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4.6 out of 5 stars
The Fallen Idol [DVD] [1948]
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Phillipe, the 8-year-old son of the ambassador, bored and lonely, has been left in the charge of Baines, the embassy butler, and his wife. The ambassador has gone to bring back his wife, who has been ill for several months. Phillipe (Bobby Henrey) idolizes Baines (Ralph Richardson), who talks to him, tells him stories, takes him for walks and pays attention to him. Baines' wife (Sonia Dresdel), however, is a shrew. She has little patience for Phillipe, she runs the housekeeping side of the embassy with an iron hand, and she is unshakeable in her commitment to the cold, loveless marriage she has with her husband. She doesn't know, quite yet, that Baines and Julie (Michele Morgan), a secretary in the embassy, have been meeting secretly each week for months, just for tea or a private walk. They love each other but seem to find no way to break free of his marriage. And then Mrs. Baines, after an hysterical argument when she discovers Julie, is found dead at the foot of the grand stairway in the embassy. Phillipe thinks Baines killed her and is determined to protect him. His lies make things much, much worse.

This is a marvelous film, full of irony and subtlety. Phillipe is too young to grasp the meaning of much of what he sees and hears. He unexpectedly interrupts a meeting between Baines and Julie in a tea shop. She is telling Baines she will be leaving; that their relationship is hopeless. Baines is trying to find someway for her to stay, if even for just a day or two more. Suddenly there is Phillipe, happy to find Baines, climbing onto a seat next to them, having a pastry, observing what Baines and Julie are saying to each other so quietly and intensely, and believing when Baines says they are talking about a friend and that Julie is his niece. Something is happening, he knows, but he simply doesn't register how desperately they want to talk to each other without pretense.

Phillipe tells fibs, especially to protect McGregor, his small pet snake, from Mrs. Baines' anger. When she accuses him of telling lies, Baines tries to protect Phillipe by saying that there are lies and there are lies...that some lies can simply be a kindness to protect others. Mrs. Baines finds ways to trap Phillipe into admitting he met Baines' "niece." When she dies, Baines tries to find ways to use lies...or at least not the full truth...to protect Julie. Phillipe lies to the police in an effort to protect Baines. The conclusion of the film is a masterpiece of amusing irony when we realize the truth might be more dangerous to Baines than Phillipe's lies.

Carol Reed directed The Fallen Idol in 1948. The year before he gave us Odd Man Out. In 1949 came The Third Man. Then Outcast of the Islands in 1952. That's four incredible films, one right after the other. And don't forget Our Man in Havana in 1959. The Fallen Idol, The Third Man and Our Man in Havana were collaborations with Graham Greene. These movies are not just literate and often amusing, they're thoughtful and often uneasy. And all are stunning to look at.

The Fallen Idol gives us two great performances, or rather one great performance and one performance great despite itself. Ralph Richardson as Baines is as understated as the character. We're witnessing a character full of emotion and longing, yet so carefully proper and repressed it hurts. Baines relationship with Phillipe is genuine, yet in many ways it's based on lies and made-up stories. This is one of Richardson's best performances. As Phillipe, Bobby Henrey does a masterful job, but that's because of the patience and skill of Carol Reed and the cleverness of the film editor. Henrey was a nonprofessional who got the part because Reed thought he looked exactly like the kind of young boy Phillipe would look like. As a person who worked on the film with Reed said later, Henrey couldn't act and "had an attention span of a demented flea." Reed took infinite pains to gain Henrey's friendship and confidence. He would walk the boy through the part, usually standing in for Richardson when Richardson would have been off camera feeding Henrey lines. He shot miles of film with Henrey, and then spliced the bits and pieces together into coherent reaction shots. You'll note that Henrey has almost no scenes that go for more than a word or sentence before there are cutaways. Even so, the result is a great film portrayal of a little boy, Phillipe, who can be irritating, impatient and willful, and yet touching in his determination protect his friend, Baines.

