Classic Movies

Grey Market Cinema: All the Way Home (1963)

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Upon his death in 1955, author and film critic James Agee did not leave his wife Mia with much money to keep their family going, and so editor David McDowell decided to publish an unfinished work of Agee’s (which Jim had been working on since 1948) entitled A Death in the Family.  An autobiographical novel set in Knoxville, TN (in 1915) that details the aftermath of the death of Agee’s father in an automobile accident, Family would win Agee a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1958.  Family would then be adapted into a 1960 stage play, All the Way Home, which would also garner a dramatic Pulitzer for playwright Tad Mosel the following year.

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Jean Simmons and Robert Preston in All the Way Home (1963)

Two years later, All the Way Home was brought to the silver screen courtesy of Paramount, starring Jean Simmons and Robert Preston as Mary and Jay Follet, a loving couple offering up prima facia evidence that opposites attract: Mary is a religious woman and teetotaler, Jay has a taste for the good stuff and is quite skeptical on the subject of religion (he’s an atheist in Agee’s book, though this is understandably downplayed in the movie).  The Follets have a seven-year-old son, Rufus (Michael Kearney), and another bundle of joy on the way…though Mary and Jay have been struggling as to how they’ll break this news to Rufus.

The Follets take a road trip to visit Jay’s great-great grandmother (Lylah Tiffany), and are accompanied by members of Jay’s family: his mother Jessie (Georgia Simmons), father John Henry (Edwin Wolfe), and brother Ralph (Pat Hingle) and his wife Sally (Ronnie Claire Edwards).  No sooner have the Follets returned home when they receive a phone call from Ralph that John Henry has taken ill; Ralph is unable to articulate exactly what’s wrong with their father but rather be safe than sorry, Jay hops in his car to be at his old man’s side. Jay later phones Mary to let her know that his father is okay, that he’ll be home in time for dinner.  It’s an appointment that Follet will fail to keep.

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Mary Perry (with her back to the camera) greets kinfolk (L-R) Edwin Wolfe, Robert Preston, Georgia Simmons, Jean Simmons, Ronnie Claire Edwards, and Pat Hingle.

All the Way Home, to my knowledge, has never seen an official Region 1 DVD release…come to think it, I don’t think the movie ever surfaced on VHS, either.  Which is a shame, really; it’s a poignant film that grapples with issues of grief and faith, and the difficulty in picking up the pieces after the untimely death of a loved one.  The movie is available for viewing on YouTube ($2.99) and Amazon ($3.99 rental, $9.99 purchase), and if the Movies! website (the digital subchannel available in selected TV markets that shows a lot of the Paramount library) is to be believed it’s turned up there a time or two as well.  You know me—I’m a physical media guy—so when I saw that my Facebook compadre Martin Grams, Jr. had it for $6.99 at Finders Keepers (undergoing maintenance as of this writing, so I can’t give you a precise link) into the online cart it went.

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Michael Kearney and Preston

My mother is not a big Robert Preston fan…which is why she doesn’t care for The Music Man (1962—I know…sacrilege!).  I can tolerate him in small doses, but I really think he turns in excellent work despite his short amount of screen time.  Preston has a wonderful rapport with the child actor who plays his son, Michael Kearney; Philip H. Reisman, Jr., who adapted the stage play for the film, does an admirable job showing the bond between father and son from the beginning (the two of them are first seen watching Charlie Chaplin in a movie theatre).  I particularly enjoyed the scene where Preston gently tries to explain to Kearney why using “the N-word” is improper because it’s an epithet used to hurt people.

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John Cullum (as Andrew) tries to comfort Michael Kearney (as Rufus) in a screen grab from All the Way Home.

All the Way Home is Jean Simmons’ show, of course, and she delivers a bravura performance as a woman who not only has to cope with the loss of the man she dearly loves but explain Jay’s passing to her seven-year-old (mother and son share a tender scene at the end, when Mary places Rufus’ hand on her stomach to explain that he’ll soon be joined by a baby sister/brother, and that it’s almost like having a piece of his father rejoining them).  TDOY favorite Aline MacMahon is also on hand in what was her silver screen swan song (she did a few TV shows/TV movies like The Defenders and The Doctors and the Nurses before her passing in 1991); as Mary’s supportive Aunt Hannah, she’s there when her niece gets that tragic call and never leaves her side as Mary works through her grief while looking after Rufus.  MacMahon was one of five performers who reprised their original stage roles—the other four being Thomas Chalmers (as Mary’s father), Georgia Simmons, Edwin Wolfe, and Lylah Tiffany (who made her stage debut at age 81 playing the 103-year-old great-great grandmother).

