Title: The Fallen Idol
Release Date: 1948
Length: 95 minutes
Director: Carole Reed
Starring: Ralph Richardson, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel
What a great film this is. It’s criminally unknown and for a while was out of print entirely (still is in the US). I’ve seen DVD copies selling for more than $100. Your best bet for watching it will be renting or buying it via a streaming service or maybe your local library has a copy. Carole Reed takes a short story by Graham Greene and weaves a beautiful tale of mystery and suspense.
Young Phillipe is the son of an ambassador in residence in London. We’re not told what country his father is from, but it seems to be somewhere in Central Europe. The house is kept by a number of English servants led by Baines and his wife. Baines is a particular favorite of Phillipe and their friendship and trust is iron-clad. Baines’ relationship with his wife, however, is a bit rocky.
Phillipe’s parents return home for a few days and leave him behind with the Baines (who live at the ambassadorial residence). During their absence, and while out for a walk with Baines, Phillipe sees Baines being affectionate with a young woman. His youth and innocence are such that he accepts Baines’ explanation that she is his niece. The audience, who is privy to more than any single character, will readily understand that Baines’ strained relationship to his wife has led him to find solace elsewhere. Indeed, he loves the young Julie and they dream of his being able to divorce and remarry. (Once upon a time, this was not so simple a thing, often requiring the consent of both husband and wife to split.)
Phillipe accidentally reveals the secret to Mrs. Baines and her fury is colossal. She has an enormous fight with her husband and swears that she will never grant him his freedom and will ensure that only her death allows him to marry again. Well, you can likely surmise some of what happens. She does die, and though her husband is, in some measure responsible, he is not guilty of murder, certainly. What Phillipe sees (and just as importantly fails to see), however, leaves him believing in Baines’ guilt and torn between loyalty to his friend and idol, and his desire to tell the truth and do what’s right.
Typically for a Carole Reed film, the resolution is unexpected and both satisfying and dissatisfying in turn. In some sense it “all comes right in the end”, but there are likely to be repercussions that endure long, long after the events themselves grow hazy in the memory of the characters. An engaging dramatic tale this movie also serves as a study of the risks and rewards of looking up to others as paragons, and what can happen when we first learn that all men have feet of clay.