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All Fall Down
Warner Archive Collection

All Fall Down
Warner Archive Collection
1962 / B&W / 1:85 enhanced widescreen / 111 min. / Street Date March 23, 2009 / available through the Warner Archive Collection / 19.95
Starring Eva Marie Saint, Warren Beatty, Karl Malden, Angela Lansbury, Brandon De Wilde, Constance Ford, Barbara Baxley, Evans Evans, Madame Spivy.
Lionel Lindon
Film Editor Fredric Steinkamp
Original Music Alex North
Written by William Inge from the novel by James Leo Herlihy
Produced by John Houseman
Directed by John Frankenheimer

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

In the movie of William Inge's play Picnic, William Holden boasts about being picked up by two "babes from Hollywood" who beckon him to their convertible with the call, "Hey, beefcake!" Holden's character seems to be reminiscing about better days in his career in Hunkdom. In John Frankenheimer's 1962 film All Fall Down (screenplay by Inge) the hunk is newly minted screen dreamboat Warren Beatty. Although the author is James Leo Herlihy of Midnight Cowboy fame, one of the film's first scenes qualifies as prime Inge material. Two babes in a convertible hail Beatty's Berry-Berry Willart with the cry, "Hey stud, get in!"

In the ten years since Marlon Brando began strutting his stuff the movies had advanced any number of substitutes. By 1962 Brando was already moving on to a disastrous middle career, but legit successors (Paul Newman) and pretenders (scores of others) had attempted to take his place. All Fall Down is an extremely well made entry in the Wild Stud at Large subgenre. Despite a powerhouse cast and many sensitive scenes, it still floats or sinks on the sex appeal of Warren Beatty.

Sixteen year-old Clinton Willart (Brandon De Wilde) goes to the Florida Keys to convey loan money to his older brother Berry-Berry (Beatty), supposedly to buy a shrimp boat. The cash instead goes to bail Berry-Berry out of the clink. Clinton is impressed by his brother's amazing success rate with women. Battered bar girl Hedy (Evans Evans) wants him back and a rich yacht owner's wife (Constance Ford) hires him to perform boy toy duty on her next cruise. Clinton returns to Ohio and his family, but doesn't go back to school, preferring to keep a diary log of his feelings and his parents' arguments. Ralph Willart (Karl Malden) lives off his earnings as a real estate salesman, and has quietly retreated to his basement and booze to avoid dealing with his impossible wife Annabell (Angela Lansbury).

The suffocating, terminally needy Annabell orders people around, betrays all confidences and plagues her family with guilt trips. She also harbors a near-incestuous love for the irresponsible, always absent Berry-Berry, insisting that he'll be home for Christmas. As it so happens her boy does come home for the holiday, although it's initially because he again needs to make bail. Clinton entreats him to hang around, so Berry-Berry shacks up with an orchard-owner and whatever women can be found. That's when Echo O'Brien (Eva Marie Saint), the daughter of one of Annabell's friends, shows up. Echo is a breath of fresh air and sanity, a self-motivated beauty doing well in business. But she carries her own emotional weaknesses. When Echo and Berry-Berry get together, we know someone's going to get hurt.

All Fall Down is Angela Lansbury's second "Momism" triumph of 1962, the other being her immediate follow-up for director Frankenheimer, The Manchurian Candidate. Although playing an older woman Lansbury was only 37 years old. Her "son" Warren Beatty is actually just twelve years younger than she, and the "younger" Eva Marie Saint is actually a year older! Lansbury's Annabel is a scathing portrait of a certain kind of destructive mother who drives her sons away, while inculcating in them a basic lack of respect for women. The name Berry-Berry was probably purposely meant to sound like a disease. Philip Wylie, who coined the term "Momism", claimed that "millions of moms hold millions of grown American men and women in diseased serfdom".

