Carol Reed’s BAFTA winning The Fallen Idol (1948) is one of the latest classics restored through Studio Canal’s Digital Film restoration project for release this November. Originally based on Graham Greene’s novella ‘The Basement Room’, 67 years on The Fallen Idol remains a tense psychological thriller filmed through the perspective of a very young protagonist as he becomes entangled in the jealousy, deceit and cruelty of the adult world.
Phillipe (Bobby Henry), the isolated young son of an ambassador lives in a French-speaking embassy in London, with his parents regularly absent his only companions are the housekeepers and his secret pet snake, McGregor. Phillipe’s only human friend is the embassy butler Baines (Ralph Richardson) who keeps him entertained with fantastical stories of his trips around the world in the basement kitchen as they avoid Baines’ icy, spiteful wife (played by Sonia Dresdel), the head housekeeper. Yet his beloved Baines has a double life with another woman, which Phillipe unwittingly uncovers and innocently tries to protect, yet only buries Baines deeper into trouble. Stakes get higher when Mrs Baines mysteriously dies and Phillipe’s perspective becomes key as the swarm of police close in to investigate.
With genuine suspense and sharp comic relief throughout, this is a premise that has withstood the test of time. The story is told effectively and is driven by the relationship between Phillipe and Baines and their conflicting efforts to clear Baines’ name.
Henry was not a trained child actor and through undoubtedly careful direction gave an authentic performance which believably bounces off the blundering of Richardson‘s excellent Baines as Phillipe’s imagined pedestal for him crumbles. The Fallen Idol was celebrated for clever cinematography on its original release and the quality of it too does not feel dated, many scenes made great use of the scale from a child’s eye; the grand staircase of the embassy, huge yet with nowhere to hide and in a terrific scene were Phillipe, stunned into escape after witnessing a death walks into the tall dark streets of London.
Despite its awards The Fallen Idol remains the lesser known of Reed’s work but is surely one that could still captivate a new generation of film fans so this re-release is greatly welcomed. If you are stuck for what to watch this November and are keen for something fresh it may actually be worth your while to look back to this classic.
The Fallen Idol (1948) re-release is available to buy on DVD and blu-ray from today (16th November 2015).