If you have an all-region DVD player, the Criterion region 1 release of The Fallen Idol includes an excellent booklet with three essays on the film and a fine 2006 documentary, A Sense of Carol Reed, with interviews from other directors. The Criterion DVD transfer is excellent.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2008
Much imitated child's view thriller that involves the viewer all the way. Has echoes of The Third Man, the next movie by this writer director team, about it, in terms of style and photography. Reed tries out those distinctive camera angles to very good effect here, and the set is brilliantly used - height - without giving too much away is emphasised to great effect, by using the set and some clever camera angles. This is another of those films that just looks made for black and white and shows it once again to be a potentially very arty medium to work in. Lovely camera work and direction and then we have the screenplay by GG. Very fine indeed, subtle as ever while having tremendous style and great impact where it's needed.

The little touches of wry humour give real character to this film and help make it a class above the run of the mill features of the period. It feels quite small and neat and even modest in its remit, but this is a perfect match for the effect the film makers want this to achieve - it is a film about the small world of a child, and how his views are totally dictated by those things he knows he saw and heard - of course without understanding the larger ways of the adult world. It is handled beautifully, it is not too ambitious or expansive and focuses just on what it needs to, to get the result it's after. Simple but clever, and RR shines with a performance full of his trademark charisma. Has to be one of the ten best British movies ever made, and I can think of only a few others that would be as helpful to a film making student for learning their craft. A true classic it is.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Carol Reed's "Fallen Idol," which I first saw as a child, withstands the test of time. Even though I didn't understand the adult implications of the plot then, I have never forgotten the story (still associating it with the little wooden-seated movie house where my father took the family every week to see British films). I was not disappointed; I found it just as absorbing--and even more compelling--half-a-century later.

The screenplay is, needless to say, excellent. Working closely with Carol Reed, Graham Greene rewrote his original short story, "The Basement Room." In "Fallen Idol," which takes place at a foreign embassy in London, Greene is actually revisiting the topic of a child's-eye-view of spying, loneliness, betrayal by an idolized adult, and the overhearing of frightening things that are not properly understood (Compare "Fallen Idol" to his haunting three-page story, "I Spy," about another small lonely boy who witnesses betrayal and is frightened of things that happen in the dark.). Greene was to collaborate successfully again with Reed on "The Third Man," and--from the sublime to the ridiculous--on "Our Man In Havana."

Expertly directed by Reed, the child Philippe--played by Bobby Henrey, a non-actor--is so natural and believable that one might say that he is ably assisted by Ralph Richardson and Michelle Morgan (with Jack Hawkins in the minor role of a detective who lends his chiming watch to the boy in order to distract him). The cinematography is also superb. The moody black and white renders the melodramatic story, which in color might seem overwrought, plausible. The music of William Alwyn, who also scored Reed's "Odd Man Out," further contributes to the stark ambience of the film.

One of the delights of British cinema of the era was the non-sequitur, as when the clock-maker interrupts the police interrogation of Baines, the Butler, in order to wind one of the gigantic embassy clocks. Just when Reed has wound the plot to its tightest point, he introduces the clock-winder, who serves as a moment of understated comic relief (Part of Reed's genius was knowing when to use moments of humor to lighten the tension.) And yet, references to clocks and watches seem to serve a more subtle purpose in Reed and Greene's scenario, to emphasize both the slowness of time in the mind of the boy and the literal "watching" of something frightening that he shouldn't have seen.

