The Fallen Idol

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #357: Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol.


Carol Reed and Graham Greene, what a com­bo. I think a large part of the rea­son I don’t read much mod­ern fic­tion is that Graham Greene’s work is so ful­ly sat­is­fy­ing that I can’t fath­om a rea­son to try any­thing else. Carol Reed as well, though much of his ca­reer was spent in la­bor mak­ing ob­scure lo­cal­ly-aimed pieces, man­aged, with Greene, to make films that are ex­act­ly as sat­is­fy­ing as a Greene book. The Fallen Idol, de­spite its film noir echo­ing ti­tle, is full of Reed’s char­ac­ter­is­tic fi­nesse and Greene’s sub­tle­ty. It is a sto­ry about adult shame, ly­ing, be­tray­al and im­ma­tu­ri­ty seen through the eyes of a young boy, who is great­ly changed through his ap­par­ent­ly tan­gen­tial in­ter­ac­tion with the in­volved adult par­ties.


This an­gle al­lows a pro­found ac­cess to lay­ers of fal­si­ty that per­me­ate the adult world, a marked con­trast to the boy Phile’s wide-eyed ad­sorp­tion of the same. We ob­serve his in­no­cence dis­in­te­grate first-hand as a re­sult of the self­ish and pet­ty love tri­an­gle whirling around him. The but­ler did it. Mr. Baines is Phile’s hero, re­gal­ing him with tales out of Africa and as­sist­ing him in small mis­chiefs. Mrs. Baines is Phile’s neme­sis, a woman who has tasked her­self as act­ing-moth­er while Phile’s re­al moth­er is in the hos­pi­tal, but at the same time, a woman who has no idea how to re­late to a child oth­er than in terms of to­tal­i­tar­i­an con­trol. When Baines en­lists Phile to help him cov­er up the truth about his af­fair, the plot thick­ens at an alarm­ing rate.


We learn that a per­son can be good with chil­dren but bad at every­thing else, we learn just how much adult be­hav­ior can af­fect a child who trusts the peo­ple in charge of him and we learn how offhand­ed­ly that trust can be be­trayed. The ul­ti­mate moral of the sto­ry is that one should al­ways tell the truth de­spite the con­se­quences, this comes from the mouth of the har­ri­dan Mrs. Baines ear­ly in the film, but by the end has be­come al­most com­plete­ly em­pa­thet­ic. I should ad­mit right here that I watched this film twice. The sec­ond time through there are clues lit­tered through­out, both vi­su­al and ver­bal, that add a dis­tinct­ly Hitchcockian feel to the film. Reed’s gen­er­ous use of dutch-an­gle, re­strict­ed fields of view and cer­tain em­phat­ic shot fram­ings [a slammed café door that makes a Closed sign sway in punc­tu­a­tion, and the above shot of an im­por­tant open win­dow] turn the psy­cho­log­i­cal tur­moil in­to en­vi­ron­men­tal. This is a film that hits on all cylin­ders through­out.