Saturday, April 30, 2011

#357: The Fallen Idol

(Carol Reed, 1948)

I had mixed feelings about The Fallen Idol. On one hand, I found the little boy at the center of the film to be both annoying as a character and distracting as an actor. It's always difficult for a film to survive placing a young child at the center of the plot, primarily because most children aren't very good actors but also because kids act differently than adults. This is something that is very difficult for filmmakers to imitate - there aren't any child screenwriters after all, and even though we've all been children how quickly we forget what it's actually like. But here even more than usual I found myself looking at the main character as a performer instead of a child caught up in his friend's intrigue. This was exacerbated by the plot's seemingly unlikely twists and turns - there just feels like there are too many moments when this thing should fall apart. Unlike other films with equally ludicrous moments, the richness of the story and its presentation is not enough of a distraction.

On the other hand, there are some truly great moments in the film, both visually and story-wise. The beautiful cinematography by Georges PĂ©rinal (who already had a rich career that included The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and the underrated treat Things to Come) pops especially as it snakes its way through the embassy's endless rooms packed with detail. The film's pivotal scene in which the young boy believes he has seen his hero murder his estranged wife is especially well constructed, and the moment when the police detective throws the all-important telegram off the balcony - though somewhat contrived - rivals the great moments in the contemporary thrillers of Hitchcock.

I'm well aware of the intentional presentation of the child as out of step with his surroundings, unaware of the games being played by his adult counterparts. In many ways, this choice works incredibly well, and the way Reed shoots the film very much allows the viewer to take the perspective of a child - the movie is an ambitious attempt at first person narrative from Phile's perspective. It's just very hard to feel entirely satisfied with the final product. Ultimately, I think future viewings may change my mind about this aspect of the film - once I am used to Phile, I can focus more on the intention of the film. However, what ultimately prevents me from feeling like The Fallen Idol measures up to Reed's next film, the thoroughly entertaining The Third Man, are those unrealistic moments that pull me out of the story. Still, the film is extremely enjoyable, and it brings a unique perspective to Criterion's expanding coming-of-age entries.

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