The Fallen Idol
December 7, 2006
Based on the Graham Greene short story “The Basement Room” (he also wrote the screenplay), The Fallen Idol (1948) is a taut thriller seen through the eyes of child. Phillipe (Henrey) is the son of a foreign diplomat in London, England. His parents are away for the weekend as are half of the staff allowing the boy free reign of the place. He spends a lot of time with Baines (Richardson), the family butler and his wife (Dresdel). They act as surrogate parents with her being the stricter of the two and this fosters a strong dislike in the boy.
Phillipe sneaks out of the house and follows Baines only to find him consoling another woman named Julie (Morgan) in a café. They act guarded around the boy but it appears that they are involved romantically. Phillipe doesn’t quite understand the nature of their relationship because he’s only a child but Baines and Julie have a moment together where it becomes clear to us that they are in love and that he plans to leave his wife. Phillipe agrees to keep their rendezvous a secret. However, Mrs. Baines finds out about her husband’s affair and this sets in motion a series of events.
We end up seeing the world through the eyes of the young boy and how he perceives the complex relationships between adults. He may not fully understand the disintegrating relationship between Baines and his wife but he knows that something is not right with them. Pretty soon Phillipe finds himself caught in the middle of their troubled relationship as they exert their influence over the boy to get information out of him. Over the course of the movie, he becomes suspicious and wary of the adult world because he sees it as a place inhabited by secrets, lies, cruel behaviour and even death. Children aren’t stupid. They are much more perceptive than adults give them credit for. It is a harsh coming of age for the boy. His whole world has been turned upside down as he suspects that Baines may be a murderer.
Bobby Henrey delivers an extraordinary performance as Phillipe. At first, his character comes across as a bit of brat but as he becomes embroiled in the complex adult world, we feel sympathy towards the poor boy who has seen too much and is conflicted between his loyalty to Baines and telling the authorities what he saw (or thinks he saw). Henrey has the most difficult job because he has to maintain a sense of child-like wonderment with a loss of innocence. It is a fine line to tread and you can see it in the inner turmoil and trauma on Phillipe’s face. It looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders as his life becomes very complicated.
The Fallen Idol features excellent camerawork, especially in the sequence where Phillipe plays hide and seek with Baines and Julie. Director Carol Reed employs all sorts of skewed angles and dramatic music anticipates the scene in The Third Man (1949) when Orson Welles is being chased by the police in the sewers of Vienna. It also foreshadows a tense sequence that results in the demise of one of the characters with Phillipe thinking that Baines is the culprit. The Fallen Idol is an excellent reminder of what makes film such a dynamic and entertaining medium.
“A Sense of Carol Reed” is a documentary about the life and career of director Carol Reed. His father directed plays and was particularly good with actors which influenced Reed in not only becoming a movie director but also how he worked with actors. He never played them if something went wrong with a take even if it was their fault. The Fallen Idol is examined, including how Reed got a fantastic performance out of difficult young actor Bobby Henrey. The boy got bored easily and didn’t follow direction well but Reed knew how to draw a natural performance out of him.
There is an “Illustrated Filmography,” a collection of press book covers and posters from various countries for Reed’s movies.
Finally, there is a collection of stills from the “Press Book” for the movie that is interesting to see how they marketed films back then.