Decoy (1946)

Decoy (1946) is a low budget, cheaply plotted film noir thriller and shocker, premised on an idea that has elements in common with horror, as it re-animates a dead con in a miraculous escape from death row.

The source of the drama is easily stressed -- it's a box with $400,000 in it, the proceeds of a robbery.

And the leading actor in the villainous and double crossing pursuit of this box, is an energetic and deadly femme fatale performance from Jean Gillie, a British actor in her first American film role.

Actor Jean Gillie had a short, short life and Decoy, for all its ills and budgetary constraints was her penultimate film role.

For a film that doesn't boast much in the way of star performances, or glorious set pieces, Jean Gillie gives a helluva lotta goods in this short and at times brutal film noir.

She is seductive, wicked and scheming, and ultimately displays a variety of psychotic madness when she feels she's reached her goal. But fate is going to grab her too, hard by the neck, and shake her until she's in pieces.

Jean Gillie, seductive flashback, in Decoy (1946)

The framing of this modestly appearing film noir is achieved in classic style, using the flashback.

The story is told from one of the most seductive angles imaginable. The viewer, locked in the cinema, faces a vulnerable and beautiful women, actor Jean Gillie, who is on her back looking directly, longingly, at the viewer. It is an almost unimaginable fiction, to place yourself as viewer, looking down on this beautiful tale teller, who has the look of love in her eyes. 

Jean Gillie is of course a killer femme fatale in this capacity, not just drawing in the weak males of the drama Decoy (1946), but also drawing the viewers in the same direction.

Decoy is a film that is not self conscious about any of its subjects, and rides roughly on through each of the exploitative territories it passes through. It is wild in its fantasy, and in the aspects of re-animation of the dead, almost takes on the tone of a horror film, or at times, at least that of a mad scientist film. The scientist in question,  played by Herbert Rudley, is driven mad of course by sex - as are the other males in this drama, including the criminal on death row, and his rival on the outside, Jim Vincent (played by Edward Norris)

What a marvellous scheme though. Once the idea of a femme fatale seducing a death row doctor in order to steal the corpse of a criminal, revivify it, and then find out where the loot lay  -- well, that cat wasn't going back in any bags.

Robert Armstrong on death row in Decoy (1946)

Jean Gillie, ultimate femme noir in Decoy (1946)

Decoy opens with Jean Gillies' character Margot Shelby being mortally wounded, and the entire body of Decoy, save for a few minutes at the wrap, is the flashback story of the sick and sorry plot that led her there.

This is one of several aspects that make of Decoy, a classic film noir. The flashback is one of the key techniques of film nor, in the way that it frames the narrative, and the way it retells the story at a further remove.

The other tropes of classic film noir are however present. This includes the tough talking cop in the form of Joe Portugal, played by Sheldon Leonard. The scene at the head of Decoy, when he swings into a bar to make an informal interrogation of Margot, is one of the best in the movie. There is top rate bitch-slappin', there is snappy dialogue and tough action, all underpinned by a moral force, indicated by the cop's refusal to take a free boiled egg from the bartender.

Sergeant Joe Portugal: Don't let that face of yours go to your head.

Margot Shelby: Or to yours?

Sergeant Joe Portugal: It wouldn't matter if did... People who use pretty faces like you use yours, don't live very long anyway.

The view from the gas chamber in Decoy (1946)

Reviving the dead via chemical magic in film nor classic Decoy (1946)

The horror and exploitation in Decoy is somewhat untamed. When the stooge of a van driver who has been paid off to ship the body of the executed criminal back to the femme fatale, the criminal gang and her corrupt doctor, he asks where the replacement body is. By the time he has finished this sentence we know, just like he does, who that body is going to be. And it is deliciously sick moments such as this, that give Decoy its fun and hard film noir edge.

Herbert Rudley as the troubled doctor in Decoy (1946). He's a bent doctor, and he's duped like the heel he is.

The revivification scene in Decoy is quite unique, and there isn't anything else like it in film noir. When Robert Armstrong as Frankie Olins comes back to life, it appears nobody on set, least of all the scriptwriter, seemed to know how to frame and perform this scene. The result is quite strange, but wonderful. Frankie lights a match to check this is the real world, and not the world of the dead, and then rejoices once again in living.

"I'm alive!" Robert Armstrong and Jean Gillie in Decoy (1946)

Like all true saps and heels, the corrupt doctor attempts top escape the deal at some point. Suckered by loot and dames, he tries to back out, and of course, this is film noir, and as he reflects on his Hippocratic Oath, he melodramatically bashes the table. It is another lesson from classic film noir. Those seduced by crime, will never win.

Jean Gillie running the show in Decoy (1946)

C'est noir - the hat, the gun, the femme fatale. Decoy (1946)

Jean Gillie is exceptionally good as the wicked and desirable lead. Director Jack Bernhard met and married Jean Gillie, in England, where he was stationed during WWII. He intended this film as a vehicle to showcase her to American audiences, but they divorced a short while later, and she returned to England, never to appear on film again.

While filming this movie, she also worked on The Macomber Affair (1947) (in production April-June 1946). She was more or less forgotten by the time of her early death in 1949 at the age of 33, it is said of pneumonia.

It is just impossible to count the amount of tragically early deaths of actors, most especially, in Hollywood's Golden Era. Jean Gillie, must be one such 

Star of the show: Sheldon Leonard as Sgt Joe Portugal in Decoy (1946)

Whenever Sheldon Leonard is on screen in Decoy (1946) the dialogue is intense, and among the best you'll find in classic film noir. Here are a couple of the more memorable lines:

Sergeant Joe Portugal: [Reading a note] To you who double-crossed me... I leave this dollar for your trouble. The rest of the dough, I leave to the worms.


Bartender: Louie asked her how old she was. She said 23.

Sergeant Joe Portugal: If she's 20, I'll eat that glass.

Bartender: Well, Kelsey brought her in.

Sergeant Joe Portugal: Okay, okay, but if I catch you selling liquor to minors, I'll bust this joint into toothpicks!


Margot: More coffee before you go?

Joe Portugal: No, save it. You may wake up one day with an awful headache.

Remaining tough to the bitter end however, everyone pulls their weight in Decoy (1946).  It's a bizarre movie in its weird science, and the fact that Margot is more cold blooded than many a femme fatale in the entire cycle. She's one of the meanest women on screen in the 1940s, and this combined with the rather off the rails story, Decoy has become a cult classic, helped by the fact that it remained largely unseen for many decades.

Edward Norris, Jean Gillie and Herbert Rudley in the amazing Decoy (1946)

A sorry end - Jean Gillie in Decoy (1946)

Ultimately this is Jean Gillie's film, and had her marriage persisted, and had she stayed in Hollywood, she would have made many more. Her performance is one of the best in the classic film noir cycle of the 1940s, playing a women with no soft spot, merely that good old fashioned lust for dough, from the moment we meet her, all the way through her flashback, to the sorry end. 

Margot, Jean Gillie's character, remains evil, unrepentant, and willing to use her sex on any man, to fight her way to the money. 

And Decoy retains a powerful twist in its tail too, making of it an absolute winner in terms of its absurd and low-down glory, there are few film noirs like it, anywhere on the scale.

The following was attached to all of the printed material sent to the exhibitors that booked this film:

IMPORTANT! The Motion Picture Association's Advisory Council has urgently requested that there be no mention of specific poisons in publicizing "DECOY." Please eliminate all names of poisons (such as cyanide or methylene blue) from the publicity, exploitation and advertising on this picture.

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