An eight-year-old ambassadors son, left in the care of manservant Baines (Ralph Richardson) and his suspicious wife (Sonia Dresdel), witnesses what he believes to be a murder.
Although The Third Man and Our Man In Havana may be the more celebrated collaborations between director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene, The Fallen Idol remains one of the greatest (nearly) forgotten masterpieces of post-war British cinema.
Only Graham Greene could have written this tormented treatise on betrayed trust and frustrated passion. Himself long locked in an unhappy marriage, Greene turned his short story The Basement Room into a guilty tale of corrupted innocence for the screen.
It manifests itself in the form of Bobby Henrey, the son of the French ambassador to Britain, who misunderstands both the nature of butler Ralph Richardson’s relationship with stenographer Michèle Morgan and the significance of the events that follow the death of his hero’s wife. Noirishly photographed, Carol Reed’s visuals are a touch calculating. But his handling of his young star is masterly, as he shapes Henrey’s hesitant performance into a terrifying display of confused curiosity.
A shattering challenge to childhood ideals and an exploration of adult moral complexity, the film has much to recommend it. Vincent Korda’s set designs and Georges Périnal’s cinematography emphasise the choking claustrophobia, while Reed’s direction and Greene’s script both got Oscar nominations.
It might be lesser known, but certainly not deservingly so. This is a cracking piece of Brit cinema.