Friday, July 7, 2017

All Fall Down (1962) Tis The Season To Be Dysfunctional

The streetcar named Film Noir went off the Crime Genre rails early, basically right at the onset of it's second coming. The Lost Weekend for example, reviewed here a few weeks ago delved into addiction and human frailties, not crime, Noir in its original 1930's use meant any films with subject matter considered immoral and demoralizing.

Director John Frankenheimer's (The Young Savages (1961), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seconds (1966)) second feature All Fall Down is about the seriously dysfunctional Willart family of Cleveland, Ohio and their satellite of influence the 30 year old virgin Echo O'Brien.

"Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern… like bad wallpaper." Friedrich Nietzsche

The film was based on the novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy whose mentor was Tennessee Williams, and who would gain fame later from his novel Midnight Cowboy. The screenplay by William Inge (Picnic (1955), Bus Stop (1956), Splendor in the Grass (1961)) deviates quite a bit from the beginning scenarios of the novel.

The Overseas Highway, A1A , Florida Keys
Regardless though, it's no surprise how intriguingly well gay writers can write about dysfunction. Inge infuses the screenplay with a nagging, overbearing, suffocating, psychopathic mother Annabell Willart (Angela Lansbury) whose devotion, bordering on worship of her seriously fucked up, hyper chick magnet son, Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty), hints at incest. Berry-Berry has serious mother issues.

 Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty)
Annabell reigns over the first floor of the house and spends her evenings enthusiastically listening to Guess That Song (Name That Tune) on the radio. All this drives Ralph Willart (Karl Malden) Annabelle's long suffering husband, a closet socialist, real estate broker, to spend his evenings in the shelter of his cosy basement domane in an easy chair with the company of a good bottle of booze and a jigsaw puzzle.

Annabell Willart (Angela Lansbury)

Ralph Willart (Karl Malden) 
Clinton Willart (Brandon De Wilde), Berry-Berry's younger brother is sort of the audio equivalent of a peeping tom, i.e., an "eavesdropping eddie." He is compulsively listening in on his parents arguments, his mother's phone calls, and on other people's conversations. These he meticulously all writes down in his ever present notebook. Clinton also idolizes his older brother.  When Bernice's daughter come to visit, Clinton is in love at the first sight of Echo."You don't actually see her quiver you just feel it. She's all alive and quivering."

Clinton Willart (Brandon De Wilde)
Enter the fifth wheel in this tableau, Echo O'Brien (Eva Marie Saint), the gorgeous, practically old maid daughter of Annabelle's best friend Bernice. In Herlihy's novel Bernice is an obese wheelchair bound clairvoyant who is also interested in phrenology, which, combined with a long taxing relationship she had with an alcoholic (who finally shuts his own lights out by sucking a carbon monoxide cocktail in a garage), offers some explanation of Echo's lack of beaus. There is also a sequence later in the film where she is very upset and we see her open up a bottle and take a spoonful on the contents, is she a closet opioid addict? It's never explained in the film. We'd have to go to the source.

Echo O'Brien (Eva Marie Saint)
So what we, the viewers/interpreters, of all these films based on these dark "noir" works of Herlihy, Williams, and Inge, are dealing with are at least three layers of obfuscation. The first is what the writer put in the original works, the stories or plays, these men are writing straight male and female characters through gay tinted glasses, or gay characters written as straight characters to pass stringent societal norms, so some of their protagonists and antagonists are in a way, seemingly to me anyway, either overly burlesqued, seriously twisted, or just a tad off base. The second are the changes made, by screenwriters or the authors themselves, in their original works, i.e., expositional scenarios jettisoned, plot points cut or streamlined etc., etc., so the film scripts would be green lighted by the studios. The third layer would be the additional changes made during filming, or changes demanded so that the films would get the approval of the Motion Picture Production Code.

I'm not really familiar enough with any of the authors mentioned above to comment too much on the first layer, or movie savvy enough on the third, but Bosley Crowther's original NY Times review alludes to the second in his review of All Fall Down.

