He was inquisitive and he didn’t understand and he wanted to know. He went and stood in the doorway to see better, he was less sheltered than he had ever been; other people’s lives for the first time touched and pressed and molded. He would never escape that scene.
– Graham Greene, The Basement Room (source material for The Fallen Idol)
The Fallen Idol by Carol Reed (UK, 1948, 95 min.). The film unfolds through the eyes of Phile, the 7-year-old son of a British diplomat. Although Phile is afforded every luxury, like all children he is isolated by a natural selfishness and naiveté which blocks him from understanding the problems and emotions of the adults around him. Phile’s only friend is the family butler, Baines, who entertains him with games and wild stories of his (fictitious) adventures in Africa. When Phile glimpses Baines through the window of a café with his young mistress, the child is compelled to keep the secret from Baines’ wife, the housekeeper. In this way Phile becomes an accomplice in the affair, and enters a world of complex adult morality that will change him forever.
Adapted from his short story The Basement Room, The Fallen Idol is Greene’s first collaboration with Carol Reed. Innocence as confinement is a central theme in both story and film. It is translated from words into images through Reed’s brilliant use of stairway railings and barred windows, which seem to imprison the child in several shot compositions.