We certainly see the misogyny here. On his way to maturity Berry-Berry allows himself to be kept by a variety of attractive females. Hooker Hedy (Evans Evans, Frankenheimer's spouse and an actress well known from Bonnie & Clyde) has a nasty scar on her forehead, but still wants Berry-Berry back. Constance Ford literally goes shopping for a sex partner, and Berry-Berry signs on as if following the path of least resistance. A lonely schoolteacher (Barbara Baxley of Countdown) is shocked when Berry-Berry drives halfway across the country with her on the spur of the moment. She then accuses him of degrading her in a Christmas break spent bar-crawling. Berry-Berry tells the worshipful Clinton that he just goes with the flow, and that he's in it for kicks. He also admits, quizzically, that he hates life.

That's what makes us cringe when Berry-Berry hits it off with the lovely Echo. Appropriately enough, the mythological Echo fell in love with a Greek cad named Narcissus. Berry-Berry is sufficiently impressed to clean up his act, but he's never felt so deeply about a woman before. Mistrustful of his own emotions, he shuns Echo when the relationship turns serious. Unfortunately, Echo's apparent stability -- represented perhaps by her gloriously restored antique car -- is an illusion. A 30 year-old virgin, she's never completely recovered from a sexless relationship that ended in death. Berry-Berry's knee-jerk rejection is too much for her.

All Fall Down certainly has remarkable scenes for each character. Brandon de Wilde plays a more mature boy than he does in the next year's Hud, and is capable of seeing past his older brother's glamorous side. Karl Malden has a priceless scene in which he brings three vagrant winos home for Christmas dinner, foolishly thinking that he's going to inspire Annabell with a sense of true generosity. Seemingly an irredeemable harpy, Angela Lansbury's Annabell provides thoughtful and gracious support to Echo, proving that all the woman needs is to be needed by somebody. Eva Marie Saint fashions an unusual character in Echo, a self-reliant angel who energizes all around her. Her affection for Clinton is honest and sincere: "You're my best guy".

Warren Beatty is actually the film's heavy. Berry-Berry exudes some kind of irresistible lure for females, attracting them like honey even when he's a greasy mess. All he has to do is lock pupils with Echo, and she's his. Beatty more than fulfills the physical and chemical requirements for the part, but plenty of viewers would argue that there's not much behind his looks, and a pair of eyes that suggest emotional depth. The sex equation in the final act of All Fall Down comes off as a little too schematic to be wholly satisfying: he hurts her feelings, she acts before he can return to make amends.

John Frankenheimer applies his abundant technical skills to the film's various moods and locales. The director goes in for slow, careful dissolves. His south Florida is all causeways and stinking jail cells, while the Willarts' Ohio town is a pleasant burg with stately neighborhoods. Berry-Berry's love nest is a shack in a rundown apple orchard, with fruit lying unpicked on the ground or allowed to be eaten by worms. All this fits the character of Berry-Berry, a rotten Johnny Appleseed who provides his landlord/ orchard keeper with "leftover broads" in exchange for room and booze. Frankenheimer's dysfunctional Willart family isn't as hysterical as the one in, say, Rebel without a Cause, a much more pretentious critique of American decay. Getting the best possible performances from his excellent actors, the director was at the beginning of a six or seven-film run of notable pictures.

The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of All Fall Down is a fine enhanced transfer that looks as good as any pressed DVD. Lionel Lindon's B&W cinematography captures the harsh Florida light and lyrical crane shots through the Ohio apple trees.

The trailer provided is a real hoot. Hyping Warren Beatty as the nation's new sex sensation, it contrives to make All Fall Down look like a wild bedroom comedy. The only dialogue lines used are ones that refer to Berry-Berry's seduction skills. Top-billed Eva Marie Saint comes off almost as another bimbo conquest. As trailers go, this is almost as radical as those spoofs that were popular on the web a couple years ago, the ones lampooning Hollywood's ability to spin any movie for any audience. All Fall Down is a much more serious experience.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, All Fall Down rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 13, 2010

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2010 Glenn Erickson

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