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Film review: 1948's 'Fallen Idol' a winner

Re-released film features plenty of tension, great cast

Published: Friday, June 23 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

THE FALLEN IDOL — *** 1/2 — Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Sonia Dresdel; in black and white; made before ratings (1948), probable PG (violence, racial epithets, brief drugs).

"The Fallen Idol" was the first collaboration between director Carol Reed and author-turned-screenwriter Graham Greene, who teamed a year later for the classic 1949 thriller "The Third Man."

The latter film has garnered justifiable acclaim over the years, but the former has largely been forgotten. Which makes it all the more fortunate that "The Fallen Idol" has now resurfaced. Art-house distributor Janus Films has restored and re-released the film nearly 60 years after its initial distribution.

This earlier pairing between the two masters is another well-crafted and thought-provoking film. And it makes you wish that Reed and Greene had teamed for more than just three films. (Their third collaboration was the comical but also worthwhile 1959 film "Our Man in Havana," starring Alec Guinness.)

Events in "The Fallen Idol" are viewed from the perspective of Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), the inquisitive young son of a French diplomat living in the London embassy.

Aside from his pet snake, Phillipe's only friend is Baines (Ralph Richardson), the embassy's genial butler. However, the boy is much less fond of Mrs. Baines (Sonia Dresdel), a stern disciplinarian. Mr. Baines apparently feels the same way; he's carrying on an affair with a younger woman (Michele Morgan). In fact, he's planning to leave his wife for her — but before that happens, Mrs. Baines accidentally falls to her death. But Phillipe, who observed the couple in an argument that led to her fall, believes it may be something more sinister than an "accident."

As a director, Reed's pacing may seem relaxed, but the tension is ratcheted up to an almost uncomfortable degree in the film's second half. And as with most of Greene's work, there are also humorous elements, including an amusing police station interrogation scene.

Henrey's rambunctious performance may be a little irksome, but that's the point of the character. And the three adult leads are all terrific, especially Richardson. Likewise, the supporting cast is first-rate, with British film veterans Bernard Lee and Jack Hawkins as detectives. (Ironically, Hawkins played the Baines character in a 1959 television version of this tale.)

"The Fallen Idol" was made before ratings but would probably receive a PG for some brief violence (including some domestic violence and slapping), use of racial epithets and some brief drug content (references to sleeping pills). Running time: 95 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com