Monday, February 28, 2011

Deception - 1946

“Deception” (1946) has a melodramatic plot of unexpected twists, and is guided by the very strong characterizations of the three principle figures. Mood and atmosphere play an equal hand in the telling of the story, and may be the most fun thing about it.

Rest easy, no plot spoilers this time. There’s not much to pluck apart when it’s all handed to us with grandiose panache on a platter.

Bette Davis discovers her long-lost lover, played by Paul Henreid, in a small university concert hall in New York City where he is featured playing the cello. They had been music students together years before in Europe, but were separated during the war. She thought he had died, and their reunion is a joyous miracle. She takes him to her loft apartment, tells him to make himself at home, literally by making closet space for him. We are made to understand they want to take up where they left off many years ago, and be married as soon as possible.

Perhaps the censors were distracted from her plain insistence they live together until such a time as their troths are plighted by Mr. Henreid’s sudden baffled curiosity as he notes her stylish apartment, her furs in the closet, the sculpture and artwork. A grand piano. She has lamented that she is still a struggling musician, but this opulence clearly indicates to him she is being kept by someone.

That someone is Claude Rains, a composer and conductor, a maestro of larger than life appetites, a mercurial temperament, and formidable arrogance. Bette spends the rest of the movie telling lies, and surfing the moods of two very jealous men, until her best motives bring about disastrous events.

Does it seem that the immediate post-War period led Hollywood on a rather moody exploration of the sinister possibilities of the arts? In the same year as this film, 1946, we have “Humoresque” with Joan Crawford and John Garfield, and in the next year we have “Night Song” with Dana Andrews, “Song of Love” with Katharine Hepburn, and we were taken out of the concert hall and into world of ballet with “The Unfinished Dance” and in 1948, “The Red Shoes.” The backwash of the war seemed to have us convinced there was no safety even in a quieter world among man’s most creative endeavors.

“Deception” provides a wealth of great music, including Wagner, Schubert, Haydn, and Beethoven. One of the luxuries of the film is that the classical music gets a long, leisurely treatment. Bette Davis plays Beethoven’s “Appassionata” piano sonata in one telling scene that sets up the jealously of the two men in her life, and provides a glimpse into a world where music is not staid or the dominion of polite elite society, but rather a bare, passionate expression of human greatness, and weakness, and pleasure, and torture.


I like the way she is reflected in the shiny piano lid as she plays. And the way the men grip their champagne glasses while listening to her, as if they were strangling someone’s throat.

The characters display a passion for their work, a passion for life, and also for revenge.

But not all the music in this movie is so grand. Curiously, as Bette is walking Paul Henreid to her apartment for the first time, they cross a city street where a Salvation Army band is thumping out “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, and in another scene, she listens to a cheesy radio commercial jingle. What director Irving Rapper meant to suggest with these bits is a mystery to me, except to keep things off kilter, which is the engine of suspense.

The dialogue is crisp, witty, and with innumerable flourishes by Claude Rains. He is matchless in this film, his intellectual bullying, his mind games, his petulance are something magnificent. He doesn’t steal scenes so much as always commands any scene he is in. It’s his movie.

A few interesting scenes: When he takes them out to dinner and makes a grand production ordering the food, irritating them both and putting Paul Henreid, who is to audition for him after dinner, extremely on edge. One of the more delightfully over-the-top remarks by Mr. Rains when he orders, “A nice brook trout, not too large, from a good stream.”


Another off-kilter scene is when Miss Davis goes to his home to have it out with him, and he lies in bed reading the Sunday funnies. This man who dismisses everything as not his equal, evidently has time for Dick Tracy and Terry and the Pirates.

We have scenes of disguised threats and vengeful accusations, of suspicions declared, and self indulgent tantrums that takes us smoothly from concert hall to Rains’ uptown mansion, to cab rides in the rain, and many times returning to Bette Davis’ loft studio apartment.

The apartment is my favorite thing in this film, almost like another character in the movie, with its modern furniture and sparse elegance, and the enormous window that seems to carve out a great big chunk of the gray city with its buildings and bridges, and plunks it right down in her living room.

We get to look out that window at night, in the morning, and follow the traces of raindrops that make a design around the heads of Bette Davis and Paul Henreid.

A scene where she blows out several candles placed around her apartment while keeping up the fancy footwork of defensive conversation with Paul Henreid in between blowing out another candle.

