The Fallen Idol from 1948 was the first film created from the collaboration of director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene. The duo would go on to work together on two more films, one of which is the widely popular and highly lauded, The Third Man which starred Orson Welles in one of his best roles as the villainous Harry Lime. Despite the fact that it may be less well known, The Fallen Idol is a wonderful film that showcased some of the themes and ideas Reed and Greene would go on to develop further in later films.
The story follows the young son of a French Ambassador to England and his relationship with a butler who is employed at the embassy. Being that the boy’s father is a diplomat and very busy with affairs of the state, and his mother is only identified in a promise that she will soon arrive, the child, Philippe, is left frequently in the charge of the butler, Baines, and his wife, Mrs. Baines. Mrs. Baines concerns herself with the upkeep of the house, reprimanding Philippe frequently for the pestering his curiosity breeds, and for the pets he chooses to keep. Mrs. Baines’ treatment of her husband is similar to her treatment of Philippe, offering more condemnation than respect. The relationship between Philippe and Baines is a core aspect of the film; while genuine, it seems to exist out of a mutual need for each other’s friendship in order to achieve intrepidness in the face of the shrewish Mrs. Baines.
There’s a bit of ‘oh the tangled webs we weave’ feeling within the context of the story when relationships, agendas and sub-plots are revealed. This moral is relevant; of how fast lies grow and ruin credibility. As more of the plot unfolds, we discover that the people Philippe most loves are at times untruthful and evasive, which has an inspiring effect on the impressionable boy. However, it is important to note that all of Philippe’s lies are instigated by and subject to an adult world that he doesn’t understand. Problems arise as we find that Philippe not only lacks the realization and sophistication to avoid loopholes in his half-truths, but as other incidents occur, he doesn’t know when or how to stop lying.
From a visual standpoint, Carol Reed is a filmmaker whose direction shows a precision in both the choice and framing of image, and the pace of the editing. The black and white cinematography is wonderfully shot by Georges Périnal who was the director of photography on other films such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger‘s The Life and Death of Cornel Blimp (1948) and René Clair’s Le Million (1931). The camera works in such a way as to obtain the subjective perspective of Philippe and assists in creating a theme of perception, which becomes very important to the plot.
Earlier this year The Fallen Idol was re-released through the museum/art-house circuit in a beautiful new 35mm print by Rialto Pictures. I was privileged enough to be able to see it at the Little Theatre in Rochester, NY. But, for all those of you who aren’t close to a theatre showing, or have a schedule that’s less than accommodating, the Criterion Collection has released this film on DVD in a edition that includes a pristine digital transfer which looks and sounds stunning, especially considering the age and condition of the original elements. For a detailed look at the specifics of the disc check out the review over at DVD Beaver.