"there is one fatal flaw in the arrangement of elements in this film that makes it implausible, unnatural and extremely hard to take. It is the essential arrangement that everyone in the story is madly in love with a disgusting young man who is virtually a cretin." 

The scenes that make me think of Crowther's review are the first meets between Berry-Berry and Mrs. Mandel (Constance Ford) the wealthy yacht owner and the one with the schoolteacher played by (Barbara Baxley) they seem to play out like gay pickups where almost, just over long, knowing glances alone and minimal conversation, Berry-Berry picks up both women. It just seems a tad off, and very decadent, or just maybe I've never met that desperate a woman.

Examples of the second  in this film are the missing dream sequences in the novel that reveal the psychology of Clinton. There are also major changes made in the whole Bonita Key sequence. In the the scenario of the novel, Berry-Berry wires Ralph asking for $200 to buy into a shrimping business and Clinton decides to travel by bus to join his brother. When Clinton gets to Key Bonita he finds Berry-Berry has checked out and left town. Instead of leaving town Clinton goes to the Festival Night Club where he meets a whore named Shirley.  Shirley in the novel is an important figure in Clinton's life as it is with her that he loses his virginity and becomes a man. In the film version of Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Brick's actual relationship to Scooter is greatly obscured and his problems explained away as alcoholism, that makes Maggie The Cat's dedicated devotion to him all the more perplexing. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche causes her young husband to commit suicide. after discovering him with an older man, this in turn turns her into an alcoholic roundheels who screws everyone in town. Williams' Suddenly Last SummerThe Fugitive Kind and Inge's Picnic have equally salacious undertones. All these shifts in perspective and obscuring of genders renders these films into dark, sometimes creepy, and as sleazy as your imagination will take them, Noirs.

Clinton writing in his notebook
 Anyway in the film version the entire tale is told from Clinton's point of view. Clinton is sent down by bus to  Key Bonita (Key West) Florida, with the $200 dollars Berry-Berry asked for, to start a shrimping business. When Clinton arrives at the dilapidated Tin Pot Arms looking for Berry-Berry, the desk clerk tells him he's not there, he's in jail, but also points him to a dive called the Festival Bar at the end of the pier. Tells him to ask for Hedy and that maybe she'll tell him why he's where he is.

Bonita Key (Key West) Sequence

The Tin Pot Arms

The Festival Bar Sequence

Clinton enters the Festival Bar

The Hookers

Hedy (Evans Evans) center

At the Festival Bar there is a stripper doing her bumps and grinds to audience of prostitutes, sailors, and a very bored house band. A blond hooker casts off from the bar, launches herself towards Clinton and ties up to him at his table trying to score a trick. The scarily dyke-ish bar owner/bartender (Madame Spivy) buts in to throw the underage Clinton out of the bar.

A nice composition, Clinton looking at stripper, Hedy looking at Clinton, bartender looking at Clinton

"Hi sweetie.... You want company?... "

"Have you lost your feeble mind? He's still got his baby teeth!" 

Hedy [walking over to Clinton from the bar and sitting down]: Hi sweetie.... You want company?... [Hedy coughs] I want a drink....  Well, I'm having a champagne cocktail, what about you hon?
Clinton: I'll have the same.
Bar Owner: Have you lost your feeble mind? He's still got his baby teeth!
Hedy: [Nonchalantly] Well, it ain't MY job to check birth certificates!
Clinton: Look, I'm no lush. I just came in here looking for Hedy.
Hedy: What do you want with her?
Clinton: Well the man at the Tin Pot Arms told me that she could tell me what happened to my brother, Berry-Berry Willart
Bar Owner:  If Berry-Berry was my brother I wouldn't go around bragging about it.
"If Berry-Berry was my brother I wouldn't go around bragging about it."Bar Owner (Madame Spivy)
Clinton: Look, why is... why is everyone so down on Berry-Berry, he's really a great guy?
Hedy: He's a Raaat.
Clinton: He's not a rat, look if you just knew him.
Hedy: I'm Hedy.

