Sunday, May 19, 2013

Deception (1946)

Director: Irving Rapper                                 Writers: John Collier & Joseph Than
Film Score: Erich Wolfgang Korngold            Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Starring: Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and John Abbott

Deception is an interesting post-war film that, at least on the surface, seems to have a lot going for it. First of all a great cast; second, a solid director, and finally a first-class score by the great Erich Wolfgang Korngold. For all that, however, the film itself is rather dull. The story was originally a French, post World War One play called Monsieur Lamberthier, originally purchased by Warner Brothers for Barbara Stanwyck. It centered on a kept woman who believes the man she loved before the war is dead. When he returns she doesn’t know how to tell him of her situation and so she begins a barrage of lies in order to keep him from leaving her.

Bette Davis is a pianist/composter who has been a kept woman in a New York apartment by a famous composer played by Claude Rains. But when cellist Paul Henreid comes to the States on a small concert tour, Davis realizes it’s her long lost love from before the war. They reunite instantly, but Henreid becomes suspicious when he sees her expensive furnishings and clothing. Davis, of course, lies about everything. Rains shows up in time for their wedding and just about comes unglued with jealousy. But then he devises a plan to destroy the new couple, by offering Henreid the opportunity to play his cello concerto. How Rains is going to use the concert to get into both their heads is the real suspense of the film, and he has Davis in a panic throughout most of it.

This is definitely one of Davis’s lesser performances, not as convincing as some of her earlier films. Paul Henreid’s character is just as oblivious here about his leading lady as he was in Casablanca and, as such, is the perfect choice. The star of the show, and the villain, is Claude Rains who does everything but chew the scenery and twirl his moustache. It’s a great role and you can see onscreen how much he relishes it. Not as restrained, perhaps, as it could have been, but it’s still quite entertaining. Irving Rapper, who had worked with all of the principles on Now, Voyager does a good job, but nothing really noteworthy.

The real star of the show is Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Not only did he write a lush, romantic score for the film, but a cello concerto and a bunch of orchestral incidental music. Not coincidentally, some of the best camera angles are during the concert scene at the end of the film. It’s certainly an interesting story, and some of the acting is really good, but it’s not necessarily a great film. In the end it seems a bit stilted, designed as a set-piece for Korngold, and given something of a perfunctory performance from Davis. Still, Korngold wrote a mere seventeen film scores and all of those films are worth seeing just for his music. Deception is no exception.

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