DECOY (director: Jack Bernhard; screenwriters: story by Stanly Rubin/Ned Young; cinematographer: Lewis William O’Connell; editor: Jason Bernie; music: Edward J. Kay; cast: Jean Gillie (Margot Shelby), Edward Norris (Jim Vincent), Herbert Rudley (Dr. Lloyd Craig), Robert Armstrong (Frank Olins), Sheldon Leonard (Sgt. Joseph Portugal), Marjorie Woodworth (Nurse), Philip Van Zandt (Tommy), John Shay (Al); Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jack Bernhard/Bernard Brandt; Monogram; 1946)
“Gillie is one of the more cruel femme fatales in film noir lore.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Warning: spoilers throughout.
Jack Bernhard directs a darkly atmospheric but disjointed film noir that is rife with plot inconsistencies. The film’s main virtue is the sinister performance by British newcomer Jean Gillie as Margot Shelby, who is the nonredeemable femme fatale with a history of using men and even resorting to violence to achieve her ends. Gillie is one of the more cruel femme fatales in film noir lore.
The film has a grand opening shot of hands being washed in the filthy bathroom sink of a gas station and then the camera zooms in on the zombie-like face of Dr. Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley) in the cracked mirror. This sets the dark tone of the film. After leaving the service station, Lloyd hitches a ride into San Francisco and in a dazed condition enters the hotel room of Margot Shelby. Lloyd shoots her and kills himself, just before detective Joseph Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) can stop him. Joseph finds Margot barely alive on the couch. She is pleased with the sergeant’s presence and playfully calls him Jojo, a nickname the tough-guy hates. But the honest cop overlooks it, as Margot is eager to tell him the whole story, before she dies, leading up to this incident.
Margot tells of being the gun moll to Frankie Olins, who stashed away $400,000 he stole in a robbery. Frankie is set to die in the gas chamber for killing the driver in the heist. Margot can’t get Frankie to reveal where he hid the stolen loot, but schemes to revive Frankie after the execution by injecting a methylene blue gas as an antidote to cyanide (it can work if the corpse is revived in an hour’s time) and thereby getting him to reveal the secret hiding place. To accomplish this she takes a gangster partner, Jim Vincent (Edward Norris), to bankroll her plan, whom she lures with her beauty and smartly plays on his greed. To make her plan work, she gets the cooperation of lonely idealistic slum doctor Lloyd Craig, by romancing him and getting him to be so crazy about her he loses his ideals. He happens to also be the prison doctor where Frankie is and will have a chance to revive Frankie after the execution because he certifies the death.
The plan works perfectly, as Margot hires a gunman (Philip Van Zandt) to kill the hearse driver and steal Frankie’s body, and the revived Frankie draws a half a map for Margot revealing the hiding place. While Frankie tries to kiss Margot, the jealous Vincent plugs him and takes the other half of the map. The two then force the compromised doctor to help them search for the stash. In the film’s most memorable scene, Margot tricks Vincent into fixing a flat and then sadistically runs her car a number of times over the unfortunate Vincent. After getting the doc to dig up the box holding the stolen money, she plugs Lloyd while laughing like a lunatic. But he recovers enough to return to her place for revenge. The ironical joke is that when the sergeant opens the money box, he finds a one dollar bill and a note left by Frankie addressed to the double-crossers–telling them he left the money to the worms.
REVIEWED ON 10/9/2004 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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