7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Fallen Idol [DVD]  (DVD)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.