The Fallen Idol
Children see the darndest things in British director Carol Reed’s playful 1948 thriller The Fallen Idol, currently in rerelease for the first time since its 1949 American debut. The child in question is Phillipe (squeaky Bobby Henrey), the short-pants and sweater-vested son to a London-based ambassador who has the run of the embassy one weekend while his father is away picking up Phillipe’s mum. Phillipe is a precocious, playful towhead who clamors about the three-story estate, fetching his pet snake McGregor from a balcony and sneaking down to the servants-quarters basement to chat with his pal, the butler Baines (Ralph Richardson, in yet another of his wonderfully subdued performances). Phillipe may be young, but he sees enough to know something is amiss between Baines and his stern wife (Sonia Dresdel). And while not old enough to understand the word "affair," Phillipe senses something dodgy going on between Baines and embassy typist Julie (the right handsome Michèle Morgan).
As sensuously gifted a storyteller as David Lean or Michael Powell but less renown, Reed clothes Idol in whimsy--a jaunty instrumental score accompanies Phillipe’s pitter-pattering perambulations, Baines regales the lad with obviously tall tales of his life in Africa prior to becoming a domestic, the villainous Mrs. Baines might as well have a pointy nose and wart on her face. But Idol is also Reed’s first adaptation of shiftily gifted moralist Graham Greene--a pairing that eventually spawned the near-perfect The Third Man and the comically caustic Our Man in Havana--and Greene’s delicate way with civil disaster comes into play when Mrs. Baines tries to catch Baines and Julie in the second-floor guest room, Phillipe tries to spy on the proceedings from the outdoor fire escape, and Mrs. Baines ends up dead at the bottom of the stairs.
Greene’s unmistakable flair for flawed humanity flowers during the ensuing investigation as a pajama-clad Phillipe tears barefoot off into the dead of night and runs into a police officer, who eventually returns him to the embassy to find a detective and doctor already poking around. What follows is a constantly spun and re-spun web of lies, half-truths, and veiled admissions as Baines bends the truth to protect Julie and Phillipe, Julie tries to protect Baines and Phillipe, and Phillipe--whose childish lies are the most transparent from the get-go--eventually stops lying to no avail. The Fallen Idol lacks the bleak follow-through of prime Greene, but it does make the nifty pirouette of a concluding on a somewhat upbeat note--that is, for a movie with a woman’s death--while reinforcing the idea that adults never discount kids more than when they’re telling the truth.