Fallen Idol, The (1948)

Fallen Idol, The (1948)

“Don’t worry, Baines; I won’t tell them anything.”

The young son (Robert Henrey) of a French ambassador in London is cared for by a kind butler named Baines (Ralph Richardson) and his mean wife (Sonia Dresdel) — but when he stumbles upon Baines (Richardson) with his mistress (Michele Morgan), Phile (Henrey) becomes caught in a web of confusing secrets.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Reed Films
  • Childhood
  • Falsely Accused
  • Marital Problems
  • Ralph Richardson Films
  • Servants, Maids, and Housekeepers

In between helming Odd Man Out (1947) and The Third Man (1949), Carol Reed directed this compelling thriller — based on a short story by Grahame Greene — about a young boy facing countless adult lies and deception. Non-actor Henrey was coached and supported by Reed throughout every scene, and gives a wonderfully natural performance:

Richardson is also in fine form as a kind but all-too-human man stuck between a rock and a hard place, with a shrewish wife so awful:

… we can easily forgive him for seeking solace from Morgan. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the way Reed — working with DP George Perinal — manages to make this very much a picture told from a child’s perspective, both literally and figuratively:

Viewers will likely flash back to their own childhoods, when we were forced to observe strange events and actions by adults who may have been well-meaning:

… but wrongly believed we (kids) were peripheral to their concerns. Such an assumption proves to be woefully misguided in this particular story, with the life-or-death narrative hinging on Henrey’s guileless attempts to simply follow the instructions he’s been given while managing his very-real fears and misunderstandings. The Fallen Idol — so-named due to young Phile looking up to his ultimately imperfect father-figure, Baines — remains a tense, well-acted, atmospherically filmed movie, one which should certainly be seen by all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ralph Richardson as Baines (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Bobby Henrey as Phile
  • Georges Perinal’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful classic by a master director.


  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director


One thought on “Fallen Idol, The (1948)

  1. Agreed, must-see – “as a powerful classic by a master director”. As per my 12/17/14 first-viewing post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Oh! I know your Daddy!”

    ‘The Fallen Idol’ (1948): (It’s interesting to me that the above quote is a throwaway line by a minor character in the film – which, seemingly, has nothing to do with the plot. Yet, ultimately, it’s quite a part of the film’s fabric.) Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. Sir Walter Scott’s line is the spine of this Carol Reed film of a Graham Greene script.

    Many years ago, I tried to watch it and I gave up early on – I think because of the child protagonist. I may have found the actor a bit too… precious. But, in retrospect, the fault may have been mine, to some degree, as well as my view of child actors. It can be particularly difficult finding the right child to play a rather demanding role. At any rate, I stuck with the film this time – and am glad I did. Because the story is powerful indeed.

    Essentially it’s about the consequences of lying. But it also brings up another critical point: Even if we tell the truth all the time, that may or may not help. Especially when it seems a murder has taken place. Director Reed succeeds mostly in tiny details – and there are many of them – as well as his innate understanding of the intricacies of human behavior. Refreshingly, the film does not fall into an anticipated melodramatic trap but, instead, allows a fuller spectrum of point-of-view and human frailty.

    Very nicely done, all-round.

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