Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Deception (1946) at the Noir City Film Festival

Saturday night was an especially epic night at the Noir City Film Festival!

It was a particularly happy night as the festival was attended by several classic film blogging friends who had arrived in town early for the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was wonderful to see Aurora, Annmarie, Kellee, and Christy for the first time in over a year! Christy covered the evening for The Examiner.

The evening was sponsored by the classic film and TV channel getTV. It was revealed at the start of the evening that cards were taped underneath ten seats in the theater, and as it happened, I was sitting in one of those seats! I received a lovely gift bag with a getTV mug, a journal, and a DVD of THE BIG HEAT (1953).

The evening's double bill celebrated actor Paul Henreid, with his daughter Monika Henreid in attendance. She helped to introduce the first movie, DECEPTION (1946), and after the movie she sat down for a Q&A about her father with the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller.

In terms of the movie, over the years I'd heard it was very good and honestly I was expecting a little more from it. A reunion for the leads of NOW VOYAGER (1942), DECEPTION is quite a lengthy talk fest; it's essentially a three-character study in which the actors talk and talk about their problems for 115 minutes.

Bette Davis plays Christine Radcliffe, a pianist who is unexpectedly reunited with her love, cellist Karel Novak (Henreid). Christine believed Karel had died in a Nazi concentration camp, and she is now the mistress of autocratic conductor-composer Alexander Hollenius (Claude Rains).

Instead of leveling with Karel -- after all, she thought he was dead! -- Christine doesn't want the jealous Karel to know she's been in a relationship with Hollenius. She describes Hollenius as a mentor and attempts to pass off the elegant artwork in her apartment as gifts from students. Bit by bit her deceptions grow, one lie leading to another.

Christine and Karel quickly marry, but the never-ending lies she must spin to keep the truth from Karel undermine their marriage, and the nasty, jealous Hollenius doesn't help matters either. Eventually he threatens to crush Karel by telling all.

Although I found the movie somewhat disappointing, there is still some very good stuff in it. One of my favorite things was the way the grandeur of Christine's apartment is gradually revealed. Initially, with the unusual approach of the exterior stairs, we expect she's living in some sort of garrett, especially as she says she's not doing well financially. The apartment is dark so we can't see much of it, and at first it seems fairly simple, though Karel notes with puzzlement the furs hanging in Christine's closet.

Bit by bit, as Christine and Karel move about the apartment and lights are turned on, it's revealed to be a stylish loft apartment, with a large piano, works of art, an elegantly designed bathroom, and a nice kitchen. Like Karel, the audience wonders: How did a struggling pianist afford this?

Another special aspect of the movie is the music, a mixture of classical pieces and compositions by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Henreid's cello performances were dubbed by Eleanor Slatkin. Monika Henreid revealed that since her father couldn't mimick the more complicated movements accurately enough, a special coat was designed which hid a player sitting behind her father; you see Paul Henreid, but it's someone else's arms playing the cello!

Davis and Henreid believably convey their characters' longing for one another, especially in the early and closing scenes, and Rains is entertaining, with his biting line deliveries.

Ultimately, though, the movie goes on far too long; it's a relief when there's finally some action near the end of the movie, although I found the staging a bit hokey. And then...the characters talk some more!

The movie was directed by Irving Rapper. One of the interesting things that Monika said was that while Rapper was the director, in reality Davis and Henreid were experienced professionals who were essentially directing their own performances. They worked out their characters together, invented bits of business, and so on. (She also shared that it was her father who created the signature cigarette lighting moment in NOW VOYAGER, based on a suggestion by her mother.) She said that Davis was a close friend of her father's and was at their home frequently so she would hear stories about their work.

It was quite enjoyable hearing Monika's stories, and the love and respect she clearly feels for her father came through in her comments. She is working on a documentary on him which has an official Facebook page. Monika is also on Twitter at MEHenreid.

At the right, Monika is greeted before the film by the Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode and getTV's Kimberly Truhler.

The supporting cast includes Benson Fong and John Abbott. Music students in the opening scenes included Richard Erdman, Patricia Barry, and Jane Harker. Bess Flowers once again turns up in an evening gown, as a guest at Christine and Karel's wedding reception.

DECEPTION was filmed in lovely black and white by Ernest Haller.

DECEPTION is available on DVD and VHS. It can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video. (May 2020 Update: This film is being reissued on DVD-R by the Warner Archive.)

We needed an early night and had to leave before the second film of the evening, HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948). I reviewed that entertaining movie after seeing it at UCLA in 2014, and I recommend it.


Blogger KC said...

I don't remember this film very well, except for that apartment. It is my favorite movie apartment.Those windows! Just gorgeous.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It really was! The set design was my favorite thing about the movie. :)

Best wishes,

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you , script wise, it was disappointing . The three leads deserved better.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for your feedback, Vienna!

Best wishes,

6:39 PM  

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