"I'm Hedy" (Evans Evans)
Clinton: Oh!
Hedy [flipping her hair up to show Clinton her stitches]:  That's why Berry-Berry's in jaaail..... Your brother ought to be in a zoo somewheres.
Bar Owner: Now you better disappear kid. 
Clinton  Huh?
Bar Owner: Beat it you want me to lose my license?
Clinton: We'll what did I do?
Bar Owner:  Get out now! Come on get out, get out. What do you think this is a nursery school?

Hedy follows Clinton out and tells him to tell Berry-Berry that he can come back to her anytime he wants to.

Hedy: Tell him I want him back. [She gives Clinton a kiss], now go on and beat it before the bust me for hustling a minor.

"Tell him I want him back"
This is the first inkling we get of Berry-Berry's violent misogynist behaviors and the masochistic women he attracts, the second incident is when he decks a schoolteacher (Barbara Baxley) in Louisville.

posting Berry-Berry's bail

bad boy, our first view
The $200 goes to make bail for Berry-Berry, who's told to get out of town and the two of them start hitching their way out of Florida. Their first ride is in a convertible with two women. One yells out "get in stud" and they argue over who saw Berry-Berry first.

"get in stud"

At another dive bar Berry-Berry, like a gigolo, gets picked up to do stud service for Mrs. Mandel (Constance Ford) on a yachting jaunt to Bermuda, but not before he gets her to give Clinton a $50 dollar bill for bus fare home to Cleveland.

Mrs. Mandel (Constance Ford) 

Just like buying a piece of meat
So Clinton returns home. Meets Echo, develops a serious crush, and spends Christmas Eve with three stew bums his tipsy father brings home, and a mother who's hoping for a miracle, that Berry-Berry will be home for Christmas.

Echo's arrival

"You're my guy Clint"
In the spring Berry-Berry is practically running a whorehouse at the nearby Happy Valley Orchard, he supplies the owner with secondhand broads and booze, in exchange for room and board. When Berry-Berry finally meets Echo, he too is immediately smitten and Echo is in turn equally attracted. Anabelle gets jealous.She starts nagging Berry-Berry about settling down and jobs. Berry-Berry and Echo make love, a couple of months later she gets pregnant, and everything skids off the road into Noirsville.


Lonely schoolteacher  (Barbara Baxley)

Teacher like what she sees


The three bums

Orchard whoehouse

decking the schoolmarm

"lady, Do you want me or not?"

Do you want me to beg....

Stylized coitus between Echo and Berry-Berry

Directed with style by John Frankenheimer (The Young Savages (1961), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Train (1964), Ronin (1998)),  Music by Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), The Rose Tattoo (1955), The Misfits (1961), Goodfellas (1990)), Cinematography by Lionel Lindon (The Blue Dahlia (1946), The Turning Point (1952), I Want to Live! (1958), The Manchurian Candidate (1962)).

All the major cast put in strong performances, Warren Beatty (Splendor in the Grass (1961), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Bugsy (1991)) plays the films twisted narcissistic going with the flow, bad boy, in a "what me worry?" fashion.  Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront (1954), North by Northwest (1959), ), projects a fragile beauty, refinement and vulnerableness with body movements and facial expressions. Angela Lansbury really corners the market on portraying an overbearing character in a very low key fashion. Karl Malden (Boomerang! (1947), Kiss of Death (1947), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), The Sellout (1952), On the Waterfront (1954), Baby Doll (1956)) puts in a good passive supporting performance. Brandon deWilde fits the role of the kid brother perfectly, he blends in with the cast and is very believable.

The bit part players are also quite entertaining, Evans Evans (Bonnie and Clyde (1967)) as the young naive hooker, Madame Spivy (The Fugitive Kind (1960), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), ) is totally believable as the bull dyke bar owner, Constance Ford (A Summer Place (1959)) as the horny yacht wife, and Barbara Baxley (The Savage Eye (1960) No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)) as the desperate schoolteacher. Also watch for the two deputies in Bonita Key, and the three bums who visit the Willart House on Christmas Eve.

The whole Bonita Key sequence is a wonderful time capsule of Key West, Florida circa 1960s, check it out. Screencaps are from the Warner's on demand DVD. 7/10

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