June 1, 2006

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The Fallen Idol (PG)
A young boy is caught up in the confusion of an adult scandal in the delightfully noiry The Fallen Idol, a movie by The Third Man director Carol Reed and its writer Graham Greene.

The Fallen Idol, originally released in 1948 and recently re-released to theaters with a new 35mm print, shares a dark tone with The Third Man along with a lovely black and white cinematography that makes excellent visual and thematic use of shadows. Here, it is not post-war Europe in the balance but the future of a man named Baines (Ralph Richardson), the kind butler at an embassy in London. The ambassador’s son, Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), has been left more or less on his own by his parents (his mother is currently in the hospital from some illness; is father is often away). So Phillipe is generally in the care of Baines, whom Phillipe adores.

Baines’ kindness stands in sharp contrast to the shrewishness of his wife (Sonia Dresdel). She doesn’t have much patience for Phillipe; we even suspect her of some foul play when his snake McGregor, who Phillipe keeps hidden, goes missing.

But the real intrigue is between Baines and Julie (Michele Morgan), a pretty young embassy worker. Phil, as Baines calls him, comes upon Baines and Julie at a café. They are deep in an emotional conversation. We understand that Julie is telling Baines she will leave London because she knows they can never be together and that Baines doesn’t want her to go. Phil understands there is something between them but assumes Julie is Baines’ niece and anyway, he’s more interested in the pastries they feed him to keep him occupied. Baines asks Phil to keep the meeting a secret from Mrs. Baines, a task that is nearly impossible for Phil. Later, Mrs. Baines and even Julie have secrets of their own they want Phil to keep.

Awash in these secrets that he only partly understands, Phil sees part of a fight between Baines and his wife. He thinks he sees enough to understand what has happened and he runs away. Then, unsure what to do but desperately loyal to Baines, he lies to cover up what he believes is a murder, making far more of a mess of the situation than the truth would have.

The story is smart and genuinely suspenseful. Without the experience to understand the nuance of what he’s seeing and hearing, Phil holds just enough knowledge to be dangerous to everyone. The anxiety and confusion this causes — both in him and in others — results in a tense, entertaining story. B+


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