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Deception (1946)

Deception. Feature film. (1946, 110 mins) IMDB

...Why was Bette Davis such a big star?...

W

hat is the deception in DECEPTION? It doesn't take long to figure out even though it's never explicitly stated. This is a film made in 1946. The Hollywood system still existed and so did the production code, but another code existed--the code of subtext to tell you A when you can't say A.

The film takes place in NYC. WWII is over, thankfully, and Karel is playing his cello in front of a small audience in a concert hall. In the back wings is Bette Davis, tears in her eyes, as she listens to the performance. Backstage we understand why. They were lovers during the war. She escaped from Europe to live in the US. He was left behind and she thought he had died. Two lovers reunite, plan to marry and do. It happens all so fast, but Davis has a history while living these past four years in the US and it forms part of her deception.

She's supposedly a poor, struggling piano player, but lives in a tony apartment with lots of furs, clothes and art. There is a certain dissonance between what she tells Karel and what he sees.

Enter Claude Rains as Alex Hollenius. He plays a wealthy and famous composer of classical music and, what is told but never said, the lover of Davis. She has been his kept lover. We see a side of Rains that is mercurial compared to his charming role in CASABLANCA or his diplomatic role in LAWARENCE OF ARABIA. He is one of my favourite actors.

With this setup, Act I is over and we spend the rest of the movie dealing with the tension between the three of them. Davis wants to hide her past. Alex wants her back and when he can't, wants revenge. Karel is a struggling artist trying to make something of himself. He falls into Alex's hands when Alex composes a cello concerto for him to play.

There are rehearsal and threats. Toying and more threats. It's tearing everyone apart. When will the truth be finally in the open? That's the question, but it doesn't happen. Davis murders Alex and makes it look like a suicide. Somehow she gets away with it, or at least, the film ends before we ever find out.

To date, I've watched several Bette Davis movies and the only one I find the least bit interesting is ALL ABOUT EVE. Maybe if I were a woman, I'd feel differently. Or perhaps, if I were watching her movies when they were released, I feel differently. I'm not sure what it is.

I've seen numerous Cary Grant movies of the same time period (e.g., HIS GAL FRIDAY, NOTORIOUS, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) and love the movies. They are great movies. Movies I'd want to watch again. But I can't say the same about these Davis movies even though I know she was a big star in her day. One of the giants of all time if I want to believe the AFI listing of top stars.

Posted 2009/02/01 at 17h32ET in Movie Commentary.

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