Thursday, April 3, 2008

DECEPTION (Warner Bros. 1946) Warner Home Video

Based on Louis Verneuil’s 1927 stage play, ‘Monsieur Lamberthier,’ Irving Rapper’s Deception (1946) is a rather subdued noir/melodrama; a remake twice removed and with a hint of Jean Negulesco’s ‘Humoresque’ (made that same year) thrown in.

In 1928, Verneuil’s property was translated into English for the Broadway stage under the title, ‘Jealousy.’ It became a silent film classic starring Jeanne Eagel the following year. This film adaptation reunites Bette Davis with her Now Voyager leading man, Paul Henreid and frequent costar, Claude Rains to tell the sordid minor intrigue of a concert cellist driven to fruitless distraction over the love of a corrupt woman.

The screenplay by John Collier and Joseph Than replicates Verneuil’s backdrop of presumed marital infidelity, while augmenting a touch of Freudian tragedy. The tale begins in earnest with Christine Radcliffe (Davis) hurrying to a university music conservatory to hear cellist, Karel Novak (Henreid) playing magnificently to a packed house. After being accosted by the bobby-soxer set, out for autographs and interviews, Novak is surprised in his dressing room by Christine, whom he has not seen since Europe in the days before WWII.

Christine takes Karel home to her extravagant artist’s loft. Although Karel is initially excited over their reunion, his fragile emotional psyche soon turns to conjecture at how a struggling artist could afford such lavish accoutrements. She lies to him and he attempts to shake the truth from her. Despite these disturbing outbursts, Karel marries Christine. But the blissful mood of their reception turns sour with the arrival of gifted composer, Alexander Hollenius (Claude Rains). Though Alex drops every conceivable hint to make Karel jealous with the suggestion that he is Christine’s lover – Karel believes his wife when she repeatedly lies to him about the affair.

The next afternoon, Karel decides to go to Alex’s home after Christine has told him she is going out to meet a girlfriend for lunch. The rouse is foiled however, since Christine has already left Alex’s home by the time Karel arrives. Sensing that Christine really loves Karel, Alex decides to proposition the cellist by baiting him with the chance of a lifetime; to play the debut of his composition at orchestra hall.

The assignment however is not without its codicils of jealousy, slowly driving a wedge between Karel and Christine. Worse, Alex taunts his former lover with the very real prospect of replacing her husband in the debut with inferior cellist, Bertram Gribble (John Abbott); a hollow threat that Christine believes he will follow through with and thereafter attempts to thwart by offering Gribble $2,000 to refuse the offer – should it arise.

In truth, Alex is a music devotee of the highest order who recognizes Karel’s great talent. Moreover, his personal delight is primarily extolled at Christine’s expense – not Karel’s; torturing his one time lover with prospects of financial and artistic ruin. However, not even Alex can conceive that his desire to wreck a great talent will lead to even more surprising revelations and perhaps his own murder.

Deception is an effective mood piece. At the time of its release, the film was unfairly judged as inferior entertainment. To some extent Eric Korngold’s bombastic scoring is perhaps most to blame for what many critic’s dubbed ‘overwrought’ and ‘operatic’ cliché – severe and stark with groundswells of emotional melodrama sweeping asunder even the formidably powerful hysterics of Bette Davis.

In truth, the show belongs not to Davis, but Claude Rains who delivers an absorbing portrait of the spiteful impresario; temperamental, if slightly effeminate lady’s man, enjoying his petty deceptions. In the final analysis, Deception is fairly amusing entertainment – taut, telling and slightly terse in its ‘deceptive’ glimpse into human avarices.

Warner Home Video’s DVD transfer is impressive. The B&W image has exceptional tonality. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are clean. Age related artifacts are rare. The grayscale is refined with fine details evident throughout – even during the darkest scenes. Film grain is kept to a bare minimum. The audio is mono but with a considerable power quite uncharacteristic of most recordings from this period. Extras include an audio commentary and newsreels, trailers and short subjects a la Warner Night At The Movies. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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