|Warren Beatty in All Fall Down, 1962. Author Ellis Amburn used this photo for the cover of biography of Beatty, The Sexiest Man Alive.|
Warren Beatty’s third film, All Fall Down, from 1962, is not that great. The movie boasts an impressive pedigree, as it was produced by John Houseman, directed by John Frankenheimer, and also stars Eva Marie Saint, Angela Lansbury, Karl Malden, and Brandon De Wilde. The script was by playwright William Inge, famous for plays like Picnic, and Bus Stop. Inge adapted All Fall Down from the novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy, who would go on to write the novel Midnight Cowboy. Inge was an important benefactor in the early career of Warren Beatty, as he had also written Beatty's first movie, Splendor in the Grass, and Beatty's first and only Broadway play, A Loss of Roses. All Fall Down is an offbeat story about a dysfunctional family. If the movie were made today, it would be a quirky indie movie, and it would probably be played for more laughs.
Beatty plays a callous ladies’ man with the improbable name of Berry-Berry Willart. No, really. And by the end of the movie you will be very sick of hearing other characters say the name “Berry-Berry.” His name is mentioned about every third line. Lansbury plays another one of her overbearing mother roles, just as she would play Laurence Harvey’s overbearing mother in Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, released later in 1962. Like her character in The Manchurian Candidate, Lansbury’s mother in All Fall Down seems to have an unhealthy obsession with her son Berry-Berry. There’s even a moment in All Fall Down where it looks like she is about to kiss her son on the lips, but she just gets very close to Berry-Berry and then runs away. This prefigures a famous moment in The Manchurian Candidate when Lansbury’s character kisses her son on the lips. This one moment tells us all we need to know about their relationship. Another similarity between the two films is that Lansbury is playing characters much older than herself, as she was not old enough to be the mother of the men who were playing her onscreen sons. In real life, Lansbury was just three years older than Laurence Harvey, eleven years older than Beatty, and nine years older than Elvis Presley-whose mother she played in Blue Hawaii, from 1961. (There are no Freudian overtones in Blue Hawaii, however.)
The story of All Fall Down is told from the point of view of Berry-Berry’s 16-year-old little brother, Clinton, played very well by Brandon De Wilde, whose most famous role was the little boy in Shane. De Wilde played a very similar part the following year in Hud, where he plays little brother to Paul Newman’s amoral Hud. Both Berry-Berry and Hud are completely selfish people, leaving a trail of emotional wreckage behind them.
Beatty as Berry-Berry is very much in James Dean mode, as he was in his first movie, Splendor in the Grass, which is a much better film than All Fall Down. Beatty broods, and though Berry-Berry attracts women like flies, he quickly discards them in very hurtful ways, often using physical violence. It’s rather ridiculous how easily women are attracted to Beatty in the movie. All it takes is one look at Beatty for them to suddenly offer to bring him along on a vacation with them. Of course, Beatty was a stunning physical specimen in 1962, with his full head of dark hair, piercing blue eyes, and full lips. But it gets tiring to see women fall all over themselves for him. One woman even says to him, “If I were a young man as handsome as you are, I would go to Hollywood and try to get into movies.” Berry-Berry is very similar to the role that Beatty had just finished playing, the gigolo Paulo in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. There’s nothing redeeming about Berry-Berry’s character, even though his parents hold him up as the ideal son.
Things start happening in All Fall Down when the daughter of a family friend, Echo, played by Eva Marie Saint, comes to town to stay with them. The first time she stays with them, Clinton falls deeply in love with her, even though she’s a much “older woman” of 31, who has never been married. When Berry-Berry meets Echo the second time she stays with the family, he literally doesn’t have to say a word to her, he just takes her hand in the backyard and they go off somewhere to make out. And Clinton is heartbroken at this turn of events. Karl Malden plays the ineffectual alcoholic father, and does the most he can with the part. But he is incapable of offering advice or wisdom to his two sons. (Malden and Marie Saint famously worked together before in On the Waterfront.) Berry-Berry and Echo start dating, his mother claims she is happy for them, Berry-Berry gets Echo pregnant, they have an argument, he leaves, and she drives off grief-stricken and dies in a car crash. We don’t really know if the car crash is an act of suicide or not, but my guess is that it probably was. Side note: given their ridiculous names, what on earth would Berry-Berry and Echo have named their baby? One shudders to think. Clinton then almost shoots Berry-Berry, but decides not to, leaving Berry-Berry to deal with the fact that he’s a jerk who ruins every significant relationship in his life. The end. Not an especially uplifting movie.
So that’s the movie, an overheated pseudo-Freudian mishmash, with some teen angst thrown in for good measure. One of the oddest moments in the movie is the scene where Echo tells Lansbury’s character how her former boyfriend killed himself-carbon monoxide poisoning, which is the same way that screenwriter William Inge would kill himself eleven years later. Ugh.
Behind the scenes, Warren Beatty rubbed everybody the wrong way from day one of rehearsal, and no one except for Karl Malden really liked him. Beatty’s penchant for Method-y brooding annoyed the other actors and won him no friends. To be fair to Beatty, at the time he was making All Fall Down in the summer of 1961 he was getting a lot of media attention as the “Next Big Thing,” but none of his movies had been released yet. Splendor in the Grass, Beatty’s very first movie, wasn’t released until October, 1961. Beatty may have been feeling a lot of pressure to live up to his publicity hype. And his fellow actors had not had a chance to see him act on screen, so they had no idea who this guy was. Beatty might also have been intimidated by the success of his fellow actors, who had all been in the business for a long time. At the time Beatty was making All Fall Down, he was a man who was famous, but not because of anything he had actually accomplished. He was famous because he was Shirley MacLaine’s kid brother, and because he was having very public romances with Joan Collins and Natalie Wood. (Beatty was accused of breaking up Wood’s first marriage to Robert Wagner.) Beatty was famous because of his personal life, not because of any talent he showed as an actor. This must have annoyed Beatty considerably, since he is ironically a very private man who doesn’t like discussing his personal life. This mistake early in his career of letting his private life become so public perhaps set the tone for the rest of his career. Also, Beatty had a tendency to date women at the absolute peak of their fame. Had he wanted less publicity about his private life, he should have started dating women who were not in show business.
After an amazing start in movies in Splendor in the Grass, Beatty appeared in two duds in quick succession, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, which was released in December, 1961, and All Fall Down, which was released in April, 1962. Beatty then took a long break from movies; turning down everything he was offered, including the part of a young John F. Kennedy in PT 109. (Cliff Robertson ending up playing Kennedy.) Given all that we now know about Kennedy’s sexual life, Beatty probably would have been an ideal choice. After All Fall Down, Beatty didn’t appear onscreen again until Lilith, released two and a half years later. Beatty didn’t make another hit movie until 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, which finally confirmed his talent as an actor and producer.