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From the Terrace

From the Terrace(1960)

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teaser From the Terrace (1960)

Author John O'Hara was a rich source of material for American movies for a brief period of time in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mostly neglected today, O'Hara's novels from the middle of the Great Depression are considered by many to be among the best mirrors of their time and unflinchingly honest in their portrayals of the darker areas of American life. "To me, O'Hara is the real Fitzgerald," Fran Lebowitz wrote in The Paris Review in 1993.

From his phenomenal first success with the novels Appointment in Samarra (1934) and BUtterfield 8 (1935) through just past the midpoint of the 20th century (although he continued to write for several years after), O'Hara was one of the best-selling authors in America. His writing was not always held in high esteem by critics (and apparently his difficult personality made him anathema to many who knew him personally), but readers ate his books up. He remains the most frequently published writer in the history of the New Yorker, with more than 200 stories appearing in that magazine's pages over the years. As Lorin Stein noted in the same publication in 2013, O'Hara may not have been the best writer of his time, but he was the most addictive.

Hollywood was likely most attracted to his sharply observed details; his honest look at class, sex, and alcoholism; and his facility with plain, tough dialogue. In addition to a small handful of relatively minor screenplays he wrote in the 1940s, popular films were adapted from his novels Ten North Frederick (1958) and Pal Joey (1957), which had also been a stage play in the early 1940s before being rendered toothless for the film version starring Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth.

Such was O'Hara's popularity and reputation for being a keen-eyed social historian that Twentieth Century-Fox studio, according to an October 1958 news item, bought the rights to his 1958 novel From the Terrace even before it was published. Another item in the Hollywood Reporter noted that Fox outbid four other studios for the film rights. The sprawling story covers far more than the movie could and some significant changes were made on the way to the screen that slackened the book's power, but as critic Howard Thompson noted in his New York Times review, screenwriter Ernest Lehman wisely tapped into the author's "matchless dialogue."

The film concerns itself with only about 15 years in the life of its main character, Alfred Eaton, focusing on his return from World War II (it was the first World War in the book), his loveless marriage to a selfish social climber, his rise on Wall Street, and the risk he faces in falling in love with a sympathetic girl from his home town.

This was the third movie real-life spouses Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward made together. A November 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Richard Egan was initially signed to co-star in the picture. Once Newman was cast, one might have expected Woodward to play the small-town girl who is the true love of his life, but she shines in the role of the scheming glamor-puss wife, displaying what one reviewer called "skillful, silken sensuality." Shortly before the picture's release, Woodward won the Best Actress Academy Award for her virtuoso role as a victim of multiple personality disorder in The Three Faces of Eve (1957), but it was supporting player Ina Balin, as the story's "good girl," who got the Academy's attention here, nominated for Best Supporting Actress in only her second theatrical feature film.

The picture was produced and directed by Mark Robson, who knew a thing or two about directing sprawling stories of sex, class, and scandal, having recently turned out Peyton Place (1957) and later directing Valley of the Dolls (1967), both from highly addictive best sellers themselves.

The picture was shot at Fox Movietone Studios in New York City, in Central Park and on Wall Street, various Long Island locations, the train station in Jersey City, the Pennsylvania town of Phoenixville, and various places in Los Angeles.

Not to be outdone by Fox, MGM nabbed the rights to an earlier O'Hara novel for their film of Butterfield 8 (1960), released just a few months after From the Terrace and earning Elizabeth Taylor her first Academy Award for her final picture under contract to the studio (and a role she hated).

Director: Mark Robson
Producer: Mark Robson
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman, based on the novel by John O'Hara
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Editing: Dorothy Spencer
Art Direction: Maurice Ransford, Howard Richmond, Lyle R. Wheeler
Original Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Paul Newman (David Alfred Eaton), Joanne Woodward (Mary St. John), Myrna Loy (Martha Eaton), Leon Ames (Samuel Eaton), Ina Balin (Natalie Benzinger)

By Rob Nixon

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