Movie Diary 7/11/2021

From the Terrace (Mark Robson, 1960). From the category of Literary Adaptations Offering Fifties Audiences Hotcha Material, specifically an adaptation of John O’Hara’s novel. (One of the film’s big assertions is that women have sexual appetites.) The results are turgid (I mean storytelling-wise), slowed down by CinemaScope even if Robson and DP Leo Tover create some expressive compositions, mostly by allowing screen space to separate the alienated characters. Paul Newman returns to his fancy but loveless family mansion after the war, intending to start an aviation business with pal George Grizzard (his film debut, a flippy turn). A vintage angry young man, Newman’s parents are crusty Leon Ames and boozy Myrna Loy. He meets Philadelphia society girl Joanne Woodward, designed to within an inch of her life; her color palette is so specific it’s practically Hitchcockian, and she spends her first scenes draped in frosty platinum – even her hair is silver-white. We all learn that material success is perhaps not the answer to Newman’s unhappiness, especially after he meets a soulful Pennsylvania coal-country gal, played by Ina Balin, who has some of the dazed aura of the young Lorraine Bracco (same voice, too). The film bulges with episodes that suggest the longer shadow of a novel, like chauffeur Malcolm Atterbury’s defiance of his cranky boss, or party girl Barbara Eden’s horny aggression (“She’s very inventive,” says Grizzard). Give Robson credit for thinking with the camera: There’s a deft moment of visual storytelling when Woodward is on the phone with faraway Newman, listing the friends at the ritzy party unfolding behind her, and after she hangs up, the camera just drifts a little to reveal ex-beau Patrick O’Neal standing there, his presence unmentioned in her account. Robson also uncorks a rare thunderclap close-up of Newman’s eyes the moment he spots Woodward for the first time – man, that must’ve looked wild on a big screen. Newman’s homecoming plays as an intriguing variation on a famous scene from The Best Years of Our Lives – also featuring Loy – the reunion after the wartime separation. Best Years has that beautiful set-up looking down the hallway, emphasizing the distance between husband and wife as they rush to each other. From the Terrace has Loy again, but this time as a drunken mother welcoming her son; the scene is at night, and the camera is on her, moving as she moves and then wobbling as she crashes to the sidewalk. No elegant limning of absence and longing here, just unseemly awkwardness. These interesting directing moments (and a handsome Elmer Bernstein score) can’t rescue the movie from its general tedium – nor the inescapable conclusion that Newman’s performance is an absolute bore.