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The Fallen Idol

The Fallen Idol (1948) was the first of three collaborations between director Carol Reed and novelist Graham Greene, who adapted his own short story for the film. The following year, the two worked together again on The Third Man, though you’d never know it given the dominating presence of Orson Welles both onscreen (as the mercurial Harry Lime) and in the popular imagination as the film’s real creative force. (Reed and Greene hooked up again a decade later for Our Man in Havana.) Released on DVD by the Criterion Collection, Idol suggests that Reed and Greene began more under the influence of Hitchcock than of Welles. There’s more than a touch of Shadow of a Doubt in Idol’s domestic tale of innocence lost when Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), an ambassador’s young son, becomes the crucial witness in a murder mystery involving Baines, the family butler (Ralph Richardson) and the boy’s only companion. But unlike Hitchcock’s classic, there are no real monsters, such as serial killers, in Reed and Greene’s ordinary world — only ordinary, sympathetic people who tell ordinary, sympathetic lies. “Some lies are kindness,” says Baines over breakfast with his bitter wife (Michèle Morgan), before a rendezvous with his mistress, a typist in the ambassador’s steno pool. As the innocent lies accumulate and spread, the sense of corruption and dread increases exponentially. Set almost entirely in the elegant embassy mansion from Phillipe’s waist-high perspective, the low angles grow increasingly canted, the shadows on the walls longer, darker and deeper. When violence finally breaks out on the embassy’s marble stairway, Phillipe flees the house in shock out into a maze-like London that appears as a precursor to the noir Vienna of The Third Man.

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: DVD: 49Up; Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Four; Oldboy: Collector’s Edition; The Paul Newman Collection: The Drowning Pool, Harper, The Left-Handed Gun, Mackintosh Man, Pocket Money, Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Young Philadelphians. Also released this week: DVD: Adventures of Superman: The Complete Fifth and Sixth Seasons; Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas; Columbo: The Complete Sixth and Seventh Seasons; C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation: The Complete Sixth Season; The Da Vinci Code; Family Guy, Vol. 4 (Season 4: Part 2); The Golden Girls: The Complete Sixth Season; Hate Crime; Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas); Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man; Masters of Horror: John McNaughton’s Haeckel’s Tale; NCIS Naval Criminal Investigative Service: The Complete Second Season; Northern Exposure: The Complete Fifth Season; Opencam; Paul McCartney: The Space Within Us; That Girl: Season Two; Who Killed the Electric Car?


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