Thursday, June 01, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Decoy (1946) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

One of the films I saw for the first time at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival was DECOY (1946).

I've always confused the title DECOY with another film I've not yet seen, DETOUR (1945), but now that I've seen DECOY I don't think it's possible I'll forget it. It's an absolutely crazy movie, in the very best ways -- a dreamlike cross between a heist movie and FRANKENSTEIN.

British actress Jean Gillie, who was married to the film's director, Jack Bernhard, is quite memorable in the lead role as Margot Shelby.

As recounted in flashback, Margot was so anxious to get her hands on $400,000 stolen by her boyfriend Frankie (Robert Armstrong) that she finds a way to have a prison doctor (Herbert Rudley) bring Frankie back to life after he's executed in the gas chamber.

Yes, you read that correctly. I'll leave it for viewers new to the film to discover the details for themselves.

Jim Vincent (Edward Norris), who helped remove the body from the prison, is a jealous man, and once the revived Frankie gives them a map of the hidden treasure's location, things will get ugly for Frankie, the doctor, and, well, everyone.

This is a surreal, fascinating 76 minutes from Monogram Pictures. I don't want to say too much more about it as there are many twists and turns and first-time viewers should simply dive in and go along for the ride "cold."

It was scripted by Nedrick Young from a story by Stanley Rubin, who would later produce an all-time favorite, THE NARROW MARGIN (1952). That was particularly meaningful to me as I had the honor of attending Rubin's memorial service in 2014.

The performances are all memorable, starting with Gillie; "avaricious" doesn't even begin to describe her character. The several men in her life are all saps she gleefully walks over in her determination to locate Frankie's hidden riches.

Sheldon Leonard has a great role as a cop. He's in the film from the beginning, but his character's later "introduction" in a flashback scene in a nightclub is a small masterpiece of character exposition and bits of business. The way it commands attention kind of reminded me of Lloyd Nolan entering the Chinese restaurant in SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946), released the same year. Watch for it.

Marjorie Woodworth, who somewhat improbably was my most-seen actress of 2020, plays the doctor's nurse. I was able to visit her final resting place at Inglewood Park Cemetery last year.

Other cast members include Bert Roach, Phil Van Zandt, Virginia Farmer, Jody Gilbert, and Ray Teal.

Nora Fiore has a great 2013 write-up on this film at The Nitrate Diva. She discusses the entire plot, so my recommendation is to watch the movie first, as it's filled with surprises, and then enjoy her essay.

DECOY was released on DVD in the ten-movie Film Noir Classic Collection No. 4. It was later reissued by the Warner Archive Collection on a two-film DVD along with the terrific CRIME WAVE (1954).

DECOY is such a wild ride I'm almost surprised it was made. It's definitely worth seeing.


Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Obviously my all-time favorite B. When it comes to little cheapos, this one beats Detour by a mile for me. And it made me a Sheldon Leonard fan.

6:31 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Jack Bernhard fans have another treat coming next month when Classicflix release BLONDE ICE with striking Leslie Brooks and solid B Actors Robert Paige and Michael Whalen. Mr Whalen never became the A List star Fox hoped he would be but I always enjoy him a solid and dependable B Actor ISLAND IN THE SKY (1938) is a doozy of a Fox B.
What happened to Jack Bernhard after 1950 his relationship with Gillie ended as soon as it began plus Gillie's sole film after DECOY and early death remain something of a mystery
Herbert Rudley is amazing in DECOY and that moment when he tells Gillie "I could kill you" and she hands him the gun...this Femme Fatale wants TOTAL control over fall guys that fall victim to her charms.
DETOUR seems to have several detractors these days but as an example of making something out of nothing it's hard to beat-it's seedy low rent world is pure pulp poetry or if you will "Termite Art" at it's zenith.

4:05 AM  

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