This film may not be for everyone (For instance, my son, who likes action flicks in wide-screen surround-sound color, would probably hate it.), but it is certainly recommended for the discerning viewer who likes a time-tested suspense film, which can be not only watched, but also taken at more than mere face-value.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2002
Released in 1948 Carol Reed's adaption of the Graham Greene short story 'The Basement Room' is probarbly (along with 'Odd Man Out') his best film. It tells the story of Fellipe a young boy who idolizes the household servant Baines and how he reacts when he believes Baines guilty of murdering his wife. Told mainly from the point of view of the boy the film makes great use of swish camera movements and dramatic lighting not to mention standout performances especially from Ralph Richardson who is superb as Baines and young Bobby Henrey as the nervous Fellipe. Reed became noted for his intelligent direction of children after this film and this would be cemented later with films like 'A Kid For Two Farthings' and 'Oliver!'. This intoxicating but delicate thriller deservedly won the Best British Film award at the second ever BAFTA ceremony in 1948 whilst Reed was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Having heard a lot of good things about it over the years, I only recently got to see "The Fallen Idol" when I finally purchased the DVD from amazon and I was both amazed and enthralled by it. Superbly directed by Carol Reed, it is a wonderfully acted; photographed and scripted adaptation of Graham Greene's short story, "The Basement Room". It takes place over a weekend at the French embassy in London, while both the ambassador and his wife are away. Their eight years old son, Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), is a lonely little boy with no friends of his own age to play with, who dotes on his small grass snake, MacGregor (at one point, holding a small mirror in front of it and telling it "Look, you're very pretty, you know.") and idolises the embassy butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson) who entertains the impressionable boy with stories of his past heroics in Africa, putting down a rebellion single handed and so on. Unbeknown to the boy at this stage, Baines has never been to Africa. Baines wife (Sonia Dresdel) whom Phillipe hates and is afraid of because she is very cruel to him, is the housekeeper with whom Baines is locked into an unhappy and fruitless marriage. Mrs Baines discovers that her husband is having an illicit love affair with Julie (Michele Morgan), a secretary at the embassy. She confronts her husband about this and Phillipe witnesses a violent row between them at the top of the stairs that seems to end in Baines pushing his wife down the stairs and murdering her. Phillipe, terrified, barefoot and dressed only in his pajamas, runs out in panic into the rain-soaked streets of night time London and is eventually confronted by a uniformed policeman patrolling his beat...!

The acting of all the cast is excellent. But, above all, we realise just how crucial eight years old Bobby Henrey was to Carol Reed's realisation of this film. Bobby had initially been chosen for the film both for his good looks after Reed had seen a photo of him peering out of his London apartment on the dust jacket of one of his parents books and because he was bi-lingual, having been born in France and spending his childhood in both France and England and spoke English with a French accent, which was called for in the script. When Reed first met him, Bobby, it was said, couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. But Reed, a man of infinite patience with child actors, persevered with him over a shooting schedule of an incredible eight months (a long time for those days), shooting numerous takes of the same scene and the same dialogue, which paid off handsomely, as he managed to coax out of the boy the most incredible and natural performance by a child actor ever seen on the screen and certainly not bettered since.

No better example of this can be found than in the scene where Phillipe is convinced that Baines, his only friend, whom he idolises, is going to be sent to the gallows for a murder he did not commit. At this point, he realises just how much he adores and loves Baines and that he cannot live without him. With all the passion in his heart and soul, Phillipe pleads with the police to listen to him as he finally decides to tell the truth about what happened in the desperate hope that this will save his friend. "Oh, please, you must listen to me! I have something to tell you! It will only take a moment and it will make everything right! Oh, please listen to me! Oh, you must listen to me! Please, please, listen to me!" But to his utter despair, the police completely ignore him. This scene is so gut-wrenchingly heart-breaking, that it's almost too upsetting to watch and you become totally involved in it and feel very deeply for this increasingly desperate little boy. It is an incredible performance that is so perfect, it has to be seen to be believed. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It is one of the finest films ever made in the history of the cinema.