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Preston and Hingle as the Brothers Follet

Another TDOY favorite, Pat Hingle, plays Jay’s younger brother Ralph—a mortician who’s bursting with pride showing off his new car (there’s a tense scene between him and Mary toward the end of the film because she’s insistent that Ralph not prepare Jay’s body for the burial) but mostly insecure about his life and work; Hingle would reprise the role in a 1971 TV-movie version (with Joanne Woodward and Richard Kiley in the Simmons and Preston roles).  (All the Way Home was also revived in 1981—with Sally Field and William Hurt…and TDOY idols John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan as Jay’s parents—and 2002 [under the book title, A Death in the Family] with Annabeth Gish and John Slattery.)  The actress portraying Hingle’s wife might be familiar to fans of The Waltons: she’s Ronnie Claire Edwards, who played Corabeth Walton Godsey on that long-running series.  I also got a kick out of seeing two-time Tony winner John Cullum (as Mary’s brother Andrew) in his motion picture debut; Cullum would go on to appear in such films as Hawaii (1966) and 1776 (1972) but is probably best known around Rancho Yesteryear as storekeeper Holling Vincoeur on the TV series Northern Exposure.  (Blacklisted actor John Henry Faulk, the subject of the 1975 TV-movie Fear on Trial, has a small role as Walter.)

posterDavid Susskind, famous for his groundbreaking TV talk show Open End (and producer of many, many live television productions) continued his string of critically acclaimed films (A Raisin in the Sun, Requiem for a Heavyweight) with Alex Segal (another live TV veteran) in the director’s chair; Segal does solid work with what is admittedly a stage bound presentation, and he’d go on to later boob tube triumphs like the 1966 production of Death of a Salesman with Lee J. Cobb.  If you haven’t seen this movie you’ll probably want to check out YouTube or Amazon…but the copy I got from Finders Keepers is an excellent one, and if you think I got a little teary-eyed during this film it’s only because it’s allergy season.  (Yeah…that’s the ticket…)

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4 thoughts on “Grey Market Cinema: All the Way Home (1963)

    1. That must be why I watched it and wrote it up for the blog…I was picking up your thought processes! I have ESPN! (Okay, technically I don’t — our satellite package doesn’t carry it, and we’d have to pay extra.)

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  1. Possibly irrelevant aside:
    Back In The Day *tm*, Ed Sullivan would present excerpts from current Broadway plays on his Sunday night show.
    Ed would dutifully tape promos for these, which CBS would spot throughout the weekend on various of its shows.
    I found such a promo, for a scene from All The Way Home, on a show from my DVD Wall from the spring of 1961: Roald Dahl’s Friday night spookfest ‘Way Out – which, as it happens, was also a David Susskind production (coincidence).
    Sullivan’s plug for All The Way Home mentions its Pulitzer Prize; after pointing out that the play “is making history at the Belasco Theatre”, Ed goes on to list the other guests for Sunday, including (as I recall; I’ll check back later if need be) Mort Sahl, The Limeliters, Leon Bibb, and some others. Ed concludes with a stirring plea to watch “on most of these stations … because All The Way Home is really something special – thank you.”
    Ed never really got the hanging of timing his speech for the camera; he has to rush that last part a bit.
    The ‘Way Out episode that preceded the promo had to do with a young actress who goes to a TV studio as a last-minute replacement in a suspense show. Her character is supposed to get killed on camera, but after a runthrough, she’s asked to stay for “some night work” – which turns out not to be what she expected …
    I saw this particular show when it first aired, when I was 10 years old.
    Seeing it again, 50+ years after the fact – talk about a disconnect …

    … and no, I never did see All The Way Home, in any of its manifestations – my bad.

    Liked by 1 person

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