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The Fallen Idol

Idol worship (Photo by Rialto Pictures)

Graham Greene went to his grave justifiably disappointed in the many movie adaptations derived from his novels. One of the fascinating conundrums of Greene’s career is that this highly perceptive former film critic, fitfully brilliant screenwriter and author of so many novels dubbed “cinematic” should have suffered so badly at the hands of filmmakers, particularly in Hollywood. The few successful films of his work tended to be adapted by Greene himself and/or made in Britain: John Boulting’s Brighton Rock, Alberto Cavalcanti’s Went the Day Well? and the long-unseen The Fallen Idol — now splendidly restored — which Greene and director Carol Reed made in 1948, a couple of years before they embarked on the worldwide hit that was The Third Man. Freely adapted from Greene’s 1935 story “The Basement Room,” The Fallen Idol follows Philippe (Bobby Henrey), the 7-year-old son of the French ambassador in London, who stumbles onto the adulterous affair between his father’s valet Baines (Ralph Richardson) — the eponymous object of his worship — and Julie, an embassy secretary (Michele Morgan). As pregnant with secrets and lies as any of Greene’s spy stories, The Fallen Idol is also one of the great movies about childhood innocence accidentally violated by adults, harking back to Greene’s literary idol Henry James’ What Maisie Knew, and forward to LP Hartley’s The Go-Between. Reed, an often inconsistent filmmaker, handles the brutal mechanics of the plot superbly, with the marbled interiors of the embassy contrasting sharply with his almost neo-realist outdoor shots of postwar London.(Nuart)

—John Patterson

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