This film is one of those over-baked Tennessee Williams-esque portraits of a family barely keeping it together, with an over-bearing mother (naturally), a drunk father (naturally) and a golden boy who isn’t quite so golden (naturally). We’ve seen this before, even if the story isn’t quite the same.
Beatty seems to be doing a James Dean impersonation – well, maybe that’s not fair – Angela Lansbury is in full blown mother mode – though not at The Manchurian Candidate level, and in this case she’s got a drunk husband that makes her much more sympathetic – and Karl Malden is doing a thing that I’ve seen him do in some other movie too – though I can’t remember it right now, and it might have been a later movie.
(Just a note of complaint: I don’t know why the novelist named Beatty’s character Berry-Berry, but why they have to say that name over and over, I don’t know…)
Mild spoiler alert.
What takes the family from struggling along to falling down (sorry) is not unusual. What did the old, angry men used to say? ‘Evil, they name is woman?’ (It might have been frailty…) Well, surprise, surprise. Eva Marie Saint comes along stirs up shit.
However, the one advantage this film has over a lot of others of its type is Frankenheimer’s bonkers direction. The angles are often zany and some of the shots are really wacky. The film features more location shooting than many movies of its vintage and the house feels like a house – which can’t be said for so many sound stages. Oh yeah, and shaky cameras! Holy shit! It’s like Frankenheimer was watching a lot of old German films or maybe some French New Wave stuff.
It’s worth watching if you’re a Frankenheimer of if you’re just a film history fan interested in the pushing and prodding against the Hollywood system that was going on just before the dam broke.