All Fall Down (1962)
Directed by John Frankenheimer this William Inge (Splendor in the Grass (1961)) screenplay about relationships in a dysfunctional family features a pretty good cast: Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront (1954)) Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)) Angela Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate (1962)) Brandon De Wilde (Shane (1953)) and Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde (1967)). While it may serve as a parable about how NOT to parent this film doesn’t give the viewer anyone to root for offering us no sympathetic characters save perhaps De Wilde’s though even “he” lets you down in the end.
Beatty plays Berry-Berry the overindulged useless son of milquetoast parents Malden and Lansbury. He’s become a drifter who trades on his good looks to get by in life. De Wilde is the more introspective younger son who tracks him down in Key West Florida and uses his savings intended to buy a shrimp boat for the two to bail him out of jail. He was accused of beating up a woman that was his girlfriend (Evans Evans) a stripper who still has a soft spot for him despite what Beatty’s character did to her. With only the shirt on his back Berry-Berry demonstrates his ability to get whatever he wants to his younger brother Clinton by seducing a rich older woman (Constance Ford) in Palm Beach. He then puts Clinton on a bus back home to Ohio where we see that his real estate broker father Ralph (Malden) drinks alone in their basement. His mother Annabell (Lansbury) and both boys refer to their parents by their first names worships her missing eldest son hoping he’ll return. She also thinks Clinton who’s dropped out of school is a bit strange and rightfully so – he eavesdrops on conversations which he then writes down in journals. He also doesn’t share with them anything about Berry-Berry’s lifestyle.
But the Willarts are in for a surprise and some changes when a family friend Echo O’Brien (Saint) comes to stay with the threesome in Ohio. Echo is a rather strange character herself a beautiful old maid who’s never been in love and keeps a fancy car that she services herself. Meanwhile Berry-Berry who’d been working at a gas station has picked up a schoolteacher (Barbara Baxley) and is on his way North with her on her two week vacation. Teenaged Clinton is very taken with Echo and even writes her a love letter when she leaves. She had made him promise to always be “her man” but has really just toyed with him while he propped up her fragile ego. At Christmastime Annabell dreams that Berry-Berry will return after years of being absent. Her liberal husband has no such delusions and brings home three tramps as a show of goodwill claiming they’d love to have a home-cooked meal and a warm bed to sleep in. Annabell wants no part of it and proves the bums only want liquor or money for it before she sends them on their way.
Late one night the Willarts get a phone call from Berry-Berry who’s in jail because he assaulted the schoolteacher. Ralph asks few questions just enough to find out where to wire him bail money. Eventually however Berry-Berry turns up at the family home. After a few awkward moments with his parents he leaves with Clinton taking him to the apple orchard in town that he’s apparently been hold up in for a little while – the business owner provides him what he needs as long as he gets Berry-Berry’s leftovers (women). Naturally Echo returns to Ohio to stay with the Willarts again and when she meets Berry-Berry apparently so handsome & chock full of animal attraction she falls in love with him. To Berry-Berry’s credit he asks Clinton because he saw her first if it’s alright to go with Echo. Of course Clinton is under his brother’s spell as well but he does see enough reciprocation of feeling in him to give a reluctant approval.
What happens next is fairly predictable. Although there was another possible (and much more satisfying to this critic) ending Frankenheimer wimped out unfortunately. It could have been the saving grace for this otherwise average film with no redeemable characters.