Sixteen-year-old Clint Willart (Brandon De Wilde) wants to be just like his older brother Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty). Berry got out of his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio and now spends his days roaming from city to city and picking up lots of women along the way. When Clint arrives in Florida to give Berry some money he needs, he quickly realizes the locals don’t hold Berry in the same high regard. In fact, Berry has a reputation for beating up women and is in jail for assaulting a prostitute. Clint bails him out and is disappointed to be sent back home almost immediately rather than getting to spend much time with Berry.
Clint comes back to Cleveland feeling completely disillusioned. His parents, Annabell (Angela Lansbury) and Ralph (Karl Malden), are dying to find out what Berry has been up to, but Clint doesn’t even want to talk about it. We soon find out Clint is the only well-adjusted person in his family; Annabell is overbearing and Ralph is a drunk. But Clint’s life gets a little bit brighter when Annabell invites her friend’s daughter Echo O’Brien (Eva Marie Saint) to stay with them. Echo is thirty-one and has never been married, but Clint is infatuated with her.
When Christmas rolls around, Berry decides to pay a visit to Cleveland. His parents are thrilled to have him back, but it turns out Echo is the happiest to see him. When she meets the infamous Berry, they hit it off right away and begin a relationship. She loves him and he wants to love her back. Berry even manages to stay out of trouble for a while because of her. But when he finds out she’s pregnant, it brings his violent tendencies back to the surface. He leaves her and she commits suicide. Clint wants to kill Berry for what he’s done to Echo, but when he sees Berry in a moment of weakness, he realizes Berry ought to be pitied more than anything. He’ll never be like Berry, but he realizes he’s dodged a bullet.
All Fall Down is so very close to being a great movie. The cast is amazing and there are some excellent performances to be seen here. It features some beautiful cinematography by Lionel Lindon. This was one of the first films directed by John Frankenheimer and he proves to be a very capable director.
The only thing stopping it from being a great film is its occasionally flimsy writing. Right from the beginning of the movie, we see how Clint adores Berry, but I don’t know exactly what Clint sees in him. I completely understand how a teenager would romanticize the kind of freedom Berry has, but I’m not sure how he would have been so completely oblivious to this sinister side of his own brother. In the beginning, Clint says that Berry isn’t a bad guy, so I’m curious as to what made him likeable in the first place because the Berry we see in the movie isn’t likeable at all.
Despite my issues with the writing, I still enjoyed All Fall Down. The quality of the performances definitely helped carry the movie through its weaker moments. It’s just too bad to see a movie be great on so many levels but not quite reach its full potential.