All Fall Down (1962) is yet another great movie the late director John Frankenheimer made in the first half of the 1960s (some of the others are The Train, Seven Days in May and the fantastic Manchurian Candidate).
Unlike some works from this period though, this is a family drama starring the likes of Warren Beatty, Karl Malden and Angela Lansbury–there’s no politics here, no train wrecks, and no assassinations; rather, we watch the slow unraveling and awakening of a family that worships its eldest son—a prodigal whom they believe to be some kind of saint. Beatty plays the son, a wanderer and womanizer worshiped by his younger brother Clint (Brandon de Wilde) who still lives with his parents (Malden and Lansbury) in Cleveland. As the film begins, de Wilde has tracked down Beatty in less than auspicious circumstances in Florida—and here we can see some of the frankness of the 1960s cropping up—but he refuses to face the facts. The story is complicated even more when Echo, played by Eva Marie Saint, arrives from Toledo for a visit to the family, and de Wilde falls hard for her, even though she, in her older, patronizing way, doesn’t take him very seriously.
What’s partly interesting about this film from a different era is how non-conformist Beatty’s family is in the era of Leave it to Beaver: Clint decides not to finish high school, and his parents barely raise an eyebrow; Malden invites a group of homeless men in for a nightcap on Christmas Eve, and the family seemingly has no jobs to support their old and rambling house, while Clint hides around corners and writes down all the arguments his parents have.
The denial and frustrated love must come to a head, of course, before the film is over, and it is up to each viewer to decide if the ending is a satisfying one or not. Whatever your opinion, you’ll have to admit that there is a certain catharsis by the end of this drama, and with actors of this stature, it’s certainly worth giving the film a try.