Deception: Irving Rapper’s Melodrama Starring Bette Davis

Warner (First National Picture)

While not one of Bette Davis’ vantage melodramas, Irvin Rapper’s “Deception” is still worth seeing for the diva’s performance and as a sampler of the era’s polished women’s picture.

Based on the play “Jealousy,” by Louis Verneuil, the script is penned by John Collier and Joseph Than. Davis plays music teacher Christine Radcliffe, who is reunited with Karel Novak (Paul Henreid), her musical genius lover, who she believed had been killed in Europe during WWII.

Bringing Karel to her apartment, Christine learns of his terrible years in a concentration camp before making it to the U.S. For his part, Karel is rejoiced that Christine had not married during his absence, though he marvels at how she can afford such a luxurious lifestyle, living in a plush apartment and dressing elegantly.

In a rather vague and evasive way, Christine mentions the generosity of Alexander Hollenius (Claude Rains), a celebrated composer and conductor who has been her benefactor and saving angel. To put his mind at peace, she proposes that they marry quickly and they do.

Complications arise when Hollenius appears unexpectedly at the wedding and shows his disapproval of Christine’s marriage. The next day, she implores her older benefactor to remain silent about their former romantic attachment and not to jeopardize her new happiness.

In a false act of generosity, Hollenius offers Karel to be a solo artist at the premiere of his new cello concerto, but the latter gives a poor rehearsal performance that ends in emotional arguments and temperamental outbursts.
Fearing that Hollenius would replace Karel just before the concert, Christine visits her mentor, and when he threatens to disclose the truth, she shoots him.

The concert is a great success, but his triumph is tarnished by Christine’s confession to her murder. Karel, in a state of disbelief, forces her to share her past with him.

At the time of its release, the reviews were decent, and several critics singled out Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score, including his original cello concerto.

Experiencing the height of his screen career, Paul Henreid gave an appealingly romantic performance in a film that followed “Now, Voyager” (1942), also with Bette Davis and, of course, “Casablanca” (1943), with Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

In the New York Post, Archer Winsten praised Davis’ professionalism (“powerful emotions held on a strong rein”), but also noted Rains’ hammy, flamboyant turn as the high-living composer. Perhaps it was Cecelia Ager in PM, who nailed the appeal of this preposterous melodrama, observing: “It’s like grand opera, only the people are thinner.

Running Time: 110 Minutes

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