The first collaboration between writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed is a classic in its own right, despite being overshadowed by their masterful second team-up, The Third Man (1949).
Based on a Greene story and told from the perspective of a French diplomat’s young son (Bobby Henrey), who idolises his father’s butler (Ralph Richardson), it explores what happens after he witnesses a serious incident in the London embassy where they live.
A highly impressive blend of mystery, thriller and suspense, it features many delights, including a raft of fine performances, principally Henrey and Richardson, but also a supporting cast including Sonia Dresdel, Michele Morgan, Dandy Nicholls (as well as future Bond stalwarts Bernard Lee and Geoffrey Keen).
Greene’s familiar themes are here – betrayal, moral ambiguity – but what made this first collaboration with Reed so special was the realisation that they both seemed to find their creative soul mate in each other and no director has managed to portray the Greene’s works so well.
The post-war London setting is superbly evoked with Vincent Korda’s excellent production design and Georges Perinal’s deep-focus photography emphasising the gulf between the innocence of childhood and the often murkier business of adults.
But it also underscores themes such as appearance and reality, the difficulty of telling the truth (as well as finding it), and the dangers of putting too much faith in those we admire.
Fans of The Third Man might like to note the recurrence of certain motifs: spiral staircases, the importance of light and darkness and the complexities of human behaviour in foreign lands.
It is interesting to note that all three of Reed’s works with Greene feature a displaced protagonist in another country: Phillipe in this film (a French boy in England); Holly in The Third Man (an American writer in Vienna); and Wormold in Our Man in Havana (an English spy in Cuba).
Their working relationship would mature over the course of the late 1940s and 50s, but there remains something magical about this film – due in large part to the chemistry between Henrey and Richardson – and it remains one of the classic British films of the post-war years.
Studiocanal have released it on DVD, Blu-ray and Download with the following extras:
- Guy Hamilton remembers The Fallen Idol
- Locations featurette with Richard Dacre
- Interview with Charles Drazin
- Interview with fan Richard Ayoade
- Restoration comparison
- Kevin Brownlow interviews Robert Henrey
> Buy the DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> The Fallen Idol at the IMDb
> Criterion essay on The Fallen Idol by Geoffrey O’Brien
> Find out more about Graham Greene and Carol Reed at Wikipedia