The Fallen Idol (film)

The Fallen Idol (also known as The Lost Illusion) is a 1948 British mystery thriller film directed by Carol Reed, and starring Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Michèle Morgan, and Denis O'Dea. Its plot follows the young son of a diplomat in London, who comes to suspect that his family's butler, whom he idolises, has committed a murder. It is based on the 1936 short story "The Basement Room", by Graham Greene.

The Fallen Idol
U.S. theatrical release poster
Directed byCarol Reed
Written byWilliam Templeton
Lesley Storm
Graham Greene
Based on"The Basement Room"
by Graham Greene
Produced byCarol Reed
CinematographyGeorges Périnal
Edited byOswald Hafenrichter
Music byWilliam Alwyn
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
  • 30 September 1948 (1948-09-30)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£215,823 (UK)[1]

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director (Carol Reed) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Graham Greene), and won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film.


Philippe, the young son of a diplomat living in London, idolizes his father's butler, Baines. Baines has invented a heroic persona to keep Phillipe entertained during his father's absences, telling him stories of his daring adventures in Africa and elsewhere, where he claims to have single-handedly killed men in self-defense and conquered lions.

In reality, Mr. Baines has never been to Africa, is in a loveless marriage with his wife (who is also employed as the family's housekeeper) and is carrying on an affair with a young secretary, Julie. One day, when Philippe's father departs for several days, Philippe follows Baines to a small cafe, where he meets Julie to discuss their relationship. Julie urges Baines to separate from his wife so they can be together, but Philippe is impervious to the details of their conversation. Afterward, Baines tells Philippe that Julie is his niece and asks that he not mention the incident to Mrs. Baines. That afternoon, Philippe is chastised by Mrs. Baines for playing on a window ledge on the staircase landing. Later, she attempts to glean information about her husband from Philippe, suspicious he is cheating on her.

The next morning, Baines takes Philippe on a trip to the London Zoo. Julie joins them and accompanies them back home for dinner, believing all is safe in Mrs. Baines's absence. As they return home, Philippe finds a telegram from Mrs. Baines, notifying Mr. Baines that she will return in two days. The three have dinner and afterward play a game of hide-and-seek. Later that evening, Mrs. Baines returns to the house unexpectedly. She awakens Philippe, who yells out to alarm Mr. Baines and she slaps Phillipe in an angry rage. Mr. and Mrs. Baines argue and struggle on a staircase landing. Mrs. Baine accuses her husband of cheating with Julie, which Philippe partially witnesses. Mr. Baines tells her to go downstairs before he loses his temper. Mrs. Baines, suspecting that Philippe has been watching them argue, walks onto a ledge with an unguarded landing to see if she can spot Philippe through the window, a window which swings outward. Mrs. Baines bangs on window which suddenly swings outward, striking Mrs. Baines, causing her to fall to her death, with her body landing at the foot of the staircase. Philippe does not witness the actual fall and presumes that Baines pushed her to her death down the stairs.

Philippe becomes frightened, flees the house and is captured by a police officer walking his beat. Young Philippe is returned home, where Baines recounts the evening to police, though he eliminates Julia from his version of events in order to protect her, instead claiming that he and Philippe alone had dinner, although the table was set for three. During the interrogation, Philippe attempts to grab the telegram Mrs. Baines sent, which he made into a paper airplane, but it is confiscated by police, who uses it as evidence against Baines.

Julie visits the house the following morning. Soon after, Inspector Crowe and Detective Ames arrive to further question Baines. Julie attempts to leave, but upon being introduced as Baines's secretary, the police ask that she stay to transcribe his interview. Crowe and Ames first interview Philippe alone. He denies that Mrs. Baines slapped him, or that Julie ever visited the house. Julie overhears Philippe concealing the truth and conversing in French, implores him to be honest. Baines interjects and proceeds to recount to police what actually happened the night before. They continue to disbelieve his story and suggest he make a formal statement.

