Film Noir Collection Vol.4, Decoy

Written by Joe D on October 31st, 2007

Another gem from this wonderful noir collection.
Decoy is a great little film, in a similar vein to Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour. Low budget but bursting at the seams with creativity, Decoy was recently re-discovered by a neighbor of mine, Bill Rush, who works at Warner Brothers. It hadn’t been seen since 1970 and it’s screening at the American Cinematheque Noir Program caused a sensation. Okay let’s begin at the beginning! A great weird opening! Close up on a battered, chipped porcelain sink, dirty hands come into frame, turn on hot water, steam blasts into the sink! Cold water will do, pan to a roll of paper towels suspended on a piece of twine, pan and tilt to a chunk of broken mirror revealing a disheveled zombie looking guy. We later find out he’s a dishonored doctor(Herbert Rudley).

Is this a Zombie Movie or a Film Noir?

He exits the gas station rest room, stumbling like the undead, ignoring the cheerful good morning patter from the pump jockey, Hitching a ride into the city. He goes into a snazzy apartment building , followed closely but not close enough by Sheldon Leonard who plays Sgt. JoJo Portugal. By the way Leonard looks exactly like Mickey Cohen in this movie, his hat, his suit, his manner.

Sheldon Leonard as Mickey Cohen…I mean, Sgt JoJo Portugal!

Mickey Cohen as Mickey Cohen, The Mickster

Portugal follows the Zombie but misses the elevator. When he gets off at the 2nd floor he has his gun out but he puts it away upon hearing a shot fired in a nearby apartment. Portugal busts in, the maid is crying, the zombie is finally dead and lying mortally wounded is one of the most evil females ever captured on Celluloid. Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie)

Beautiful, Ruthless, Deadly

She tells Portugal the story in flashback, a story so heartless and calculating, it makes you question your sanity. Let’s get this straight right now, this film is out there, crazy!

Let the Flashback Begin!

Margot wants money, she lives for the finer things, and she will do anything to get them, I mean anything! Her older beau is in stir, he killed a bank guard while stealing $400,000 and now he’s gonna get the big whiff! Cyanide gas up in Q.
prison.jpgShe’s playing with the old letch, Robert Armstrong ( He was Carl Denham in King Kong!)

Trouble is he hasn’t told Margot where he stashed the loot and he won’t tell her unless he gets out. She hatches a diabolical plan with the aid of a gangster named Jimmy Vincent. But there’s a catch Vincent wants her and half the money.

Tough Guy Jimmy Vincent, just another sucker

She needs a doctor to help with her plan to spring her death row beau, Frank. They’re going to revive him after he’s pronounced dead! OK, this evil, amoral monster finds a dedicated doctor, he works in a poor neighborhood, he volunteers at a clinic. He cares about curing people not making money.

Fetishistic Detail #1 The Nurse’s Hair

But our femme fatale seduces him, not only does she seduce him, he falls so in love with her he sacrifices his ideals, his career, his life, everything for her. As a matter of fact every man in this film falls for this icy goddess of evil! They all want her for themselves and this enables her to destroy them all. Frank gets the gas chamber, the scene is shot from his point of view and the audience watching the execution looks like people in a movie theater watching a film! Maybe the director was holding up a mirror to the audience as if to say” Look at yourselves, entertained by watching a man suffer and die!”.

Mirror, Mirror

They steal Frank’s body and Dr. Craig brings him back to life.

Elements Of A Horror Film

He draws a map of where the money is hidden and then they kill him! They brought the guy back to life and 5 minutes later they kill him! Insane!

Fetishistic Detail #2- Jeweled Hands Strap A Dead Man’s Ankle To An Operating Table

They go to dig up the cash, along the way they stop for a quick bite and a drink. Dr. Craig gets drunk. Margot exits before the boys and let’s the air out of a tire. They drive a ways and it seems like they have a flat. Jimmy Vincent gets out to fix it and after he finishes, she runs him over! She’s not sharing the boodle with anyone! In the print shown at the Cinematheque she runs him over, backs up over him, then runs him over again! This is cut to just one run over in the DVD, too bad! She coldly takes the map and a gun from Jimmy’s dead body, gets back into the car where the doctor says ” I want to kill you!” She hands him the gun,but she has faith in her power over this yutz, he can’t do it!

Even Though she destroyed his life, killed a man in front of him, and will soon kill him, he can’t kill her, he still loves her and she knows it!

Margot drives gleefully to the buried treasure burial spot, paces it off, and goes crazy with gold lust, scratching at the ground and shrieking for the doctor to get something to dig with. He comes up with a huge knife, he raises it over his head, it looks like he’s about to kill her, but he drops to the ground and begins digging like a madman.

It looks like he might kill her, but no! He drops to the ground and digs like a will-less puppet!

He hits paydirt in the form of a small trunk. Margot laughs and screams like a delighted Banshee, then she pumps several slugs into the doctor. She grabs the trunk and splits, hysterically laughing in ecstasy.

The Ecstasy Of Gold

This is where we came in, the doctor wasn’t dead, he made it back town on willpower and sheer hate, and blasted Margot with his last bit of strength. The flashback ends, JoJo the cop has placed Margot on a couch. She looks up at him, flutters her eyelids. “Do you love me, JoJo?” she whispers. Jojo stops, looks at her, he does love her! He moves in for a last kiss. She laughs in his face! Makes a fool out of a man with her dying breath!

She died as she lived, laughing at foolish Men

Jean Gille gives a tour de force performance. She is incredible. This movie was made at Monogram Pictures, a low budget outfit that cranked out Bowery Boys films and some of Bela Lugosi’s final films. But the cheapness of this production actually adds something to this film. A mysterious element of inevitability, like we’ve seen it before but there’s nothing we can do about it. Jack Bernhard’s direction is top notch. Excellent understated camera moves, scenes that play in one shot. Fetishistic details that add an eerie underlying atmosphere of a Horror movie, a cross genre fertilization. The lighting is great, all broken light with shadows of leaves, venetian blinds etc., real noir touches. I also liked the props and the clothes, rings, jewelry, all felt hand picked. Once again the low budget gave the filmmakers a freedom to explore dark depths, to shed light on idiosyncratic psychology, to show us something we hadn’t ever seen before. Jean Luc Godard was a big fan of this movie and Monogram Pictures in general. He even dedicated his first film Breathless to Monogram. So once again I heartily recommend the Warner Bros. Film Noir Classics Collection, Vol.4, every film in this set is great!

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Oct
    Tony D'Ambra

    Decoy for me is a B minus crime movie with noir pretensions. An overblown plot, average acting, and pedestrian direction add up to another camp oddity like Detour (1945), despite a fair effort by Jean Gillie as the maniacal femme-criminale. Beats me why it has cult status for some.

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