomes an aircraft engineer together with his friend Porter (George Grizzard) and goes into business out on Long Island. But Alfred dreams of more. One night, at a fancy party, he meets Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward), daughter of parents even wealthier than his, but engaged to a shrink, Dr. Roper (Patrick O'Neal). Still, Alfred is obsessed with Mary, so he keeps seeing her every chance he gets, including surprising her at her family home down in Delaware. Eventually, she breaks off the engagement with Roper and marries Alfred.

It's an OK marriage, but could be better considering that Alfred is constantly obsessed with work. And he's about to get even more obsessed. One day while he and Mary are out driving, he sees a kid fall through some thin ice into a small pond. Alfred risks his own life to save the kid, and it's fortuitous, because the kid's grandfather is James MacHardie (Felix Aylmer) head of an investment banking firm and even more fabulously wealthy than the St. Johns. The elder MacHardie quickly offers Alfred a job.

Of course, the job is going to take Alfred away from home even more, so Mary spends evenings on the town with her friends, a coterie that just happens to include Roper. Alfred isn't happy, but the idiot should have been spending more time with his wife. But Alfred has his own way of dealing with the loneliness; on one trip to investigate a coal mine in Pennsylvania, he meets the mine owner's daughter Natalie (Ina Balin), and the two of them fall in love.

It goes on like this for about 140 minutes. It's all faintly ridiculous, as you want to take most of the characters and smack some sense into them. The movie was based on a book, and you have to wonder how much of the book didn't make it onto the screen considering some of the characters (Alfred's mom especially; Dad dies) just get written out without being fully developed. The actors all try, but they're hampered by that leaden script. From the Terrace is also one of those rare movies where I noticed the score in a bad way. Elmer Bernstein was normally better than this, but I consistently noticed the music swelling to outrageous levels every time the viewer was expected to feel strong emotion.

Still, there are ample parts when you can just laugh at the ludicrousness of the characters. It's too bad Myrna Loy gets written out early because she looks like she realized the script is a mess and decided to go as far over the top as the rest of the script. Oh, and the ending is nutty too. I sat through 140 minutes to get this?

From the Terrace does seem to be available on DVD, as well as via Amazon streaming if you can do that. Watch once and judge for yourself.

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