A child is left alone for the weekend in a grand apartment with only the servants to pester in The Fallen Idol (1948). The film could probably coast along entirely on the banter between the young boy, Phillipe, and Baines the butler, or by following Phillipe about on the miscellaneous adventures he busies himself with, due to the sharp economy and nuanced eye of screenwriter Graham Greene and director Carol Reed. (The two teamed more famously the following year with Orson Welles on The Third Man).
But the movie launches into intrigue early on. It draws a parallel between Phillipe, transparently guilty and sly when caught at mischief, with the adults, who do not fare much better.
The film is eminently watchable. Bobby Henrey plays Phillipe charmingly, without cuteness, and intelligently, without the precocious adultness rife in more current films. The sprawling house is filmed in rich black-and-white detail, complete with the magnificence of Reed's trademark canted angles, and the night of a tragic event is a whirlwind of sumptuous, striking, Wellesian shots. This is when Phillipe thinks he sees Baines, his idol, kill his wife, and finds his loyalty tormented. Will he drop a dime, or conspire a cover-up?
This is a special chance to find out, in a rare screening of a nitrate print. Nitrate, long obsolete due to flammability, imparts a shimmering luminosity when projected and puts current means to shame.
Only a few theaters in the country are equipped to show nitrate, and the Dryden at the George Eastman House is one of them. Three other films are showing in their Nitrate Treasures series throughout March. See The Fallen Idol on Thursday, March 4, in the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre, 900 East Avenue, at 8 p.m. Tix: $6. There will be a discussion with the Museum's nitrate vault manager at 6:30 p.m., included with movie admission. 271-4090