Movies You Might Have Missed: Deception

Title: Deception
Release Date: 1946
Rating: N/A
Length: 110 minutes
Director: Louis Verneuil
Starring: Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains
Language: English
Country: USA

How could you go wrong with Bette Davis, Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid? You can’t. It’s not the best picture for any of them, but it’s darn good and annoying that it’s out of print. It’s too good to fade away. (Oh, do be sure you get the film from 1946, there are a number of others with the same name which will probably pop up first on any search you do.)

Davis is a pianist who reunites with Henreid, a cellist, at the beginning of the film. He’s been in Europe, imprisoned by the Germans for most of the war. Left vague is whether this was because he was Jewish or simply opposed to the Nazi regime. Naturally, Davis and Henreid are thrilled to be together again, but Davis seems worried. Plans are made to be married at once, but the cloud lingers. Henreid begins to wonder how Davis has not just gotten by, but prospered so much in the interim when she admits she isn’t performing regularly?

She claims to have been teaching, a thing they had always agreed was a betrayal of their artistic principles. The truth comes out, however, when an uninvited Rains shows up at their wedding celebration seething with unconcealed jealousy and unwittingly giving the lie to Davis’ claims of taking students. Rains is a wealthy, famous, and greatly talented composer and conductor. It’s not quite the whole truth; it is still 1946, so they all but say Davis has been Rains’ mistress and he has been keeping her in a style to which she has become accustomed.

Davis continues to lie to Henreid who is willing to believe the comfortable lie instead of face an unpleasant truth. Rains wavers between thoughts of revenge or disdainful spurning of Davis depending on his mood. The triangle is set and the tension is drawn ever more taut as the movie progresses. It eventually reaches a head, but not perhaps as you would expect. Each actor is in a role they are perfectly suited for. The setup is a bit contrived and it takes a little time to really get rolling, but once it does it zips right along.

Is it a noir? That’s tough to say. There’s very little in the way of crime, and essentially no police presence either. No detectives and no heist and really very little of any of the classic elements of film noir. But if we are to take the idea of noir being, at heart, a revival of dramatic tragedy in a 20th century mode, then I think this would probably qualify. Our characters are shaped by their desires and faults and their ultimate ends seem almost fated as a consequence. They struggle, but move inexorably to their various dooms just as the characters in Hamlet. It’s not Shakespearean in quality, but the same tragic sense pervades the tale.

If you can find it, (it is out of print, but my local library has a copy) it’s worth watching for the actors, the story, and the bit of history it represents.

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