Now hitting the repertory movie circuit nationwide, The Fallen Idol could be filed comfortably under film noir, despite an ending that endorses second chances -- a sense of redemption goes against noir's idea of the city as a mousetrap for humans. But the movie has its alleys, its shadows, a pistol in a drawer, and an adulterous husband pushed to the brink of murder. Also, it's directed by Carol Reed, whose previous collaboration with Graham Greene, The Third Man, is the very definition of noir. Reed had retrieved the "Dutch Angle," the skewed-sideways camera, to suggest a world out of alignment, as well as other cinema ideas lifted from the wreckage of German Expressionism. This includes the witchy, stylized evil of the lead villainess, Sonia Dresdel, whose last line is a cackling scream worthy of Margaret Hamilton.
The Fallen Idol begins with a look at the pampered though negligent childhood of Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), a European ambassador's son living in a park side embassy mansion in London. From his perch at the top of the stairs, Phillipe smiles a smile of satiety as he watches his household scoot on their morning errands, across a vast checkerboard floor. His favorite among the servants is the butler Baines (Ralph Richardson), a jaunty character who likes to fill the Phillipe's head with stories of his African adventures. (Asked if he killed any lions there, Baines answers, "I mostly let them live.") The child is more distracted by his pet snake MacGregor than the events around him. But when this little prince gets bored and tracks down his favorite, he finds Baines huddled in a nearby tea-shop with his girlfriend Julie (Michele Morgan). Julie is about to leave for France with no forwarding address, rather than staying in London and continuing to be the other woman.