Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


DECEPTION (1946). Director: Irving Rapper.

"It's so painful to be so happy."

The reinvented pianist Christine Radcliffe (Bette Davis) has been the protege -- and more -- of wealthy and neurotic composer Alexander Hollenius (Claude Rains), when back into her life comes a man she thought was dead and whom she truly loves, cellist Karel Novak (Paul Henreid). Naturally this doesn't sit well with Hollenius, especially when Christine and Karel get married. Will Holenius spill the beans about the truth of his relationship with Christine? Will Hollenius really let Karel be the lead cellist for his new concerto, or is he playing a sadistic game of cat and mouse with the hopeful man? [Two questions that are never asked: Was Karel himself completely chaste during the four years he was parted from his "Schatzi?" and would he object that much, despite his jealous nature, to Christine's carryings-on when she thought he was dead?] Although Davis' character in this acts maddeningly idiotic, and the foolishly melodramatic developments, while compelling (and leading to a great last line), are unnecessary in what starts out as a strong drama, Deception works due to the great dialogue in John Collier and Joseph Than's screenplay (as well as three-dimensional characters), and to a brilliant performance -- possibly his best -- by Claude Rains. Henreid and Davis are also good, although a notch below Rains, and Davis is terribly affected and mannered throughout [but quite entertaining in spite of it]. One of the best scenes has the three main characters at a restaurant when Hollenius increases Karel's nervousness -- he is to audition for him after dinner -- by taking forever to decide exactly what they should all have for supper. The concerto composed by Hollenius was actually composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (who also did the rest of the film's score), and it is beautiful. John Abbott does a superlative job as a rival cellist, Bertram Gribble, that Christine tries to bribe. Although some might dismiss this as a mere soap opera, it has a certain quality that lifts it above the ordinary soaper. At the wedding party, while Christine plays piano, Hollenius shatters a glass in his hand. Christine stops playing and, concerned, rushes to his side, whereupon the great man remarks upon how women get hysterical over a scratch but act all smiling and nurse-like at the sight of a mortal wound. It would have been interesting to see how Deception might have worked with a different actress in the lead. Although director Irving Rapper was able to reign Davis in a bit for Now, Voyager, he was unable to do so with this picture.

Verdict: There's more here than meets the eye. ***1/2.


Glenn Watkins said...

A great movie of its time, and Davis is better than the review suggests. The complete Korngold Concerto (the 'Holenius Concerto in the movie) is a marvel to this day and really works on the concert stage. This, of course, is a tribute to Korngold's mastery of orchestration and his rich experience in writing for the movies.

William said...

Not only the movies -- Korngold was a great operatic composer, with at least two masterpieces to his credit: Die Tote Stadt and Katrine, and I think he was only 17 when his wonderful Violanta played at the Met. Das Wunder der Helaine is another great Korngold opera.

Thank you for your comments.