There are two DVD's of the film available. The Criterion Region 1 release and the Optimum Releasing Region 2 release. Both use the same 35mm print as their source, which is of a beautifully restored version of the film and both feature at the beginning the original British Board of Film Censors "A" certificate from 1948. The Criterion release has an excellent booklet about Carol Reed and this film, as well as a couple of extras in the form of a 24 minute documentary about Reed and his films and a page by page look at the original press book. The Optimum DVD has no booklet and no extras. Picture and sound quality on both DVD's are excellent, considering that the film is now (in 2011) 63 years old.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The Fallen Idol (AKA: The Lost Illusion) is directed by Carol Reed and adapted to a screenplay by Graham Green from his own short story called The Basement Room. Additional dialogue was scripted by Lesley Storm and William Templeton, the music is by William Alwyn and Georges Périnal is the cinematographer. It stars Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel and Denis O'Dea.

Film is told thru the eyes of Phillipe (Henrey), the young son of a diplomat living at the French Embassy in London. With his parents often away from home, Phillipe has latched onto the family butler, Baines (Richardson), for friendship and guidance. Baines regales the boy with fanciful tales of adventure, but in truth Baines himself is unhappy, stuck in a loveless marriage to the shrewish Mrs. Baines (Dresdel). When Bobby happens upon Baines in the company of a young woman named Julie (Morgan), it thrusts the youngster into a world he doesn't understand, and when a tragedy occurs, Bobby is in danger of shattering the friendship between Baines and himself.

The first of Graham Greene's literary works to be directed by the great Carol Reed, The Fallen Idol took some time to come out of The Third Man's shadow and be heralded in its own right. What transpires over 95 minutes is a tight psychological thriller that leaves a lasting image of childhood confusion, disillusionments and the innocence that's lost. Throw into the mix adult secrets, human conundrums and a gripping mystery investigation at its peak, and it's not hard to see why it's such a well revered picture. It's also a film that thrives on dialogue, again not surprising given that Green himself always said it was the best film adaptation of his work, while some of the deep-focus photography from Périnal adds real atmosphere to the proceedings.

Richardson is superb, and he leads a hugely effective cast, where Dresdel is scarily witch like and Henrey, plucked from nowhere to star as the naive boy, paints an indelible portrait of a child struggling to comprehend the mysterious world of the adults around him. In support there is quality thespians such as Bernard Lee and Jack Hawkins. The ending is notably different to that in the original story, and no doubt about it, the original ending would have garnered a different reaction from many. But Greene was happy to change his own source for the screen, so if it's good enough for him then it surely is good enough for us? Certainly time has been kind to The Fallen Idol, it's Hitchcockian feel blended with literary smarts has made it a lasting favourite of critics and fans alike. 8.5/10
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Carol Reed's "Fallen Idol," which I first saw as a child, withstands the test of time. Even though I didn't understand the adult implications of the plot then, I have never forgotten the story (still associating it with the little wooden-seated movie house where my father took the family every week to see British films). I was not disappointed; I found it just as absorbing--and even more compelling--half-a-century later.

The screenplay is, needless to say, excellent. Working closely with Carol Reed, Graham Greene rewrote his original short story, "The Basement Room." In "Fallen Idol," which takes place at a foreign embassy in London, Greene is actually revisiting the topic of a child's-eye-view of spying, loneliness, betrayal by an idolized adult, and the overhearing of frightening things that are not properly understood (Compare "Fallen Idol" to his haunting three-page story, "I Spy," about another small lonely boy who witnesses betrayal and is frightened of things that happen in the dark.). Greene was to collaborate successfully again with Reed on "The Third Man," and--from the sublime to the ridiculous--on "Our Man In Havana."

Expertly directed by Reed, the child Philippe--played by Bobby Henrey, a non-actor--is so natural and believable that one might say that he is ably assisted by Ralph Richardson and Michelle Morgan (with Jack Hawkins in the minor role of a detective who lends his chiming watch to the boy in order to distract him). The cinematography is also superb. The moody black and white renders the melodramatic story, which in color might seem overwrought, plausible. The music of William Alwyn, who also scored Reed's "Odd Man Out," further contributes to the stark ambience of the film.

