The Fallen Idol (PG) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow

This 1948 thriller is less renowned than Carol Reed's collaboration with Graham Greene the following year, on The Third Man, though in terms of psychological intricacy and affective power, it is at least its equal. At its heart is the story of a misunderstanding between eight-year-old Felipe (Bobby Henrey), the son of the French ambassador to London, and the embassy butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson) whom the boy adores.

Having discovered Baines with his mistress in a café, the boy becomes unwittingly entangled in an intrigue once Baines's vicious wife (Sonia Dresdel) gets wind of the liaison. The extraordinary tension of the film hinges on the possibility that at any moment the child might betray his friend even as he tries to save him. There's a wonderful alchemy at work here: from Greene comes the atmosphere of hatred and shabby deceit, not to mention the priceless cameo by a young Dora Bryan as a streetwalker attempting to show her maternal side. This is admirably balanced by Reed's sympathetic direction of Bobby Henrey, whose soft-spoken innocence looks ahead 20 years to Mark Lester in Reed's Oliver!, and Ralph Richardson's Herculean restraint as the kindly but tormented Baines. It really is one of the most touching portraits of friendship in cinema.

Greene's novels didn't enjoy much success in their transfer to the screen, but this adaptation of his short story more than compensated for later failures. It heralds a season of Reed's films at the National Film Theatre.