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The Criterion Collection presents
The Fallen Idol (1948)

"Some lies are just kindness."
- Baines (Ralph Richardson)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: March 16, 2007

Stars: Ralph Richardson, Michèle Morgan
Other Stars: Sonia Dresdel, Bobby Henrey, Denis O'Dea, Jack Hawkins
Director: Carol Reed

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:35m:42s
Release Date: November 07, 2006
UPC: 715515020527
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Secrets & Lies is a riveting family drama from British director Mike Leigh, but it also could have been a suitable title for The Fallen Idol. Carol Reed's quiet, absorbing thriller masterfully depicts how the tiniest fabrications and deceptions can cause major repercussions, especially when interpreted by an impressionable young boy. Written by the always insightful Graham Greene (who adapted and expanded his own short story), The Fallen Idol stands as one of the crown jewels of British cinema, and—along with the following year's The Third Man—a testament to the artistry and vision of its soon-to-be-knighted director.

Though the film largely transpires in the palatial French embassy in London, we view the action through the small and undeveloped mind of the ambassador's young son, Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), who worships the family butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson). The portly domestic regales the lonely lad with tall tales about his exploits in Africa, and spoils him with sweets, much to the consternation of his controlling, ill-tempered wife (Sonia Dresdel). One afternoon, Phillipe sneaks out of the embassy and follows Baines to a small tearoom, where he spies his friend in an emotional tête-á-tête with an attractive woman (Michèle Morgan). Phillipe can't begin to comprehend the depth of their feelings, but Baines worries the boy might divulge the meeting to his wife, so he asks him to keep mum. A slip of the tongue, however, clues in Mrs. Baines, who, in turn, bribes Phillipe to keep a secret of her own. As the lies mount, so does the drama, until Phillipe witnesses an accidental death that he mistakes for murder. He also believes Baines to be the culprit, and when the police investigate, he desperately tries to protect his fallen idol. Unfortunately, Phillipe hasn't yet learned that keeping a secret can often do more harm than good.

The term "Hitchcockian" is often bandied about when discussing thrillers, but The Fallen Idol manages to borrow the best elements from the Master of Suspense without blatantly ripping them off. Nuance often supersedes action in the film, and the deliberate pacing, off-kilter camera angles, and soft-spoken dialogue help Reed create a mood of taut tension that's eerily heightened by the boy's wide-eyed and wide-eared perspective. At first, Phillipe dismisses most of what he hears as adult gibberish, but soon becomes fascinated by this new, vague language, and tries to decipher the meaning behind the deceptively simple conversations he overhears. And as he wades deeper into this complex grown-up world, we sense his confusion, suspicion, and trepidation—all of which increase as the movie progresses.

Henrey's performance holds The Fallen Idol together, but in reality, Reed and editor Oswald Hafenrichter manufacture the eight-year-old's portrayal. A green amateur, Henrey had to be coaxed and cajoled into expressing the proper emotion for each scene, and the Job-like Reed used a variety of tricks and tactics to get the reactions he wanted, then spliced them into the picture. As a result, Henrey comes off as totally natural—a rare feat for a child actor in those days—and Reed's cut-and-paste formula escapes notice.

Richardson's fine work, on the other hand, is no surprise, and his restrained, dignified portrayal buffers Henrey's attention-grabbing antics. Repressed emotion is a British trademark and Richardson embodies it well, yet still manages to express a multitude of feelings while maintaining the decorum his position in the household requires.

Over the years, many films have tried to adopt a juvenile viewpoint, but few succeed as brilliantly as The Fallen Idol. By allowing us to peer inside Phillipe's mind, Reed and Green add a tantalizing extra layer to an already fascinating premise. And though the movie's set-up surpasses its far too tidy and abrupt denouement, this illuminating tale of innocence lost keeps us transfixed from beginning to end. The Third Man may be Reed's masterwork, but The Fallen Idol, quite fittingly, is his precious little gem.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Once again, Criterion has magnificently restored a classic film, and this full-frame transfer ranks among its best work. Nicks and scratches are almost entirely absent in this high definition remaster, but enough grain remains to preserve the celluloid feel. Sumptuously rich blacks, well-pitched contrast, and a wide gray scale bring wonderful depth to the image, while close-ups crackle with clarity, and subtle details—an essential aspect of the film—are razor sharp. Occasionally, a clear vertical line appears, but it never lasts long, and only minimally distracts. There's also a missed frame or two at the 24m:11s mark, but it's a forgivable fault in an otherwise striking visual treatment.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: A fair amount of hiss is present on the mono track, but that's the only blemish on this fine audio presentation. Dialogue is often spoken in hushed tones, but every word is crystal clear, and William Alwyn's music score enjoys enough fidelity to help ratchet up the story's tension.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Original press book
Extras Review: Extras are surprisingly slim on this Criterion release. There's no audio commentary, but a hefty, handsomely illustrated booklet provides comprehensive essays that analyze the plot, chronicle Graham Greene's adaptation of his own short story, and celebrate director Carol Reed. The 30-page insert also includes a cast and crew listing, notes about the transfer, and several rare photos.

The disc's main supplement is the all-new, 24-minute documentary, A Sense of Carol Reed, a thoughtful examination of the director's "long and varied career." Employing lengthy clips from The Fallen Idol, Odd Man Out, and The Third Man, the film concentrates on Reed's respectful relationship with actors and his interminable patience with children. We're told Bobby Henrey "couldn't act his way out of a paper bag" and had the attention span of a "demented flea," yet somehow Reed was able to wring from him a stunningly natural performance. Anecdotes about the Oliver! set (care of actor Ron Moody) and reflections on Reed's style by director John Boorman highlight this classy appreciation of a "revered master craftsman."

The film's original press book, featuring an array of articles, ads, and photos, also can be accessed from the extras menu, as well as an illustrated Reed filmography, which includes 35 images of both foreign and domestic posters from Reed's movies.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Exquisitely constructed and executed, The Fallen Idol helped define post-war British cinema, and remains an immensely satisfying exercise in suspense. Criterion's impeccable restoration allows us to soak up all the details, and helps make this disc an essential addition to any classic film library. Highly recommended.


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