Decoy (1946) Jack Bernhard (2x)
Warner Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 DVD
Like many film noir movies, this Monogram picture is told mostly in flashback, but the weird nature of the film combined with multiple double crosses and a seriously wicked femme fatale, all in a glorious low-budget production, make Decoy a must-see. As the story begins, a dying Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie) tells police Sgt. Joe Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) the story of Margot’s gangster boyfriend Frankie Olins (Robert Armstrong), a criminal who’s about to go to the gas chamber for killing a guard during a heist. Although he got nabbed, Frankie made off with $400,000 and swears he’s going to take the knowledge of where the money’s stashed with him to the grave.
That’s okay with Margot. She’s discovered that prison doctor Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley, right) can reverse the effects of cyanide gas and bring the Frankie back to life by using a compound called methylene blue (which is a real compound… Hey, maybe Walter White saw this movie?), after which time he can disclose the location of the loot. Because Margot must not be denied.
It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that the methylene blue works on Frankie, but you’ll have to see how he reacts to his “rebirth.” I’m not sure whether it’s one of the greatest “after death” scenes in the movies or pure hilarity. Either way, it’s effective.
Few people remembered this low-budget noir until the American Cinematheque screened it in 2000, where it was lauded for its strangeness and savagery. Film critic Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant says that “Decoy was to 1946 what Pulp Fiction is to 1994.”
Decoy also features Marjorie Woodworth as Dr. Craig’s nurse/girlfriend. Woodworth’s long, somewhat oddly-styled blonde hair is attention-getting and you get the feeling you’ve seen her before in other films. (Maybe I saw her as the girl in a wig shop in A Double Life…) You can read more about her at Those Obscure Objects of Desire: Unknown Actresses of Old Hollywood, a very fun and informative blog.
Although the opening credits proudly announce “Introducing Jean Gillie,” the actress had been in several British productions dating back to 1935, mostly comedies. Decoy was her first American film and her penultimate movie. Gillie (who married director Bernhard) died of pneumonia in 1947, just after appearing with Gregory Peck in The Macomber Affair, her first and only A-picture. She was 33. Had she lived longer, who knows what kind of career Gillie might have enjoyed.
Photos: Movie Poster Shop, Those Obscure Objects of Desire, Movie Title Stills Collection, Shangols, Warner Archive, Film Noir Blonde