Fearing he cannot prove his innocence, Baines heads to his basement bedroom to retrieve his pistol and commit suicide, but before proceeding downstairs he is followed by Philippe, who tearfully questions whether his many stories are true. Baines admits they were merely games and adamantly denies killing his wife. Simultaneously, two other investigating officers notice a footprint in the spilt soil from a potted plant on a window ledge, located above the stairway and discern it came from a women's shoe. Crow and Ames swiftly renege their accusation against Baines. Julie goes to the basement and informs Baines that the police not longer suspect him, so committing suicide is not something he should even consider. Philippe, now compelled to be truthful, insists he left the footprint two days before, but Inspector Crowe disbelieves him. As the police depart, Philippe runs upstairs to the ledge, where he sweeps the soil away containing Mrs. Baines's shoeprint. As he does this, his mother, from whom he has long been separated from, arrives at the front door.



The cameras began turning on the film on the bright, sunny morning of Wednesday, 17 September 1947, with the first location scene to be filmed being that of Philippe running across Belgrave Square in London.

The Fallen Idol marks the first notable film Carol Reed made at Grosvenor Crescent, Belgravia, in London as a filming location — the other being Reed's acclaimed movie Oliver!, filmed 20 years later at the same site. Coincidentally, it was a film featuring a similar seven-year-old precocious boy.


Critical responseEdit

The Monthly Film Bulletin called the film "outstanding."[3]

It was one of the most popular movies at the British box office in 1948.[4][5] According to Kinematograph Weekly the 'biggest winner' at the box office in 1948 Britain was The Best Years of Our Lives with Spring in Park Lane being the best British film and "runners up" being It Always Rains on Sunday, My Brother Jonathan, Road to Rio, Miranda, An Ideal Husband, Naked City, The Red Shoes, Green Dolphin Street, Forever Amber, Life with Father, The Weaker Sex, Oliver Twist, The Fallen Idol and The Winslow Boy.[6]

The Fallen Idol was included at number 48 on Time Out magazine's list of the "100 best British films", which polled critics and members of the film industry. It was described as "one of the finest British films about children, about the ways they can be manipulated and betrayed, their loyalties misplaced and their emotions toyed with."[7]


Institution Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Adapted Screenplay William Templeton, Lesley Storm, Graham Greene Nominated
Best Director Carol Reed Nominated
Bodil Awards Best Non-American Film The Fallen Idol Won
BAFTA Awards Best Film Won [8]
Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
National Board of Review Top Ten Films of the Year Won
Best Actor Ralph Richardson Won [9]
Best Adapted Screenplay Graham Greene Won
New York Film Critics Circle Best Director Carol Reed Won
Best Film The Fallen Idol Nominated
Best Actor Ralph Richardson Nominated
Venice International Film Festival Best Screenplay Graham Greene Won
Grand International Award Carol Reed Nominated

Home mediaEdit

The Criterion Collection released the film on DVD on 7 November 2006.[10] This DVD went out of print in 2010.[11] In 2015, StudioCanal released a region B Blu-ray edition.[12]


  1. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p486
  2. ^ The final credits in the original British Lion distribution call the boy "Phillipe" with two lls and one p. In the tearoom scene illustrated on this page Baines says "He spells his name P-H-I-L-E, Phil." However, Ana Laura Zambrano in Literature/Film Quarterly ( writes "... the short story's Philip [is] called Felipe in the film". Perhaps the critic judged from a Spanish version of the film? Yet a caption in a Life magazine article (13 December 1948) also refers to the boy as Felipe. Was there a late change here as in the film's title, changed from The Lost Illusion just before the September release?
  3. ^ "Monthly Film Bulletin review".
  4. ^ "THE STARRY WAY". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 8 January 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  5. ^ Thumim, Janet. "The popular cash and culture in the postwar British cinema industry". Screen. Vol. 32 no. 3. p. 258.
  6. ^ Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 232.
  7. ^ "100 Best British Films (numbers 41-50)". Time Out. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  8. ^ Hammer 1991, p. 457.
  9. ^ Hammer 1991, p. 571.
  10. ^ Erickson, Glenn (5 November 2006). "DVD Savant Review: The Fallen Idol". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on 28 December 2020.
  11. ^ "Out of Print Sale". The Criterion Collection. 2 February 2010. Archived from the original on 28 December 2020.
  12. ^ "The Fallen Idol Blu-ray". Archived from the original on 28 December 2020.


  • Hammer, Tad Bantley (1991). International Film Prizes: An Encyclopedia. Chicago, Illinois: St. James Press. OCLC 489910723.
  • Vermilye, Jerry (1978). The Great British Films. New York City, New York: Citadel Press. pp. 125–177. ISBN 0-8065-0661-X.

External linksEdit