All Fall Down

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kingrat
Posts: 2207
Joined: August 20th, 2009, 2:46 pm

All Fall Down

Post by kingrat »

I expected ALL FALL DOWN to be reasonably good, with a talented cast directed by John Frankenheimer, but it was far more than that. For the film to succeed, two roles had to be perfectly cast. Everyone in the story is overwhelmed by the beauty and charisma of the older son. Because he's played by the young Warren Beatty, this completely makes sense. The younger son, the most important character, has to be believably innocent and sensitive, yet interesting as our main viewpoint character. Brandon de Wilde incarnates American innocence just as he did at a younger age in SHANE. He also has the acting chops: check out his changing reactions when he watches Beatty pick up the woman whose husband owns a yacht. No dialogue for de Wilde, but it's his scene.

Add Karl Malden and Angela Lansbury as the parents, and a flawless Eva Marie Saint as the slightly older woman who comes to grief when she falls for Beatty. Evans Evans, Constance Ford, and Barbara Baxley sparkle in small roles as women who have the (mis)fortune to get involved with Beatty. William Inge, adapting James Leo Herlihy's novel, writes real movie dialogue, not stage dialogue. I'd guess that Frankenheimer was also closely involved with the script, but Inge had written the original screenplay for Kazan's SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, so he'd learned how to write for film as well as for stage.

Especially in the 1950s and early 60s, mothers were routinely blamed for everything wrong with their sons. Angela Lansbury seems a bit over the top in her first scene, but the script allows her a certain dignity and a certain insight into her own motivations, and Lansbury adds nuance and credibility to a role that could easily be a cliche. Malden has one of his best roles as the good-natured but ineffectual left-wing dad. Considering the role she would play in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, it's fun to hear Lansbury wail that everyone thinks they're Communists.

So far I haven't talked about Frankenheimer's direction, and that's what's best of all. Consider how he stages the scene I've already mentioned where de Wilde watches Beatty trying to pick up Constance Ford, or details like the Christmas creche on the mantel alongside a large photo of Warren Beatty, the real Holy Child in this household. Look how Frankenheimer stages the scene where the glass in the photo is finally smashed. Again and again Frankenheimer frames individuals or groups within vertical and horizontal posts inside the house. From outside the house, we first see Lansbury framed in the living room and then Malden framed in the window of his basement retreat. It's a shock later on when from the same set-up we now see Beatty and Saint trapped in the same small rectangle, now in a domestic predicament of their own. In a stunning shot from de Wilde's view at the breakfast table we see but don't hear Beatty and Saint on the stairs, the two of them framed from (I think) the upper part of the transom of the kitchen door. That scene could be from Joseph Losey.

By the way, if you overdose on holiday good will this December and need a blast of cynicism, check out the scene in ALL FALL DOWN where Karl Malden brings three homeless men to share Christmas Eve!

Before watching the tape of ALL FALL DOWN, I saw the great garden club scene in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, one of my favorite sequences from any film, and was impressed as never before by the camera set-ups, the back-and-forth dialogue between the two meetings, and the immaculate editing. With great films like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE TRAIN, and ALL FALL DOWN, and lesser but interesting efforts like SECONDS, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, and THE GYPSY MOTHS, Frankenheimer looks like one of the best American directors at work in the 1960s
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HoldenIsHere
Posts: 39
Joined: October 22nd, 2022, 7:07 pm

Re: All Fall Down

Post by HoldenIsHere »

The most fascinating part of ALL FALL DOWN to me is the sequence where the mother played by Angela Lansbury kisses her oldest son played by Warren Beatty on the lips. The audience never sees the two characters' lips touch, but we know that the kiss happens and we know that it's meant to be shocking.

We see the moments before the kiss.

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But when the kiss is happening, there is a cut to reaction shots of first the father (Karl Malden) and then the younger son (Brandon deWilde).

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We cut back to Lansbury and Beatty, after the kiss has ended and their lips have parted.

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And then to a medium shot of the entire family that reveals the awkwardness of the moment.

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Did John Frankenheimer chose to have the kiss happen off-screen, or was this something forced on him? Either way, it's a magical movie moment.
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HoldenIsHere
Posts: 39
Joined: October 22nd, 2022, 7:07 pm

Re: All Fall Down

Post by HoldenIsHere »

ALL FALL DOWN aired on TCM today as part of the memorial tribute to Angela Lansbury.

It's available on WatchTCM until November 28.
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