Seen and Unseen: The Fallen Idol (1948)

The 1948 film The Fallen Idol, directed by Carol Reed, is a film of watching and being watched, of seeing and not seeing, of incomplete knowledge and lies and misunderstanding. It begins with the very first shot: a close-up on a young boy (Bobby Henrey), his face framed by a balustrade, as he gazes down at the brisk comings and goings of the numerous adults far below him, on the ground floor of his house. His house, as it happens, is an embassy in London, and most or possibly all of this bustle is due to the fact the ambassador (Gerard Heinz) — his father — is about to depart on a brief trip in order to bring the boy’s mother home from an eight-month-long hospital stay. Servants race to bring the ambassador’s bags out to his car; last-minute changes are made to the travel arrangements; preparations for the woman’s homecoming are discussed. Even when the boy, Phillipe (often called Phile, pronounced with a short i), descends the stairs partway in order to get a closer view, nobody appears to take the slightest notice of him save for one man: Baines (Ralph Richardson), the butler. Despite being occupied himself, Baines makes a point of acknowledging and entertaining the little onlooker. A playful hop when he empties an ashtray into the fireplace, a wink — small things, maybe, but enough to make Phile smile and to suggest the warm friendship between the two. It’s Baines, too, who says, “Master Phillipe, sir,” as the ambassador is leaving, as if to remind him to bid farewell to his son. One gets the sense that he might well have forgotten otherwise.

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Tontine Trouble: The Wrong Box (1966)


“A tontine is, in point of fact, a lottery — a lottery, plain and simple, gentlemen. Into this tontine each parent or guardian has placed for each of you, and in your name, the sum of one thousand pounds sterling. The sum so constituted is to be administered by a self-perpetuating board and held in trust by them for whomsoever survives. This £20,000 will grow and grow under astute management who will charge but a nominal fee, and this — by then — great sum will be handed to the one amongst you who is the last surviving member of the tontine. It is as plain and as simple as that.” So the premise is laid out at the start of Bryan Forbes’s 1966 film The Wrong Box, though “plain” and “simple” are hardly the right words for the farce that follows.

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