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The Fallen Idol

October 11, 2014

The Fallen Idol (1948)
Director: Carol Reed
Actors: Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Sonia Dresdel

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Synopsis: In the French Embassy in London, ambassador’s son Phil (Bobby Henrey) is left with the embassy staff for the weekend when his parents travel abroad. Phil preoccupies himself with the movements of his beloved butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson), and soon becomes dangerously immersed in the affairs of Baines’ relationship with his prickly wife and secret mistress….

Review: One of the movies’ great treatises on the projection and (ultimate) limitations of a child’s inner-world, Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol functions not only as rich drama but also a truly gorgeous exhibition of cinema, period. In many respects, the apparatus of filmmaking circa 1948 makes the landscape of the story even richer – I doubt a contemporary director could find a more expressive way of documenting Phil’s unreliable world-view than Carol Reed does here. There’s all manner of strange, dystopian camera angles, there’s great use of low framing perspectives to approximate Phil’s awe of adults (especially the police), and there is the truly brilliant sequence where Phil plays an ominous game of ‘hide and seek’ with Baines and his mistress, just prior to the fateful accident that propels the second half of the film.

And yes, that second half of the film does tend to conform to a tendency in similar films of the period (Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Dial M for Murder, Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai) whereby the psychological mysteriousness of the set-up gives way to expository, wordy, whodunnit denouements. Overall though, The Fallen Idol is an undeniable bona fide British film classic, and evidence enough that Carol Reed (along with exhibits Odd Man Out and The Third Man) thoroughly deserves his position as one of the nation’s great filmmakers. (October 2014)

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