One of the delights of British cinema of the era was the non-sequitur, as when the clock-maker interrupts the police interrogation of Baines, the Butler, in order to wind one of the gigantic embassy clocks. Just when Reed has wound the plot to its tightest point, he introduces the clock-winder, who serves as a moment of understated comic relief (Part of Reed's genius was knowing when to use moments of humor to lighten the tension.) And yet, references to clocks and watches seem to serve a more subtle purpose in Reed and Greene's scenario, to emphasize both the slowness of time in the mind of the boy and the literal "watching" of something frightening that he shouldn't have seen.

This film may not be for everyone (For instance, my son, who likes action flicks in wide-screen surround-sound color, would probably hate it.), but it is certainly recommended for the discerning viewer who likes a time-tested suspense film, which can be not only watched, but also taken at more than mere face-value.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 November 2011
Evoking (I guess) the true British post-war spirit of dignity and propriety, The Fallen Idol represents the second in a sublime trio of films made by Carol Reed. Bookended by Odd Man Out and The Third Man, The Fallen Idol tells the story of Ralph Richardson's butler Baines, who works in the French embassy in London, and is trying to balance his burgeoning affair with Michele Morgan's Julie, at the same time as his marriage to Sonia Dresdel collapses, whilst maintaining the respect and affection of diplomat's son Philippe (played by Bobby Henrey).

Richardson displays his consummate acting skill as the reserved, upstanding gentlemen torn between desire and propriety, playing the role as no else could have. The only other performance of this nature and stature that springs to mind is that of Anthony Hopkins in The Remains Of The Day. Sonia Dresdel is also outstanding as the sour-faced spouse, wanting to deny Baines his freedom. Bobby Henrey is also totally engaging as Philippe, conveying a child's attempt to understand the adult world around him. The film is beautifully shot in black and white and Reed has created a perfectly paced and nuanced thriller worthy of the mantle 'neglected British classic'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
What an absolutely smashing post-war British film this is.

Under the aegis of Alexander Korda, Carol Reed's film of `The Fallen Idol' is a masterpiece of direction, with first-rate cinematography by Georges Périnal.

The plot revolves around a French speaking embassy in post-war London; most of the staff and the ambassador and his wife are absent, leaving their young son, Phillipe (magnificently played by Bobby Henrey) in the care of the butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson) and his wife the housekeeper, played by the very sinister Sonia Dresdel. Phillipe adores his pet snake, MacGregor and Baines - Mrs. Baines loathes all three of them. Baines has a great deal of affection for the boy as well as he does Julie (Michèle Morgan) a typist at the embassy who, he artfully explains to Phillipe, is his niece.

When Mrs. Baines rightfully suspects her husband of having an affaire, they have an impassioned row on a landing of the embassy staircase and this is witnessed by Phillipe; but when he changes his hiding position and Baines leaves, Mrs. Baines falls to her death. We - the audience - know it's purely an accident; so does Baines although he's unaware of how it happened but Phillipe believes that Baines is responsible. He therefore decides to lie his head off to the police to protect Baines, who also lies to the police in order to protect Julie's reputation.

What follows thereafter is grippingly told. Richardson is terrific as Baines and as you'd expect, the supporting cast is excellent. Dora Bryant plays, perhaps unsurprisingly, a tart with a heart and Torin Thatcher (who later went on to play a wonderfully wily Ulysses in `Helen of Troy') appears as a kindly copper.

But best of all is Denis O'Dea as Detective Inspector Crowe - smooth as silk and immensely cunning - and the closing moments of the film are terrific.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 15 September 2008
Entertaining movie centred around a child and his adoration of 'Baines' - the man responsible for his father's house played by Raph Richardson.

This should be a good lesson as to when to tell children to speak the truth and when to tell a lie as both can have dire consequences... There's a touching scene in this when a Policeman has to coax the child to come to him as he runs away after witnessing a possible murder, and there's also a wonderful opportunity to see a young Dora Bryan excelling as a woman of 'loose' virtue with compassion!

The innocence of such children as 'Philip' have long since left us, and so such films would not work today.
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