The Fallen Idol - 1948
Between 1947 and 1949, Carol Reed gave the world three classics. While Odd Man out (‘47) and The Third Man (‘49) are often brought up in the conversation of “classic”, The Fallen Idol (‘48) is often overlooked. I’m guilty of that, since I’d never heard of this movie before. After watching The Third Man last week, I asked Twitter for recommendations. @Lons suggested this movie and I owe him a huge thank you, since this is one of the most singular movie experiences I’ve had in a while.
This movie is told through the perspective of eight-year-old Phillipe, son of the France Ambassador in London. Due to the lack of parental figures, he idolizes the head-butler, Mr. Baines. After a string of lies, Phillipe is the only witness of the mysterious death of Mr. Baines’s wife.
Reed pulled a great performance out of Bobby Henrey. His portrayal of Phillipe was simply impressive, as he held his own among all the professional actors. During the first half, Phillipe’s innocence guides him from moment to moment without really understanding the events he is witnessing. But once the police are called to investigate Mrs. Baines’ death, Phillipe struggles to keep all his “secrets” in order. It was a little disappointing to find out that this was his second and last film of his career, as I would’ve loved to see him evolve.
While this movie depends on Henrey’s performance, it benefits greatly from Ralph Richardson as Mr. Baines. Richardson gave a great level of relatability to his flawed character. In the beginning, he revels in Phillipe’s attention, constantly looking for the boy’s approval and defending him against his wife. I found myself tensed up towards the end, as he desperately tries to prove his innocence, despite Phillipe’s contradicting story. I honestly wouldn’t know how I would have acted if I was stuck in that situation.
Graham Greene wrote the screenplay, adapting it from a short story he also wrote. Like he demonstrated in The Third Man, he is a master of setting up events that have huge payoffs in the end. His script is airtight, as nothing feels out of place or excessive. My favorite scene of dialogue from this script is between the police investigator and Phillipe. The investigator takes every small slip-up after slip-up from Phillipe’s contradicting story to slowly lead him into telling the truth he is struggling to hide. It’s a fascinating watch, seeing the fate of Mr. Baine hang in the hands of an eight-year-old boy.
The score. This movie’s score is pure perfection. In the beginning of the movie the score is joyful and up lifting. I loved the fast-paced violins as Phillipe is shown running away from the Embassy in pursuit of Mr. Baine. This moment is completely contrasted as the score in the second half shifts to a more suspenseful tone. The best scene to highlight this shift is after Phillipe witnesses the death of Mrs. Baine. He is shown again running away from the Embassy and the score is filled with desperation and tension.
Carol Reed once again demonstrated a great control of both his actors and the atmosphere needed to tell his story. The way he structured the first half of the film helped the audience invest themselves in the lives of Mr. Baines and Phillipe. After watching these back-to-back, I look forward to completing my Reed trilogy by watching Odd Man Out.
The Fallen Idol’s unique story, combined with Reed and Greene’s complete control of their crafts are the perfect recipe for a classic. Quick-note; Phillipe’s last interaction with the investigator was both hilarious and frustrating, but I won’t ruin it for does who haven’t seen it. I’m a twenty-eight-year-old “man” and this movie transported me back twenty years as I completely identified with Phillipe. The Fallen Idol’s score is why I love movies.
The Fallen Idol is available to rent through multiple streaming services, definitely worth your money.
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