Noirvember Day 30: Parting Gifs

•November 30, 2022 • 10 Comments

As Groucho Marx once said, time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. (He slays me.)

It’s hard to believe the month is over already, y’all — it seems like just yesterday I was offering up my noir recommendations for November, and now it’s time to say farewell! It’s been another great ride, though, and I can’t be more grateful for you wonderful people out there in the dark who read, skimmed, commented, liked, or just passed through. You’ve made Noirvember a joy. I’m already making plans for next year — my 10-year Noirvemberversary! Meanwhile, it’s my pleasure and privilege to leave you with some parting gifs of some of my favorite film noir images — consider it my way of saying thank you, thank you, and thank you!

I thought I’d kick things off with a little Sterling Hayden.(Crime Wave, 1953)

Mike Mazurki is not here to play with you. (Murder, My Sweet, 1944)

This guy. (Detour, 1945)

I’ll admit I’m not wild about the movie, but this scene is all that. (The Lady from Shanghai, 1947)

When I was a smoker, I really wanted one of these. Kinda still do. (Sunset Boulevard, 1950)

Turner not only serves up one of noir’s best entrances in this scene, she gives us a great exit, too. (The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946).

Was poison really labeled “poison” back in the day? (Sudden Fear, 1952)

Such a classic Hitchcockian shot. (Shadow of a Doubt, 1943)

Love this cool cameo of screenwriter Raymond Chandler. (Double Indemnity, 1944)

Until next year, y’all. (The Big Combo, 1955) See you in the shadows . . .

Noirvember Day 29: Trivia Tuesday (Part 4)

•November 29, 2022 • 4 Comments
— Duryea with Helen and their boys.

On today, the last Trivia Tuesday of Noirvember 2022, I invite you to join me in a shadowy pool of trivia featuring the gents of noir!

In the early 1930s, Dan Duryea was making a living by selling ad space in small newspapers for N.W. Ayer, and commuted daily from his home in White Plains, New York to the company’s office in New York City. One day, he was offered a ride from the train station by a fellow passenger who was being picked up by his daughter, Helen Bryan. When Duryea met the young woman, it was practically love at first sight. The two were married on April 15, 1932, went on to have two sons, Peter and Richard, and remained together until Helen’s death in 1967.

Although he enjoyed a successful screen career during the 1940s and 1950s, most offers had dried up for John Ireland by the late 1980s. In a last-ditch effort to secure more work, the actor took out a full-page ad on the back page of The Hollywood Reporter in March 1987. The ad simply read: “I’m an actor. PLEASE . . . let me act.” After placing the ad, Ireland reported that his “phone hasn’t stopped ringing.”

— Webb and his mom.

Born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck, Clifton Webb was given his stage name by his mother, Mabelle. Webb said his mother happened to be driving through Clifton, New Jersey, one day, and thought that “Clifton Webb” had good rhythm.

Jack Palance was known for his support for Black performers in Hollywood and was credited with being the first White actor to hire a Black stand-in, Marcello Clay, for his short-lived 1960s television series, The Greatest Show on Earth.

While filming the 1946 musical Cinderella Jones, Elisha Cook, Jr., experienced a brush with danger in a scene that was supposed to depict him jumping a horse across a stream. The stunt was shot in a studio tank with a wire guide through the horse’s nose, but the horse got “excited,” put his hoof up over the wire, and dragged the actor beneath him. Cook had to cut himself loose in order to escape from the water.

Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the early 1950s, Howard Da Silva refused to answer questions and was subsequently blacklisted. He would not appear in a feature film for nearly a decade. In addition, he was cut from the movie Slaughter Trail (1951) and all of his scenes were reshot with actor Brian Donlevy. He later said that he felt a degree of compassion for some of his colleagues who “named names,” but he added that there were some people “who will remain forever nameless, that I will not forgive. Never.”

— Fred Clark would rather act.

Fred Clark majored in psychology at Stanford University, with plans to pursue a medical career. But his plans changed during his senior year, when he appeared in a school production of Yellow Jack. After his graduation, he won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the die was cast.

While playing a supporting role in Orson Welles’s production of Julius Caesar, John Hoyt got an unexpected promotion. Welles insisted upon using a real knife for the assassination scenes, and during one of the performances, the actor playing Caesar was injured. According to Hoyt, “the poor man lost two quarts — and I was assigned his role.”

In 1961, Sheldon Leonard teamed with Danny Thomas, Dick Van Dyke, and Carl Reiner to create The Dick Van Dyke Show. The four owners of the series formed a legal partnership called Calvada Productions, creating the name out of parts of the names of each (“CA” for Carl Reiner, “L” for Sheldon Leonard, “VA” for Van Dyke, and “DA” for Danny Thomas). Throughout the run of the show, the company’s name was included in various episodes as an inside joke; in one, Leonard appeared in the series as a gangster named Big Max Calvada.

