The Fallen Idol
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Opening this Friday is a rather forgotten 1948 film classic called The Fallen Idol. The Fallen Idol was directed by Carol Reed and based on a story by Graham Greene. If those names sound familiar together, it’s because you’ve been lucky enough to see the snarky post-war noir classic The Third Man. Idol is not as much fun, and not was witty, but much more intimate and much more subtle. It seems on the surface like another British Upstairs/Downstairs behavior drama, but by its end of it has sneakily inserted some rather impressive themes about lying, growing up, and the mysteries of adult behavior from a child’s perspective. It’s like David Lean’s ultra-British Brief Encounter meets the childlike innocence of To Kill a Mockingbird.
The French ambassador in London is out of town, and his eight-year-old son Phillipe (Bobby Henrey) is being babysat by the butlers Mr. and Mrs. Baines (Ralph Richardson and Sonia Dresdel). Phillipe likes Mr. Baines and is often enraptured by his stories and games. Mrs. Baines is cruel to him and destroys one of his beloved pets early on in the film. It’s no wonder then, that Phillipe soon finds Baines with a young French mistress (Michèle Morgan). Baines lies to Phillipe, and tells her that she is his niece, and the boy and the lovers go on dates (!). Mrs. Baines is no dummy and soon hatches a plot to catch the lovers red-handed, involving some more secrets and lies told to the poor boy. There is then a death (I won’t relay the details), and Phillipe must choose between telling the truth, or remaining loyal to his friends’ “secrets.”
The film has the right approach in telling this story from the child’s perspective. We, as jaded adults, know exactly what’s going on when we first see Baines with his mistress, and just what they mean when they begin having their intense conversation in the third person in front of the boy. The boy, however, can only suspect, and can only take the adult’s word for it when he hears that they need him to lie. We feel the boy’s panic, we understand his motivations, and begin to learn his lessons. The very last action that Phillipe takes in the film is a bit mystifying and perhaps malicious, but makes perfect sense when seen though the eyes of a disillusioned eight-year-old. Like I said, it’s all very subtle, and one needs something of an attention span to get it, but it’s there and it’s worth the effort.
-April 7th, Rialto Films