The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed / United Kingdom, 1948):

The Jamesian theme is promptly noted, the camera's gaze is that of the unblinking 8-year-old (Bobby Henrey) at the top of the staircase, taking in an exceptionally busy London weekend. Home itself is "officially foreign territory," the French embassy is the cavernous warren (checkerboard floors, trap doors, uncanny spirals) through which the diplomat's lonely son drifts, tiny pet snake in his pocket. The butler (Ralph Richardson, magnificently subtle) pads along with a wink and a fable while the staff is presided over by his severe wife (Sonia Dresdel), a virago out of Rebecca. The distance of images and the interpretation of events are tangible elements in the Carol Reed method—a close-up of glazed scones by the café window (a couple of hungry wasps turn it into a Dutch still-life) yields to a medium-shot of the illicit meeting inside the shop, Richardson and the sad-eyed typist (Michèle Morgan) painfully fumbling through a Brief Encounter of their own. The paper plane-telegram in the bouquet vase, footsteps during the game of hide-and-seek, the hairpin on the pillow: "It's things like that give secrets away." The virginal eye and the "nasty, wicked mind," the perplexing adult whirl impeccably laid out by Reed as a matter of essential lies and unsteady witnesses. Chabrol in Les Bonnes Femmes has the trip to the zoo ("Aw, you're pretty," coos the lad to the cobra lunging behind the glass pane), the much-needed hug after the traumatic plunge comes from a cockney streetwalker at the police station. Stories unravel and investigations tighten, and there's the half-understanding protagonist, as discredited as the boy who cried wolf. (A solemn little handyman pops up in the middle of an interrogation to calibrate the embassy's clock, just another one of Graham Greene's gnomes.) Mother's return curtails the holiday, Queneau's Zazie summarizes the lessons learned: "J'ai vieilli." Cinematography by Georges Périnal. With Denis O'Dea, Jack Hawkins, Water Fitzgerald, Dandy Nichols, Joan Young, Torin Thatcher, and Bernard Lee. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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