A scene where she and Henreid talk to each other from opposite ends of a hallway leading to the bathroom, where she primps before the mirror, and we can hear the hollow echo of her voice bouncing off the cement block walls.

The apartment seems to be neither a haven nor a cage, but a statement on the price one has to pay to make dreams come true.

16 comments:

Lauren Hairston said...

Oh my goodness, another movie with Bette Davis, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains! How did I not know about this?

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Lauren. That's funny, I forgot to mention this movie was a reunion of sorts from their earlier "Now, Voyager." We often think of famous movie duos, but here we have a unique movie trio.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I've never heard of this movie. I'm going to have see if I can find it or wait until it shows up TCM.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by. Though I'd have to say it's more frosting than cake, it's still a fun movie, and I hope you get to see it soon.

Meredith said...

I haven't seen this one yet, but I loved Now, Voyager so I can't wait to see it.

Great post!

ClassicBecky said...

Jacqueline, how could you go wrong with a dramatic story, fabulous sets, classical music, Davis, Rains and Henreid! I love this movie! Clause Rains is just grandiose in his character, and he is perfect. Paul Henreid is so handsome and artsy-moody -- just love him. And of course Bette is always great.

I loved your description and take on this movie. Really excellent review.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by my ultra modern loft apartment (for this week), Ladies. Help yourselves to champagne. Meredith, I hope you get to see this movie sometime soon, and Becky, thanks for the kind words.

panavia999 said...

I love this movie - especially Claude Rains. The scene in the restaurant had me pulling my hair too. Oooh, what a diabolical jerk. Of course Rains never gave a bad performance, but if someone was to ask me for an example of his brilliance I would suggest Deception for his dark side and Skeffington or The Passionate Friends for his sympathetic side. It's a brilliant ensemble of actors, director, score, screenplay.
No wonder the movie has so many great dialogue moments despite the rather whacky plot: it was written by John Collier! He is just the kind of author to have the great genius reading comics in bed and asking for a trout "from a good stream."
In short, just sit in the dark and *enjoy*.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

That's a terrific sendup, panavia. I agree, I wanted to kill him during the restaurant scene. You've pretty much hit the nail on the head when it comes to Rains' talent.

happythoughtsdarling said...

Hi Jacqueline,

You make a very interesting point about post-WWII movies exploring the sinister possibilities of the arts. In addition to the movies you mentioned, we also have Preston Sturges's "Unfaithfully Yours" in 1948, with Rex Harrison as a conductor who spends an entire concert thinking about how best to off his wife. Granted, it's a comedy, but a very black one. There's no escaping jealousy and other nastiness, even in the highfalutin' world of classical music!

I love Claude Rains and Bette Davis together, but I've never seen "Deception". I'm looking forward to seeing it now. Thanks for the great review!

MC

upacreek333 said...

Jacqueline... thanks for the great post... I was especially taken with the brook trout quote. You'll see why...

Thanks again. Really enjoyed it!

Chris
eatmorebrooktrout.com

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, MC. I've never seen "Unfaithfully Yours", but it sounds like a good addition to our list.

Chris, just make sure that brook trout comes "from a good stream." Thanks for stopping by.

Caftan Woman said...

The first time I saw "Deception" I (blush) played hooky from high school to catch it on television. Of course, at that time I gave no thought to your interesting perspective of movies and the arts in a post-war world. Next time!

I would like to echo MC's recommendation of "Unfaithfully Yours" which works for many different moods on many different levels.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

For shame, Caftan Woman, playing hooky from high school. We must remove the blot on your Permanent Record. (Remember how we were always warned about such and such going on our Permanent Record?)

I shall write a note to your teacher. That will fix things. I will explain that watching "Deception" on TV was medically necessary at the time.

Yes, I have that kind of authority.

The Lady Eve said...

You completely nailed "Deception" for me, laying it out in detail. A wonderful cast dominated, as you mention, by the incomparable Mr. Rains. What most struck me, though, was your description of BD's apt. as an almost- character. It is one of the most striking things about the film and it has intrigued me, too. "Deception" is a melodrama, a really delicious one.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, Lady Eve. Set and art direction probably aren't discussed enough by classic film bloggers, but I think everybody notices a set, from the cafe in "Casablanca" to Andy Hardy's house - and regards these settings as a huge, huge part in their enjoyment of a movie. Sometimes the set transcends and seems to give us a message, and sometimes it's just a pool hall or living room. Even if it's really just a soundstage or the back lot, it takes us somewhere.