All Fall Down is a memorable movie that never quite turns into a really good one. Its roots are in the American theater of the 1950s--in particular, William Inge's heavy-breathing contemplations of heartland family life--and the overemphatic school of live-TV drama that peaked in Playhouse 90. Director John Frankenheimer made his bones on Playhouse 90 (where producer John Houseman also worked), and though the early scenes in Key West show him relishing sunlight and a larger canvas, he's in his native element working out inventive ways to create tension in the deep-focus interiors of a middle-class Cleveland home. This is the abode of one screwed-up clan: would-be radical dad (Karl Malden), monstrously domineering mom (Angela Lansbury), and a teenage son (Brandon de Wilde) preparing to become a novelist by copying down the parents' mutually lacerating dialogues as he eavesdrops via the kitchen dumbwaiter. What they all share is mindless adoration of mostly absentee elder son Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty), despite his persistent avoidance of them and his heartless willingness to exploit anybody for his personal advantage. Add an occasional houseguest named Echo (Eva Marie Saint), an angelically gorgeous yet self-styled old maid, and the gallery of grotesques is complete. Malden and Saint were Elia Kazan alumni; de Wilde (the child in Shane) was just getting his footing as a young-adult actor; Beatty, in his third film, was perfecting his image as Hollywood's most ambitious and irresistible bad boy; and Lansbury was re-launching her career after taking time off to raise a family (she and Frankenheimer would soon make history with The Manchurian Candidate). The characters are all pretty creepy, and only William Inge--enlisted, post-Splendor in the Grass, to adapt James Leo Herlihy's novel--could love them. Yet the film does cast a spell, and mark the beginning of new or renewed vitality in several important careers. --Richard T. Jameson
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