The Fallen Idol

The Fallen Idol

Streaming Video - 1948
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This 1948 classic won the BAFTA award for the best British film of the year. It tells the story of a young boy who idolizes the family's butler until a deadly accident strikes. Graham Greene, who adapted the screenplay himself from his short story "The Basement Room," declared it the favorite among all his films.
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] : RetroFilm Archive, [1948]
Copyright Date: ©1948
Branch Call Number: E-VIDEO
Characteristics: 1 online resource (1 video file (1 hr., 35 min., 12 sec.)) : sound.
video file, rda
Additional Contributors: Films Media Group
RetroFilm Archive


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It's a story of how the efforts of Baines, the butler, to keep his girlfriend a secret, go horribly wrong when his wife falls down the grand staircase and dies. Ralph Richardson's performance is perfectly modulated, and the small boy through whose eyes the story is told, Bobby Henrey, is far less irritating than most child actors. There's a great supporting cast all around. Some may have trouble understanding the euphemisms in use in those days, i.e., when the police talk about "intimacy," they mean having sex. With that in mind, check it out!

Feb 11, 2016

I totally agreed with Eddiebud. I have no better word to describe the film than by an oxymoron that say it is a strong exquisite film.

7duffy Jul 11, 2015

Well done on all levels: Writing, acting, direction, B&W camera work, etc.
May be a bit slow for some (although I wanted to kill the kid in the last few minutes), but an expertly crafted film from British Lion.

Dec 13, 2014

The precocious son of a French diplomat stationed in London has his innocence eroded by the lies and secrets told to him by his adult caretakers. With his parents away, little Phillipe treats the enormous embassy in which he lives as one big playground; his only adult contacts being the kind-hearted butler Baines, and Baines’ wife, a severe and unhappy woman who rules Phillipe’s life with an iron fist. Finding solace in Baines’ friendship, Phillipe tags after the man whenever he can, even sneaking outside to follow him on his rounds. One day the child happens upon his friend getting cozy with the house stenographer at a local cafe and thus finds himself entrusted with the first of many lies. Convincing Phillipe that the woman is in fact a niece whom his wife cannot stand, Baines swears the boy to secrecy, even sealing the deal with ice cream and a trip to the zoo. It isn’t long however before the mentally unstable Mrs. Baines catches wind of the affair and a bewildered Phillipe suddenly finds himself at the centre of an emotional storm he cannot understand. But when a heated argument between Mrs. Baines and her husband ends up with her lying dead at the bottom of a staircase Phillipe, the sole witness to the altercation, discovers that telling “the truth” is far trickier than he imagined. Did he actually see a murder being committed or, as Baines’ conflicting testimony insists, nothing more than a tragic accident? Carol Reed’s knee-high noir thriller uses an impressionable child to highlight the fabrications and half-truths adults utilize to either get what they want, or avoid that which they don’t. Filmed through a kid’s eyes with meticulous attention to the interplay of light and shadow, Reed presents us with some strikingly images; an elusive game of hide-and-seek toys with our perceptions, a nighttime journey through the streets of London takes on a nightmarish quality, and a wee pet snake becomes a metaphor of biblical proportions. As he peers down at the adult world below him, usually from the vantage point of a bannister or balcony window, Phillipe’s observations on the contradictory nature between words and actions lends him a childlike wisdom which is both comforting and ultimately unsettling. An ironic coda wherein a truthful confession goes largely unheeded provided the perfect capstone.

eddiebud May 14, 2013

If the word "gem" is used to describe a film, then The Fallen Idol is a perfectly cut diamond. I've seen the film about six or seven times over the last 20 years, and viewing it last night I wondered if we've forgotten how to make films. Every shot is telling, every line of dialogue has subtext, and the acting is unimpeachable. The black and white cinematography is luminous, and certain images- the interior set, and the street scene at night- are burned in my visual memory. The film is notable for the naturalistic acting of the young boy, and the story of his coaching by director Carol Reed (The Third Man), as told in special features, is both fascinating amusing. If you're a Downton Abbey fan, you will see an unmistakable resemblance between Ralph Richardson's Baines character and a certain Mr. B. in that series.


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Baines: It's a great life, if you don't weaken.

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