Author Topic: The Fallen Idol (1948)  (Read 1619 times)

Offline Antares

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The Fallen Idol (1948)
« on: August 31, 2010, 05:00:50 AM »
The Fallen Idol

Year: 1948
Film Studio: British Lion Film Corporation, London Films, Twentieth-Century-Fox Film Corp.
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Length: 92 Min.

Carol Reed (1906)

Graham Greene (1904)...Story "The Basement Room"
Graham Greene (1904)...Screenplay
Lesley Storm (1904)...Additional Dialogue
William Templeton...Additional Dialogue

Philip Brandon (1898)
Alexander Korda (1893)
Carol Reed (1906)

Georges Périnal (1897)

William Alwyn (1905)...Composer

Ralph Richardson (1902) as Baines
Michèle Morgan (1920) as Julie
Sonia Dresdel (1909) as Mrs. Baines
Bobby Henrey (1939) as Phillipe
Denis O'Dea (1905) as Inspector Crowe
Jack Hawkins (1910) as Detective Ames
Walter Fitzgerald (1896) as Dr. Fenton
Dandy Nichols (1907) as Mrs. Patterson

       I know that most fans of Carol Reed’s films tend to put The Third Man at the top of their list as the director’s finest work, but having seen both, I like The Fallen Idol more. While the former is a great example of British film noir, there are moments when it tends to lag in spots, and although it has one of the best endings in film history, you have to deal with a lot of exposition before you get to it. The latter is a crisp and clear story that never sways from the central narrative being shown on screen. If I were to recommend one of Reed’s films to someone unfamiliar with his work, then I would definitely start with The Fallen Idol.

       Ralph Richardson stars as Baines, a gentleman’s gentleman in service to a foreign ambassador in London. But Baines is also a surrogate father to Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), the neglected son of the ambassador. In the beginning of the film, we witness the doting nature of Baines’ care for the young child. There is a mutual love between the two, a love that Phillipe does not have for his own father. To that end, as the film progresses, we will see to what lengths Phillipe will go to protect Baines from trouble. And trouble is just what Baines will find in spades, as Baines’ shrewish wife (Sonia Dresdel) will wind up dead one weekend while the ambassador is away from the mansion. You see, Baines has a secret, a secret that Phillipe will discover one day when he follows his surrogate father into town and into a tea shop. Baines has had enough of his miserable wife and is having an affair with a secretary at the embassy, whose name is Julie (Michèle Morgan).

       Julie wants to end the clandestine affair, but Baines assures her that he is about to inform his wife of his intention to seek a divorce. Therefore, allowing them to continue their relationship without any hindrance or shame that an adulterous affair could bring upon them if they were discovered. But Phillipe will inadvertently set in motion, the disastrous events of the weekend, when he lets slip to Mrs. Baines the existence of Baines’ ‘niece’. Being the controlling shrew that she is, Mrs. Baines wants to catch her philandering husband in the act. She creates a ruse about visiting relatives, hoping that Baines will slip up and meet his lover while he thinks she is away. And that is exactly what he does, as the two lovers share an intimate dinner and afterwards play hide and seek in the mansion with Phillipe. But there is one more person hiding in the mansion and when she makes her presence known, a perceived act of violence by Baines will threaten to alter the relationship between the boy and his surrogate father.

       When Mrs. Baines confronts her husband about the woman upstairs in a guest room, they tussle a bit at the top of a grand staircase. Phillipe, who has been sent to his room, is attentively watching the proceedings from a balcony window adjacent to his room. As he decides to get a better look from the next balcony, Baines rebuffs his wife and proceeds to the guest room and locks the door behind him. Unable to enter the room, she steps out on a small indoor ledge which is situated just above the beginning of the staircase. As she leans against a window in hopes of catching a glimpse of her husband’s lover, the top of the transom type window moves forward, while the bottom knocks her off her feet and she falls to her death at the base of the stairs below. When Baines returns to the top of the stairs, he notices his wife crumpled at the bottom and a look of horror comes across his face. It is also at this moment that Phillipe reaches the next balcony window and sees Mrs. Baines at the foot of the stairs and the look on Baines face at the top. In his child’s mind he deduces that Baines has pushed her down the flight and this sends him scurrying out of the mansion and onto the streets of London. Back in the mansion, Baines and Julie decide to hide their relationship from the police when they arrive to investigate the accident. But when Phillipe is found wandering the streets by the police, they return him to the mansion just as the detectives are beginning their investigation. Curious as to why the young boy just happened to be out on the streets after the accident, the detectives slowly begin to think that maybe it wasn’t an accident. And that maybe Baines is not being forthright in his version of the events that have transpired.

       From here, the rest of the film plays out as the police try to elicit from Phillipe, the true version of events that took place that night. But Phillipe, though shaken by what he perceives to have happened, goes to great lengths to embellish falsehoods in hopes of helping Baines. But every time he opens his mouth, the noose gets tighter around Baines’ neck. The dinner, the game of hide and seek and most damaging of all, the existence of Julie, are inadvertently blurted out by the innocent boy. Although wrapped in fanciful lies, the tidbits of the truth start to be pieced together by the detectives. Baines, worried about his fate and exasperated by the boys ‘help’, pleads with the child to just tell the truth.
(click to show/hide)

       From beginning to end, I found this story crisp, clear and thoroughly entertaining. Ralph Richardson gives a subdued, but powerful performance as the butler whom all the detectives think ‘did it’. But the truly exceptional performance is by Sonia Dresdel as the witch of a wife to the troubled butler. Every negative personality trait you could imagine a bitchy, frigid female could exude, is effortlessly conveyed by Dresdel. It’s a shame that she received neither an Academy Award, nor a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress. This leaves me with Bobby Henrey’s performance as Phillipe. It is obvious that Henrey had never acted before, but Reed managed to coax a very believable performance out of the child. But I have to admit, there were times when I wanted to ring his neck, as his histrionics and ADD related actions were as annoying as Brandon DeWilde’s performance in Shane is to a lot of people. That aside, if you like a good suspenseful story, then The Fallen Idol should find its way onto your wishlist.

Review Criterion
5 Stars - The pinnacle of film perfection and excellence.
4 ½ Stars - Not quite an immortal film, yet a masterpiece in its own right.
4 Stars - Historically important film, considered a classic.
3 ½ Stars - An entertaining film that’s fun or engaging to watch.
3 Stars – A good film that’s worth a Netflix venture.
2 ½ Stars - Borderline viewable.
2 Stars – A bad film that may have a moment of interest.
1 ½ Stars – Insipid, trite and sophomoric, and that's its good points.
1 Star – A film so vacuous, it will suck 2 hours from the remainder of your life.
½ Star - A gangrenous and festering pustule in the chronicles of celluloid.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2010, 11:53:08 PM by Antares »

Offline Achim

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Re: The Fallen Idol (1948)
« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2010, 11:27:03 AM »
The Fallen Idol is already in my collection, after a recent brief discussion about it here, and I should obviously line it up in my watch list soon.


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Re: The Fallen Idol (1948)
« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2010, 11:02:12 PM »
Great review, Antares and high praise indeed. For me, The Third Man is still tops. I know what you mean about the lag, but I see that as part the design. It has a wonderfully unique, almost surreal atmosphere. Not to take anything away from Fallen Idol though, because I loved it. I'll repeat what I said in the Hitchcock thread, that anyone who enjoyed those films will get a kick out of this one too. Probably the best film Hitch never directed, yet, if he had, I'd bet he'd miss the mark. This is unmistakeably Reed's film.

Achim! Watch it now!  :P