Elmer Bernstein’s score for From the Terrace was written in 1960 the year of The Magnificent Seven. Mark Robson’s film, the stuff of soap operas, was based on a rather lurid novel by John O’Hara. Starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, it charted the life and career of Alfred Eaton (Newman) who returns from World War II to find his mother unfaithful and alcoholic; and his father overbearing and unsympathetic. Eaton enters business determined to equal or surpass his father, and on the way acquires an unsympathetic wife (Woodward) whose attentions wonder when he concentrates on business. In the end he has to decide between his career and happiness with the warm and sincere Natalie (the lovely Ina Balin). For this sultry melodrama, Bernstein created a score that glanced back at the sweet romanticism of Steiner yet, in its advanced sophisticated style, anticipated his work over 30 years later on The Age of Innocence. For From the Terrace, Bernstein’s atmospheric and highly charged music became, in effect, another leading ‘actor.’
The memorable opening ‘Love Theme’ has the romantic sweep that one associated with Korngold and Steiner. It is sweet and full of yearning but it is swept away by the more acerbic, foreboding, often dissonant material for Alfred’s ‘Homecoming’ and the tragedy of his dysfunctional family, with only momentary relief for a few moments of warmer more comforting ‘mid-American Copland-like’material. There are some elements in this lengthy ‘Homecoming’ cue that remind one of Herrmann’s The Magnificent Ambersons. But it has some of Bernstein’s finest writing, like his use of strings in contrary motion to suggest family conflict. The tension-filled and poignant ‘Recriminations’ and ‘In the Morning’ also have some impressive stark and tremolando string effects with darkly dramatic bass figures.
Berstein’s music (‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’) for the flawed romance between Mary (Woodward) and Alfred is very revealing and foreboding – a strange twisted waltz, passionate and lustful rather than affectionate. Continuing with ‘In the Bushes’, for a moment of captured intimacy, the music is lustful rather than romantic. Its voluptuous passage for violin and piano, and later flute, anticipates their spiteful marriage.
Alfred saves a boy from drowning in icy waters ‘Thin Ice’. This is a very dramatic cue with menacing driving rhythms and material that chills and bites. A grateful father boosts Alfred’s career, and for ‘Wall Street’, Bernstein creates a brash fanfare and bustling music for Alfred the workaholic businessman that contrasts with more lethargic material for bored Mary at home.
Some 80 minutes into the film at last the emotional temperature rises when Alfred meets Natalie, the daughter of a business colleague. Bernstein’s music in ‘First Meeting’ and ‘Awakening’ speaks eloquently of love softly awakening with trepidation and fear of infidelity, with Bernstein’s discrete use of solo piano, then flute, then violin adding sweet poignancy. Bernstein uses an inspired piece of source music – Arensky’s glittering romantic Valse from his Suite for Two Pianos - coming from on-screen as the couple meet at a drive-in.
Much of the remainder of the album is concerned with the development of Bernstein’s love theme alternating with more brooding darker material for the scenes where Alfred has to wrestle with ties of marriage and career and the lovers’ resignation to having to remain apart. ‘Rejection’ is particularly striking, a poisonous slithery episode with sour figures for castanets and saxophone; Bernstein creates a sound world that is full of cold despair. ‘Rendezvous’ has Alfred meeting Natalie again with some beautiful bittersweet contrapuntal string writing signifying their love and the stresses that threaten it. At last Alfred has the courage to choose love over materialism and in ‘Peace at Last’ to a surging, life-affirming statement of the love theme he is reunited with Natalie this time for good.
As usual this Film Score Monthly comes with a splendid 16 page booklet with an article on the production of the film by Nick Redman and a track-by-track analysis by Jeff Bond and Lukas Kendall.
For Elmer Bernstein admirers this is a compulsory acquisition. This is a rich score, adventurous, darkly dramatic yet deeply romantic that grows on the listener with repeated hearings.
John Huether adds:-
The same year that Elmer Bernstein became the king of Westerns with his Magnificent Seven score, he continued to demonstrate his musical mastery of urban, social dramas. While his 1960 score to From the Terrace broke no new ground and may not be an example of classic Bernstein, it is at least vintage Bernstein -- and that's good enough to recommend this latest offering in Film Score Monthly's Golden Age series.
The film, from a John O'Hara best-seller, holds up surprisingly well on television today, thanks in large part to excellent performances by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, the latter as a manipulative socialite whose marriage to Newman deteriorates in bitterness, recrimination and infidelity. For her character, Bernstein wrote a descending waltz theme ('Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary') that is alluring even as it suggests her inner corruption.
In their typically extensive liner notes, FSM's Lukas Kendall and Jeff Bond point out that the score's love theme -- which opens the main title with a gorgeous, 9-note melody in soaring strings -- doesn't appear again until some 80 minutes into the film, when Natalie (Ina Balin) and Alfred (Newman) meet. These two themes form the backbone
of the score, in which Bernstein eschews altogether the trademark jazz elements that highlight so many of his other scores for this type of film, including Sweet Smell of Success, Walk on the Wild Side and The Carpetbaggers. And while sinewy jazz rhythms might have fit O'Hara's story quite well, Bernstein sees it as a romantic tale of the Newman character's striving for the love his life has always lacked. From this view, it's easy to see the main title's opening as a clear statement of where the composer intended to take the film.
Once it's reintroduced well into the second half of the film, the love theme becomes dominant, appearing in various forms in seven of the final 10 cues. 'Awakening' offers an especially tender variation as Alfred and Natalie tentatively explore their budding relationship. 'The Real Thing' is a stronger statement, though still not rapturous as both
sense the inherent limits due to Alfred's marriage. 'Les Adieux' envelops the theme in sadness, most pointedly enunciated by piano. From the Terrace is among Bernstein's most romantic scores, yet much of its effectiveness lies in its restraint. Although Kendall and Bond occasionally refer to passages of "Americana," these are, sadly, very short portions of just 2 cues -- 'Homecoming' and 'Wall Street.' Only one other cue can be described as an action scene, which makes for scant variety overall in the course of the recording's 71 minutes. A bit less might actually have been more.
As usual, the production efforts by FSM are first-rate, taking full advantage of Twentieth Century-Fox's six-track (three close-up, three long-shot) recording procedures to provide the complete score. Along with Turner/Rhino and the Stromberg-Morgan albums of Marco Polo, FSM's liner notes remain the best in the industry.