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 cafe 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.