A concert pianist, Christine Radcliffe (Bette Davis), finds out that her presumably dead boyfriend, cellist Karel Novak (Paul Henreid, Now, Voyager) is alive. Christine wants to pick up where she and Karel left off and they get married quickly. Christine, however, is currently the lover of famous composer Alexander Hollenius (Claude Rains, Mr. Skeffington), a fact that she wants to keep from Karel.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Kitschy, irresistibly overheated melodrama coated in postwar malaise. Deception, directed by Irving Rapper (The Corn is Green and The Glass Menagerie), comes close to being considered “camp,” but doesn’t quite get there because it succeeds in creating a deliciously entertaining and intense movie experience.
Today, the premise of the film — a well-kept woman tries to hide her past from her husband — seems like much ado about nothing. It’s not as if she was cheating on her husband. She thought the guy was dead, and needing financial support, she found a rich lover. Not a great moral choice, but nothing terribly bad either. Yet the poor lady is made to suffer for her indiscretion. The husband is a bit of a creep anyway so I secretly wished the lady had ended up with the wealthy composer.
Script problems aside, this is a really fun merging of classic noir and women’s picture. Deception is based on a 1927 French play by Louis Verneuil. The play had a successful run on Broadway the following year. Interestingly, it’s a two-character play and the third main character, the rich lover, is constantly mentioned, but never makes an appearance. The screenplay by John Collier and Joseph Than adds the third character.
Davis always said that the only good thing about the movie was Rains’s performance. She was so impressed with her co-star’s work that she asked Warners to bill Rains above the title. Although I think Davis undervalued the film somewhat, I agree with her that Rains is unforgettable. There is one scene in particular that shows Rains’s genius. He, Davis and Henreid are having dinner at a restaurant and Rains proceeds, passive-aggressively, to destroy Henreid’s confidence. It’s an absolutely wonderful scene.
Rains benefited greatly from playing the best written part in the movie — Rains simply steals the film. He is matched scene-for-scene by Davis. Henried, unfortunately, is overshadowed by his dynamic co-stars.
Deception was shot by Ernie Haller (Jezebel and All This, and Heaven Too) in gorgeous chiaroscuro fashion. The super-chic sets are by celebrated production designer Anton Grot (Juarez and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex). The fantastic score, by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (The Adventures of Robin Hood and King’s Row), is the icing on the cake.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The production was plagued with problems. The film quickly went over-schedule and over-budget. Deception was a modest hit, but Davis was never happy with the final result. It’s nothing to be ashamed of — a really fun post-war melodrama about very elegant people behaving inelegantly. P.S. Deception was deftly parodied in Carl Reiner’s 1982 satire Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. B&W, 110 minutes, Not Rated.