Written by: Carroll Jenkins on June 3rd, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: USA, September 14th, 1946
Director: Jack Bernhard
Writers: Stanley Rubin, Nedrick Young
Cast: Jean Gillie, Edward Norris, Robert Armstrong, Herbert Rudley, Sheldon Leonard, Marjorie Woodworth, Philip Van Zandt, Carole Donne, Bert Roach, Rosemary Bertrand
DVD released: July 31st, 2007
Approximate running time: 76 minutes (Decoy), 74 minutes (Crime Wave)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
DVD Release: Warner Brothers
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $20.97
Synopsis: A gangster’s moll has a new man but she wants her old boyfriend’s hidden loot real bad. He’s on death row and prefers to take the secret with him, so she seduces a doctor to revive him following the execution.
One of the top poverty row noirs ever made, Decoy is essentially a cross between The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly and Man Made Monster! Jack Bernhard had been an associate producer (credits include Man Made Monster) but was stationed in England during WWII. He married Jean Gillie, a British actress, and brought her back to Hollywood. He (first-time) produced and directed this stunning American film debut, but they were soon divorced and she died after only one further film. If she felt he didn’t live up to his side of the bargain as regards advancement of her career, it certainly wasn’t due to lack of effort.
The passion and energy invested in Decoy seeps through every frame. It takes every noir convention and plays it to the hilt – a cold-blooded femme fatale, the doomed protagonist, the beautiful but spurned secretary, the hard-boiled detective, the prosaic voice over, and, of course, the MacGuffin (object of desire). With lots of seedy locales, fast cars, double crosses, kidnapping, murder, and some of the juiciest dialogs every presented on the screen.
Decoy features a mesmerizing performance from Jean Gillie. Her introduction calls for melodrama, but once the camera zooms in close she is cold and calculating as desire and purpose reassert themselves over shock and panic. The flatfooted sergeant flashes his gun as identification more than his badge, and slaps lowlifes around in public just to keep everyone in line. Robert Armstrong is effective as the stubborn and sardonic con on his last mile, and even the comic relief is infrequent, brief, and funny.
This full screen B&W DVD presentation is excellent (for a Monogram feature, of course) and includes both subtitles and captioning. The picture is a double feature with the excellent Crime Wave or can be obtained in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 box set (the best next to Volume I, which is exactly where you should put it on your shelf).
The initial viewing of a low-budget, obscure gem whose qualities defy its humble circumstance and whose very existence seems a mockery of fate, that’s a personal discovery. And if I’d known that the Methylene Blue in my chemistry set would bring back the dead, I might have done worse than blow up the basement.