The Fallen Idol was the first of three collaborations between director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene, who would later team up on the legendary The Third Man, and is a small masterpiece itself. An elegant, thrilling b... more »alancing act of suspense and farce, this tale of the fraught relationship between a boy and his beloved butler, who the child eventually believes might be guilty of murder, is a visually and verbally dazzling knockout, with enough tricks up its sleeve to stand with the best of early Hitchcock.« less
Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY Reviewed on 11/23/2010...
Where was Hitchcock when you needed him?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For awhile, 'The Fallen Idol" was part of the Criterion Collection but according to what I've read, the rights have now been acquired by Lionsgate. Be that as it may, any film that ends up as part of the Criterion Collection (even for a short while) is supposed to be considered a highly rated 'art' film, if not a 'masterpiece.' Certainly the film has things going for it including some wonderful noirish cinematography, Director Carol Reed's remarkable coaching job of a child actor, solid acting performances on the part of the adult actors and haunting on-location shots in 1948 London.
Despite the classy 'look' of the film, the screenplay itself is weak and as a result, I relegate the whole affair to the pantheon of 'B' melodrama. The weakest aspect of the film is obvious: the character of Mrs. Baines, who is just such a vapid, unlikeable martinet who would have been probably diagnosed as bipolar if she were alive today. And is Mr. Baines much better a character than the evil Mrs.? What exactly do we find out about the wily butler besides the back story that he killed a black man while he was living in Africa before working at the Embassy? As it turns out, that's just a tall tale Baines has made up to impress Phillipe. Otherwise, Baines spends most of his time trying to convince Phillipe to keep his mouth shut so that no one finds out about his affair with Julie, an Embassy employee who works in the steno pool.
I suppose it was very progressive of director Reed to hold up Baines and Julie as 'the good guys' despite the fact that they were having an affair (Reed himself was the product of an illegitimate union). But why should we hold them in such high esteem? Just because they're the victims of the unreasonable Mrs. Baines? I appreciate the fact that Baines wins points because he's kind to Phillipe but really that's all we know about him. And as far as Julie is concerned—to my mind, she's seems to be a complete empty vessel.
In watching the documentary about director Reed as part of the DVD 'supplement', we learn that he was master in extracting wonderful performances from the child actors he worked with during his long career. The case of Bobby Henrey who played Phillipe was no exception. Henrey reportedly could never sit still and eventually Reed had to hire a magician to perform tricks for the boy in order to keep his attention. Reed expertly brings out the child's confusion as he misunderstands the reason for Mrs. Baines' death which leads to Baines being placed in jeopardy (the child believes that Baines 'murdered' his wife after confusing that event with Baines' tall tale which initially the butler appeared to communicate as a 'murder' but later clarifying it as 'self defense').
The rest of "Fallen Idol" involves the rather stodgy police investigation into Mrs. Baines' death. Will the boy gum things up despite attempting to cover for the butler at every turn? Since he's just a kid, he's unable to cover up the discrepancies in Baines and Julies' story and after they're found out, Baines is on the verge of suicide. Fortunately an eagle eyed cop comes upon Mrs. Baines' footprint next to the window where she fell; this of course ends up exonerating the happy (or shall we say semi-happy) couple. I believe that the original ending from the book the film was based on, was Baines doing himself in, and some internet posters would prefer the more unpleasant denouement. I was actually pleased that the films' scenarists changed the ending to a happy one as the thought of having that child experience such an awful event as suicide would have ruined the picture for me.
If there is a moral in this story, it's probably 'always be honest' because Baines and Julies' decision not to tell the truth almost led to their arrest and complete downfall. Despite the fact they prevail in the end, I would have much preferred that Phillipe had a direct hand in saving them. As it turned out, it was pure coincidence that saved Baines from the hangman's noose and not little Phillipe who will only be remembered for not being able to keep his big mouth shut.
Like Hitchcock, The Fallen Idol is concerned with an innocent man being unjustly accused. Unlike Hitchcock, the characters of The Fallen Idol have little or no ambiguity. And when the protagonist is finally saved, it's not from his own exciting efforts or efforts on the part of a valuable ally (in this case, a nine year old boy) but from a slow-paced, pedestrian police investigation. Where was Hitchcock when you needed him?
As impeccable as its title hero
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 03/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Carol Reed was perhaps even more famous in his day for coaxing superb performances out of children than Steven Spielberg is today... and much of it is due to the astonishing performance in this marvelous film by Bobby Henrey as Phillipe, the son of the French Ambassador to the UK. Henrey delivers what must be one of the greatest child's performances ever on screen (right up there with little Victoire Thivisol in PONETTE). Phile idolizes the butler at the embassy, the sweet but very ordinary Baines (Ralph Richardson), and when his hero becomes accused of murder in the death of his wife young Phile becomes wrapped up in the police investigation. The film does a superb job switching back and forth from a child's to an adult's register--we see things both from Phile's limited child's point of view (and understand his inability to put things together given his naievete), and we also see from an adult perspective how his attempts to help his idol only make things worse and worse. The film is beautifully shot--the embassy itself is something of a marble and tile wonder--and Henrey's frantic need for attention and his jumpy manner (and endearing lisp: "He PUTHED her...") make him seem as real a small child as you can imagine."
