[Join Ettes leader Coco Hames as she moves through the Janus Films Essential Art House DVD box set one film at a time.]
THE FALLEN IDOL directed by CAROL REED (1948)
Running time: 95 minutes
If you're into the tight, menacing vibe of Carol Reed's most famous film, The Third Man, I'll go ahead and guarantee you'll enjoy The Fallen Idol. It's the first of three films Reed did with author Graham Greene (1959's Our Man From Havana rounding out the trilogy). It's sillier and more obvious than either The Third Man or Reed's other great film from this period, 1947's Odd Man Out, but that's the fun of it.
An adaptation of Greene's short story "The Basement Room," The Fallen Idol features li'l Bobby Henrey (who, no, wasn't really in anything else ...) playing Phillipe, the son of a French ambassador living in London, and his relationship with his caretaker and butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson). Baines seems a good guy, and Phillipe looks up to him. But people aren't always what they seem, especially when the viewpoint belongs to an idealistic 9-year-old boy. I'd say "gaze," but that belongs to us, the audience, whom this film plays to more than anything.
With his parents often gone, Phillipe identifies and idolizes the man of the house. However, Baines is carrying on with another, younger woman, and his wife is wise to his misdeeds. Phillipe is confused, and absorbs the brunt of Mrs. Baines' punishment until ... something happens? That Baines did or did not do? There is a police inquiry? Justice is tested? Innocence is lost? Phillipe remains confused.
I've read some things extolling The Fallen Idol's virtues as a noir classic and precursor to some serious cinema, so it might just be me — but the little boy playing Phillipe is really distracting! Some say, oh, it's a boy acting just his age, that's just how a real 9-year-old boy would react! Maybe! But it pulls me away from the story and even the visuals, making it seem like a black-box theater play, which is fine, but less captivating than history might suggest it to be.
Being as sniffish as I could possibly be, I don't see that being a precursor to a classic film makes something a classic film — but like I said, I'm being mean. The Fallen Idol is a fun, beautiful, direct, and satisfying film, but if there's a child-centric book-to-stage-to-cinema movie of the era I prefer, it's The Bad Seed — man, that's a good one.