Christine Radcliffe runs up the stairs of a college concert hall in the rain. The hall is filled with enraptured students, and her eyes fill with tears as she recognizes the cellist on stage: Karel Novak who spent the war trapped in neutral Sweden. After the performance, Novak is mobbed by well-wishers, and a student reporter questions him about his favorite composers. Novak lists some famous ones, then adds, "And, of course, Hollenius."
Novak returns to his dressing room, Christine enters and their eyes meet in his mirror. The couple embraces while Christine cries, "I thought you were dead. I saw them kill you."
Karel and Christine return to her apartment. Karel becomes suspicious of the rare artwork on display and the fur coat hanging in the closet. Christine has told Karel that she is living a precarious existence as a pianist but this conflicts with the evidence in the apartment. He confronts her, but frightens himself with his own vehemence and apologises to her, then says he's leaving. She stops him with the confession she lowered herself to taking "rich, untalented pupils" who gifted her with the suspicious items.
They marry, but the composer Alexander Hollenius makes a dramatic entrance at their wedding reception. It is evident he is jealous, and the stress leads him to break a wine glass without deliberate intent. Hollenius soon gives Novak a manuscript score of his new cello concerto, which Novak agrees to perform at its premiere. It becomes apparent to Christine that a cellist in the orchestra, Bertram Gribble, is being tutored in the solo part by Hollenius. Suspecting the sabotage of her husband's career, she unsuccessfully attempts to bribe Gribble into not co-operating.
Friction develops between Novak and Hollenius, and the composer angrily breaks off a dress rehearsal on the grounds of Novak's temperamental behavior. On the evening of the premiere, Christine visits Hollenius, who threatens to tell Novak of their love affair. Distraught, Christine shoots him dead.
Another conductor, Neilsen, takes the place of the absent Hollenius, and the performance is a great success. While well-wishers wait, Christine confesses everything to her husband, and they leave the concert hall together .Bette Davis as Christine Radcliffe
Paul Henreid as Karel Novak
Claude Rains as Alexander Hollenius
John Abbott as Bertram Gribble
Benson Fong as Hollenius' Servant
The film was based on a play Monsieur Lamberthier by Louis Verneuil, which was first performed in Paris in 1927. It opened on Broadway as Jealousy on October 22, 1928 at Maxine Elliott's Theatre, as a two-hander (play with only two main characters), with Fay Bainter and John Halliday. It was turned into a film also entitled Jealousy (1929) with Jeanne Eagels and Fredric March and directed by Jean de Limur. The play was presented again on Broadway on October 1, 1946 under the title Obsession at the Plymouth Theatre, with Eugenie Leontovich and Basil Rathbone. Warner Bros. originally purchased the play as a vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck and Paul Henreid.
Davis' solo piano playing was performed by Shura Cherkassky. Henreid's cello playing was dubbed by Eleanor Aller. The music for Hollenius' Cello Concerto was by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who composed the music for this film. Korngold subsequently expanded this material and published it as his own cello concerto.
Despite the earlier success of Davis, Henreid, Rains and director Rapper, and generally positive reviews, Deception proved to be an expensive exercise for its producers. With high production costs and modest cinema patronage, it became the first Bette Davis film to lose money for Warner Bros.
Film critic Dennis Schwartz generally liked the film, writing, "Irving Rapper (Shining Victory/Now, Voyager/Rhapsody in Blue) helms this labored romantic melodrama, a remake of the early talkie 1929 Jealousy that was also based on a Louis Verneuil play. It's written by John Collier and Joseph Than ... With classical music filling the background, cheesy soap opera dialogue in the forefront, histrionics taking over the concert hall, none of the characters being likable and Bette Davis as hammy as ever, this preposterous opera-like tale is amazingly enjoyable as straight theatrical drama that is nevertheless campy and could easily have been treated as comedy."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated