When someone hands you a Blu-ray of Carol Reed directing a Graham Greene story with some running about on moonlit cobbles, you’ve every right to assume you’re going to get Vienna, a zither and a cutting remark about cuckoo clocks. But no, this one of the other Reed/Greene movies; the first one, in fact. And there aren’t nearly as many cobbles.
Phillipe (Bobby Henrey) is the young son of the French ambassador in London. With his father doing ambassador-type stuff and his mother convalescing abroad, it falls to the butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson) and his wife (Sonia Dresdel) to act as surrogate family. Mrs Baines is not particularly nice but Baines himself spoils the child and keeps him entertained with tall-tales of his (non-existent) adventures in Africa which even go as far as the time he had to kill a man. He did no such thing of course. Naturally Phillipe idolises Baines and, being a child, fails to notice that the Baines’ marriage is entirely loveless. In fact, Baines is having an affair with a younger woman (Michele Morgan). When the Baines argue there’s an accident in which Mrs Baines is killed in a fall and Phillipe runs off to give us our Carol Reed moonlit cobbles scene. But because Phillipe naturally thinks the old rogue has deliberately killed his wife, he tries to cover for him. Unfortunately this just makes the police look a bit too suspiciously at what we know was a blameless accident. Oh dear.
Basically this is a story of lost innocence told through a child’s eyes and it’s a great performance from Ralph Richardson (of course it is). There’s also a brilliant little contribution from Dora Bryan as the prostitute the police the police employ to talk to Phillipe as she’s the only woman down the nick. Unfortunately everything she says to the child comes out sounding like something she’d say to one of her clients (“How’d you like to come home with me?” etc.). The exasperated coppers ask her to try it without the smile. It’s actually a rather risqué gag for 1948 but it’s darkly amusing nevertheless.
While The Fallen Idol is regarded as a bona fide classic, there are one or two faults . Part of the problem that Phillipe is an intensely irritating child. Yeah, he’s a child caught up with the affairs of adults but that doesn’t alter the fact that he gets on your nerves. In fact, real children aren’t actually like Phillipe at all; not any we’ve met anyway. Perhaps posh French kids of the late-‘40s were, but we doubt it. The other problem lies in the fact that you feel it ought to be about the painful business of leaving childhood behind but you never get the sense that Phillipe actually has. That might be churlish as Bobby Henrey was only eight or nine at the time: how could he leave his childhood behind? Maybe the story would have worked better with a slightly older child, but whatever the problem it just doesn’t feel quite as satisfying as it should. Which is a shame because there are some brilliant bits and Ralph Richardson and even Dora Bryon make it worth the price of admission.
Special Features: Interview / Featurettes
THE FALLEN IDOL (1948) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: CAROL REED / SCREENPLAY: WILLIAM TEMPLETON, LESLEY STORM, GRAHAM GREENE / STARRING: RALPH RICHARDSON, MICHÈLE MORGAN, SONIA DRESDEL, BOBBY HENREY, DENIS O’DEA, JACK HAWKINS, WALTER FITZGERALD, GERARD HEINZ, DORA BRYON / RELEASED: NOVEMBER 16TH