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All Critics (3)
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Bette Davis as hammy as ever.
While not one of Davis vantage melodramas, it's worth seeing this preposterously plotted romance with Davis as a music teacher, torn between older mentor Claude Rains and Holocaust survivor-lover Paul Henreid as a sampler of the era's woman's picture.
A few years after their success with "Now, Voyager," director Irving Rapper and actors Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains teamed back up to make another picture: "Deception." But this time they had less success. "Deception" isn't a terrible film. There is much that is wonderful about it, but there is a lot wrong with it. It could have been and should have been much better.
Davis, Henreid, and Rains play classical musicians caught in a torrid love triangle that ends violently. Rains plays a world-famous, very wealthy composer. Davis is his paramour and a serious musician in her own right.
Henreid plays a masterful cellist with whom Davis was in love during the war in Europe. At the start of the film, Henreid resurfaces in New York, after having disappeared during the last phases of the war. Davis lunges at him, wanting to marry him immediately. She ends her affair with Rains and tries to pretend it never happened. But she's living in a palatial apartment that clearly was given to her by Rains. Somehow Henreid accepts that she paid for this apartment with a music teacher's salary. This is just one example of the many preposterous elements in the story.
Another weak aspect is the editing. Many scenes are 30% longer than they had to be. If this film had gotten a better editing job, I might have given it an 8. It's got all the makings of a good melodrama. If it had been filmed in the taut way that "Sudden Fear" was in 1952 (a melodrama that starred Joan Crawford and garnered her her third and final Oscar nomination), "Deception" would have turned out a lot better.
"Deception" tried to be more than it was. It was a fairly ordinary melodrama. Melodramas always come out better when the creative team accepts that they're making a genre picture (as was the case with "Sudden Fear"). The team behind "Deception" couldn't accept that. They wanted to pretend they were making an A picture. Instead of developing the story from B to A, they tarted up the script with words like "effrontery," "abject," and "virago." They inserted serious classical music here and there. And they made every scene longer than it had to be. Bloating a film does not turn it from B to A.
"Deception" is a melodrama with A-movie window-dressing. A melodrama with delusions of grandeur. Every step of the way, its own delusions get in the way of its effectiveness.
This movie could have been good, but it doesn't meet the audiences expectations for a movie called deception.
Coming as it does, not only on the cusp of Hollywood's golden age but also Davis's at Warners, 'Deception' is often forgotten or dismissed in favour of the previous classics she made with Warners or the gothic hysterics of her later films. Not fair!
A recent re-evaluation has convinced me that this is a bit of a classic. And, I have to admit, an out and out camp classic. But, more than this, the camp of 'Deception' is positively elevated to high art. The story is complete hokum of course and is performed with such overwrought feeling and pungent relish that you are constantly expecting the characters to burst into song. Opera-noir anyone??
But this was still a time when people cared and cynicism hadn't taken over so much that now anything not total po-faced realism (outside of a comedy proper) is sneered at knowingly or declared "so bad it's good" by a seemingly more 'sophisticated' audience. It was a time when they cared enough about high production values and reveled in artifice, glamour and the pure indulgence of escapism. Pah! When did we learn to stop letting go of grim reality??
Some would have us believe that 'Deception' is one solely for the die-hard Davis fans - those more willing to forgive her more arch mannerisms or looking a little 'past it'. But, despite withering opinion, those not enamoured of Davis's charms will still find much to smack their chops over as well.
Korngold's stunning score is not merely a refreshing change to Warner's over reliance on Max Steiner's often intrusive bombast - it's actually one of the best scores of the period. It also helps that Davis and Henreid don't look phony when 'playing' the music - Davis is particularly convincing because she could actually play the piano and Henreid, despite looking a little awkward, was helped with the same trick as Garfield in 'Humoresque'. Rains, having an absolute field day as the unhinged musical genius, bangs and smacks at the poor keyboard as an unhinged musical genius in a camp melodrama would.
The sets are incredible and have a whole life of their own - huge luxurious drawing rooms, shadowy stairwells, grand staircases made for dramatic death scenes, lots and lots of cine-rain spattering windows and flooding the street of the evocative opening sequence. Combined with the noirish lighting and deep focus of Davis's favourite cinematographer Ernie Haller, all goes to making 'Deception' a visual feast for any jaded cinephile.
Less than four years after 'Deception' came 'All About Eve'. It seen as possibly Davis's finest performance (I would disagree). But, as ever, a performance is what it is (Davis the original show-off). 'Eve', despite its high critical pedigree, is very much the beginning of the end for Davis as a 'serious' screen actor. As Margot, she is the absolute star of the production - positively chowing down on the furniture in one of her most hand-swivelling and eye-rolling turns. But, as any drag queen worth her weight in false eye-lashes will testify, from this point on, her most significant roles are never less than monstrous or crazy ('Dead Ringers', 'Baby Jane', 'The Anniversary', 'The Star', 'Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte'). 'Deception' feels almost subtle in comparison (who am I kidding??). What it doesn't deserve is to languish in the shadows of these inferior efforts (as well as her well known classic films) because, it may be no masterpiece, but it's still huge fun and that's surely good enough reason to drag it out and brush the cobwebs off.
Claude Rains rocks this, almost completely stealing the show. Bette nibbles at the scenery a bit and in some scenes looks wonderful but is still overshadowed by the awesome Claude.
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