August 6, 2014
The Fallen Idol (1948)
Grade: 66/100

Director: Carol Reed
Stars: Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Sonia Dresdel

What it's about. Baines (the much-esteemed Ralph Richardson) is a butler at a posh embassy in London. His eternally cross wife is played by Sonia Dresdel. The ambassador is out of town to fetch his wife, who has been ill for some time. But his talkative and active preteenaged son, Phillipe (Bobby Henrey) remains at the embassy.

Phillipe has taken up with Baines, who patiently humors the lad while carrying out his duties, as well as a glum affair with comely Julie (Michéle Morgan). Julie attempts to break it off with Baines, but he asks her to come to embassy one last time. The embassy is mostly empty for the weekend.

Baines' wife concocts a plan to catch Baines and his erstwhile girlfriend together. Instead, she falls to her death from a staircase. The police initially conclude it is an accident, but Phillipe, who was possibly a witness, prattles enough to the police to make Baines a murder suspect.

How others will see it. Director Carol Reed, screenwriter (and bestseller author) Graham Greene, and Ralph Richardson were held in great regard by 1948, and The Fallen Idol was well received. It was Oscar-nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay, and at BAFTA, it won Best British Film. Richardson was likely passed over only because The Heiress (also from 1948) held even greater promise for an award (it became his only Oscar nomination during his lifetime).

Today at, The Fallen Idol has a respectable 4400 user votes and a consistent and fairly high user rating of 7.8 out of 10. This surpasses the rating of the superior but downbeat Odd Man Out but trails The Third Man, which commands an 8.4.

Naysayers point out that feckless Phillipe is at best a nuisance, but others believe that the energetic youth is merely a typical kid. Just don't expect him to keep any secrets.

How I felt about it. The Fallen Idol was made in between two great films directed by Carol Reed, Odd Man Out and The Third Man. Does The Fallen Idol complete the hat trick? Or is it more like Interiors (1978), the disappointing Woody Allen movie sandwiched between Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979)

The answer is, closer to the former scenario than the latter. It is a good movie with plenty of suspense and a delightful evil stepmother character to elicit sympathy for our leads. It is true that Phillipe is in need of a good boarding school, or a governess, or medication for his attention deficit disorder, but then we wouldn't have much of a story.

One wonders why Baines would tell an impressionable child lies about shooting an African. It certainly wasn't merely to amuse the boy. Perhaps it allowed Baines, in his own mind, to act out his alter ego, a dashing figure of action instead of a henpecked husband, and a servant required to remain docile and obedient.

One also wonders why gracious and beautiful Julie would pursue a reserved married man nearly twenty years older than her. Perhaps it would be better casting if she were less attractive, although that would reduce the motivation for Baines. In any event, he has plenty of cause to leave his nagging and shrewish wife.

The real mystery, however, is Mrs. Baines. If she is in an unhappy marriage, and her husband has asked her for a divorce, then what purpose is served by attempting to confront him with his mistress? Aside from a violent act of revenge. But she simply wants to yell at them.