Touching, Sensitive Movie of Love, Frustration and Adulation
Jay Dickson | 06/08/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a wonderful movie, superbly written. It has such a subtle way about the frustration of two incompatible spouses, the last-ditch attempt of one to change his life for the better, and his relationship with a young boy in his charge who understands nothing and looks up to him. Ralph Richardson is truly great in this. I love this movie for all its fine touches. I've seen it over and over. The viewer must like movies that really pay attention to how human beings behave, good and bad, and the little fictions they make up to get along in a difficult life."
blockhed | UK | 12/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Some reviewers think Greene's film scripts resemble Hitchcock. They don't. See my review of The Third Man. Greene's major concern in everything he wrote was the question of guilt: in other words, original sin. His concern is with right and wrong, and the machinations of the devil in man. Hitchcock is not concerned with right and wrong. He is interested in Freudian motivation, apart from wanting to give the audience a roller-coaster suspense ride. Greene is not interested in Freud in the slightest. He inserts a clinical scalpel into the convoluted morality of human behaviour, and then twists it. There is extreme tension, of course: how will the plot lines be resolved? In fact, the happy ending of this screenplay is a minor cop-out: but it would be unbearable to have Baines shoot himself. But the viewer is still left wondering what the long-term effect of these experiences will be on the totally confused and disillusioned young boy. Somehow, one feels, the cycle of muddle and deceit will be repeated in the future. This film is much, much more subtle and intellectually sophisticated than anything produced by Hitchcock. Which is why it could hardly have made a fraction of the money pulled in by Hitch.
The reviewer who said this film was shot in a mansion in Chelsea, South London, could not be more wrong. The street locations for the film were in the area of Regent's Park, where the London Zoo is still situated, well north of Oxford Street."
Secrets, Lies, And Misunderstandings--Just A Regular Day In
K. Harris | Las Vegas, NV | 11/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I haven't seen "The Fallen Idol" in probably twenty years. While regarded as a masterpiece, my recollections largely involved an annoying child. So with Criterion's release, I was eager to revisit this work with adult eyes. I can't honestly say that I still didn't find that child somewhat annoying--because he was. But his need for love and attention are critical to "The Fallen Idol," for it is his actions and emotional state that propel the film.
The story unfolds from the viewpoint of Phillipe, the child of a French ambassador. Left largely to his own devices within the embassy, Phillipe has formed a close bond with Mr. Baines, the family butler. He is enchanted by Mr. Baines' stories, as well as spoiled and indulged by the kind hearted man. Baines' wife plays the role of the disciplinarian, so the pair often evade her more stern ways. The film establishes all of the primary relationships effectively, and then moves into the more conventional plot as we discover Baines is having an affair with an embassy secretary.
The striking thing about "The Fallen Idol" is that the narrative is shown completely through Phillipe's eyes. We can see only as much as he is privy to. So we get bits and pieces of the adult story interwoven with the more typical aspects of being a child. Of course, what we glimpse makes more sense to us than to the 8-year-old. We see a marriage on the brink of destruction, we see a torrid affair, we see the emotional confrontations, and we see tragedy strike. And we understand what is happening--but we're not off the hook. We are linked to Phillipe, who is well meaning yet confused. As he tries to do what is right for Mr. Baines--he tells lies he shouldn't, keeps secrets he shouldn't, and then tries to tell the truth when it might be detrimental. The suspense of "The Fallen Idol" comes completely from Phillipe's misguided attempts to help--as he continually makes things worse.
The clever screenplay, based on a Graham Greene story, builds tension is this unorthodox way--it is more psychologically unnerving than a true "thriller." The film benefits from a couple of great performances. Ralph Richardson is perfect as Mr. Baines, a relatively good man trapped by circumstances. And I particularly liked Sonia Dresdel, whose Mrs. Baines is frightening but in a believable way.
Some comparisons have been made between the style of this film and early Hitchcock, and those are apt observations. Particularly noteworthy is the use of a paper airplane as a damning piece of evidence (Hitch often used mundane objects to convey menace). As it sails through the air, this innocent object provides one of the film's most tense moments. Recommended highly, this is still a relevant and original work. Very simple, yet very effective. KGHarris, 11/06."
A magnificent film, directed by Carol Reed and written by Gr
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 12/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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.
The Criterion 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 DVD transfer is excellent."