Director John Frankenheimer and Director of Photography Lionel Lindon had spent years cutting their teeth in the world of television. For both of them All Fall Down was one of their first forays into filmmaking for the big screen. Shot with something to prove, All Fall Down shimmers with gorgeous black and white imagery, but suffers from a story too familiar and wrought with emotion to be strikingly original
Warren Betty stars as the eldest son of the Willart’s – a dysfunctional family from the Midwest. His father the drunk and his mother the emotional lunatic are not model parents for Beatty or his younger brother played Brandon De Wilde. The only thing worse than mom and dad is Beatty’s character, Berry-Berry Willart; whose name is the least of his problems. Berry-Berry’s aggression towards women coupled with his hatred for the world is tearing apart his family.
When the prodigal son returns to Cleveland, played here by an obvious studio set, the trouble comes to boil. Caught between the two brothers and wrapped up in the Willart’s insanity is Echo O’Brien (Eva Marie Saint). This sweet, but aging doll has a heart for the tamer, innocent Willart boy. However, her eyes seem wrapped up in Warren Beatty. The results are unpleasant.
All Fall Down is born of the same ilk as Rebel Without a Cause and Splendor in the Grass the other Beatty picture penned by William Inge. In each, frustrated youth try to find their way in the world and instead they only find heartache. All Fall Down feels typical in its negativity, what with its overbearing mother, its henpecked father, its beautiful bad boy. Dower themes and unhappy endings may serve as an antidote to cheery escapist entertainment rolling off Hollywood’s factory belt, but this does not exclude these darker films from cliches. Downbeat may be the opposite of upbeat, but both can go too far.
While All Fall Down presents John Frankenheimer as a confident and extremely competent direct, able to make the most of his material both emotionally and visually there are still moments where the acting flies over-the-top. Given the degree to which almost every shot feels highly composed and methodically planned out to ring the most dramatic photographic potential from the frame the film does rise to a certain level of excellence.