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MOVIE REVIEW — DEVOTION (1946) & DECEPTION (1947): WB Hokum and Pure Class

In film, morality on November 14, 2012 at 10:07 am

Ida_Lupinomid1940sThese two were recently on Turner Classic Movies and show what tripe and pure class a great studio like Warner bros was capable of almost in the same breath. I read somewhere that Devotion was made in 1943 but not released for three years. I suppose Deception was made within months of the other’s first airing. But that, and the peculiarly close resonance of the title words with each other, is all they have in common. Oh, and both feature that peculiarly German Frenchman Paul Henreid (Paul von Hernreidt) as the object of desire… WB’s all-purpose continental leading man in the war years: see also all-time classics Notorious opposite Bette Davis, and Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman, both from 1942.

Devotion, according to its “coming attractions” studio promos in picture theatres of the day, purported to be the story of four highly talented people — but only “two geniuses”. I’m hoping they meant Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Emily (Wuthering Heights) BronteOlivia_de_Havilland_in_Devotion_trailer — see second photo — as the two geniuses, because Arthur Kennedy who played Bramwell Bronte and Nancy Coleman who played Anne Bronte were second leads through their careers. Bramwell comes across like an overdone obnoxious egotist, and Anne the indulgent butt of his bullying. They were probably best in Some Came Running (1958) as the small-town lawyer — and Frank Sinatra’s brother — and the secretary who loves him.

Actually, I’ve never watched the movie right through, and this time was no exception, mainly because it portrays two genuine literary geniuses as idle, dreamy girls with nothing better to do than to compete for the hand of the lovely Paul, who plays a nondescript curate (but you can tell he’d make a great male model in modern times). Considering all the Brontes barely lived to maturity — and maturity in those days was in your twenties, no wearing streetkid caps on backwards pretending in your forties — it’s a wonder any of them had time to lift a quill pen never mind compose multiple novels. In this Ida Lupino (top, as Charlotte) comes off best over Olivia de Havilland (above, as Emily), and Paul — well, he’s so upright suffering through how to announce the bad news to the unlucky one.

Avoid, unless you’re not serious about films and are into early Victoriana.

Deception is an extremely adult filmBetteDavis_PaulHenreidin Deception — and by that I don’t mean the penises are extremely long and the boobs extremely huge. It is adult in a way that is probably way over the heads of most modern audiences — full of complex motives, delicate and (inwardly) raging feelings, subtle, undermining mind games thrown up by a world of true artistic passion that doesn’t exist anymore and is beyond most people’s comprehension. It is the immediate postwar world, still unsettled by the European holocaust affecting all. Paul Henreid barely escaped his native Poland and has finally made it to America, years after fellow music student Bette Davis arrived. Paul is almost a broken man but still a performing genius on the cello. Bette traces him in New York where his tour has finally arrived — yes, he’s a concert cellist but it takes much more than massive talent to make it in America, so Bette tells him. (In fact, you probably have a better shot at fame equipped with exactly the opposite of massive talent these days.) It takes powerful contacts and pzazz coming out of every pore, Bette intimates — maybe like Simon Cowell and his latest discovery. (So have things changed so much?)

Bette still loves him of course — he’s much better looking and much younger than the alternative. Slowly, Paul comes to suspect Bette is more than just a struggling music teacher — he can tell by the jewellery, expensive furnishings, lavish parties… And maybe her obscenely wealthy much older friend who keeps throwing jealous tizzies over herClaude_Rains_in_Notorious_trailer — and he’s a modern genius of a classical composer played superbly by Claude Rains — is more than just a fatherly mentor. He doesn’t do it for her physically, but he’s just invested so much time and money as her possessive sugar daddy it’s not funny. The marvellous interplay between Rains and Davis has to be seen, over and over if you can… Rains’ performance as a frustrated, bitter old cuckold driven to evil (though he’s such a self-centred egoist it didn’t take much to push him over the edge) must surely be definitive, even over that of James Mason, another master of the type.

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