Bodies searching, caressing in the dark – the images of sex that the mind conjures up right from the start of the 1991 Touchstone thriller Deceived are quickly replaced by thoughts of death when a sea of black umbrellas fill the screen. Soon, Unforgiven cinematographer Jack N. Green's camera pulls back to inform us that we're not on cemetery grounds during a funeral however, but a busy New York City street instead.
In a stark contrast to the darkness of the umbrellas against the rainy night sky, a shock of red forces our eyes to the right where Adrienne – our heroine played by Goldie Hawn – appears, bundled up in an elegant red dress coat.
Taking a seat, Adrienne catches sight of Jack Saunders (John Heard), an attractive well-dressed man dining alone nearby. And once the two spot one another, they spend the evening playing peek-a-boo with their eyes. Leaning back in her seat behind a nearby diner after another shared glance, Adrienne decides it's time to stop hiding and takes the initiative to seek. Too shy to make the long, lonely walk across the short distance for potential romantic rejection, she sends a server over to ask Jack if he's her mysterious blind date.
What are you doing tonight? Jack asks the next morning and then repeats the premise of the question twice. Trying to lock down Adrienne's future, with each repetition he replaces the last word, first with tomorrow night before he follows it up by asking what she's doing for the rest of her life.
Crimes stacking up like dominoes, when the police learn that a priceless Egyptian necklace in the museum's collection was a fake, the aftermath ensnares both Adrienne's flirtatious co-worker Harvey (an outstanding Tom Irwin), who authenticated the piece he swears was real, as well as Jack who bought the item in the first place.
How well can we really know someone else? And how much does love make us project our own feelings about our lover onto them to the point that it blinds us to the truth? Written by Beaches screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue (who also co-produced) to focus on those questions as a sophisticated domestic thriller, soon after Touchstone picked up Deceived, Ghost and Jacob's Ladder scripter Bruce Joel Rubin was hired to rewrite it as more of a popcorn picture. And though you can still see Donoghue's intentions in the film's fascinating build up, the end result of the stylistic push and pull winds up requiring a serious level of suspension of disbelief from viewers as it continues.
As icily controlled as it is charismatic, the film benefits from casting its leads against type. A far cry from his nice guy image – most famously as the father in Home Alone – Deceived is elevated by John Heard's fully committed, sinister turn opposite a fine Goldie Hawn who was eager to show her dramatic range outside her typically comedic terrain. Heard is so convincing, in fact, that every time Jack enters the frame in the last half of this forgotten thriller from Bad Company director Damian Harris, I half expected Grace Kelly's coolly calculated husband from Dial M For Murder (played by the great Ray Milland) to walk in alongside him.
Filled with symbolism and clever moments where we're forced to ask if – like the opening images of sex and death – we can believe what it is that we're seeing, although the unfairly maligned film requires you to leave pesky things like logic behind as it races to its darkly lit finish, it's richly deserving of a second look.
A big bad wolf by any one of his names, except perhaps the one Adrienne had used when she hoped the handsome stranger was her blind date, in Deceived, Harris, Donoghue, and Rubin, ensure that, much like Jack changes before our eyes as we start to learn more, our little red riding hood evolves as well. Taking a cue from its inventive opening sequence, in the PG-13 film – which thusly set itself apart from the more popular hard R-rated erotic thrillers of the era – Adrienne refuses to let herself get distracted by sex or death.
Piecing together Deceived's intriguing puzzle, she moves from bashful dater to wife to Goldilocks to avenging Nancy Drew. And thrillingly, unlike the beginning of the film when our little red coated heroine came in from the dark to locate a man in the light, by the time she's been deceived, all she wants to do is find the wolf who used to caress her in the darkness and bring his big bad deeds to light.
A walking movie encyclopedia as well as a three-time national award-winning writer, the only time that Jen Johans ever got into trouble in school as a child was for talking about movies during quiet time. Discovering that writing about film works just as well, when she isn't doing just that on her site FilmIntuition, she can be found watching movies and talking about them on Twitter (@FilmIntuition) where there's where there's no such thing as quiet time.