— Too intellectual?

According to Richard Widmark, director Henry Hathaway did not want him for the role of Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947). Because of his high forehead, Hathaway thought Widmark looked too intellectual. Twentieth Century-Fox head Darryl Zanuck wanted Widmark to try for the part; for his test, Widmark wore a wig “that brought my hairline way down like an ape.” He got the part.

Join me tomorrow for the last day (sniff!) of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 28: Happy Birthday, Gloria!

•November 28, 2022 • 6 Comments
— Grahame would have turned 99 today.

There was nobody in Hollywood like Gloria Grahame.

She could be sweetly naïve, sexy and shrewd, broadly humorous, or just plain deadly. And she was equally adept at each. While I’ve enjoyed her performances in films like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Oklahoma! (1955), it’s Grahame’s noirs, of course, that I truly love. She was featured in eight noirs between 1947 and 1959, including In a Lonely Place (1950), Sudden Fear (1952), and The Big Heat (1953). Today, in celebration of her birthday, I’m taking a look at one of her performances that doesn’t receive as much buzz these days: Ginny in Crossfire (1947).

The first Hollywood drama to broach the subject of anti-Semitism, Crossfire stars three Roberts – Young, Mitchum, and Ryan – and centers on the murder of a Jewish ex-serviceman, Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene). The film opens with the savage beating of Samuels, then shows two men leaving his apartment, their faces obscured by shadows. Headed by police detective Finlay (Young), an investigation reveals that Samuels had met several soldiers at a bar on the night of his death, including Arthur Mitchell (George Cooper), Montgomery (Ryan), and Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie). With help from Mitchell’s roommate, Peter Keeley (Mitchum), Finlay works to track down the men responsible for the murder.

— Ginny and Mitchell meet.

Grahame plays Ginny, a dance-hall girl who encounters Mitchell after he leaves Samuels’s apartment, where he, Montgomery, and Bowers had gone for a drink. Mitchell, having imbibed one too many cocktails and in need of fresh air, stumbles into a smoke-filled joint and finds himself in conversation with Ginny (“’Cause I’m from Virginia,” she explains). After just a few seconds in her company, we think we have Ginny’s number. She tells Mitchell she’s tired of working there, but that she does it for the money. Before she takes a sip of her drink, she toasts “to nothing.” And when Mitchell tells her he’d like to take her someplace where they can eat and dance and talk about themselves, Ginny laughs in his face. Literally. “Sure, I know,” she says. “I remind you of your sister.” But when Mitchell counters that she reminds him of his wife, she abruptly leaves him alone at their table.

— Ginny is not as tough as she seems.

Mitchell can’t quite figure Ginny out – and neither can we; she’s more complex than we’d thought. She’s tough and world-weary, but she seems to be hurt by Mitchell’s revelation that he’s married. She tells him she left the table because “all you wanted to do was yap – I don’t make any money on that,” but when Mitchell asks her to dance, she loses herself in the moment, almost allowing herself to believe that it has some meaning. She even gives him the key to her apartment, telling him that he can go there to get some sleep, and he kisses her before departing, leaving her with an inscrutable look on her face that seems to be a blend of sadness and longing.

We only see Ginny once more, after Mitchell is detailed by police for Samuels’s murder and his wife, Mary (played by Jacqueline White – who’s still with us and turned 100 yesterday!) accompanies Finlay to Ginny’s apartment, seeking corroboration for Mitchell’s alibi. Once again, Ginny demonstrates a hard-boiled demeanor, until Mary pleads with her, saying that they have to think of Mitchell. And that’s when Ginny’s granite-like carapace shows a crack: “He wasn’t here with me. He could have been, but he wasn’t,” she says in a voice that trembles in spite of her. “He could’ve come up. I could’ve cooked him something to eat, and we could’ve talked. And what would have been wrong with that? What’s the matter with me being with her precious husband? Does he break or something?”

— Ginny and Mary have a showdown.

Grahame’s brief time on screen – it only amounts to about 10 minutes total – earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She lost to Celeste Holm in Gentleman’s Agreement, the year’s second film with an anti-Semitism theme. Despite her relatively minor role, though, Grahame turned in a fascinating, memorable performance, one that was suitably singled out by several critics, including the reviewers for the New York Herald, who said she “does a brilliant turn as a tired man-hating dance hall hostess,” and Variety, who wrote, “Gloria Grahame as a floozy should bet much audience (and RKO studio) attention.”

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Gloria Grahame’s birthday by taking a gander at Crossfire or one of her other noirs. You only owe it to yourself.

And join me tomorrow for Day 29 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 27: Sunday Words of Noir (Part 4)

•November 27, 2022 • 4 Comments
— “Let’s play Twenty Questions . . .”

It’s the last Sunday of Noirvember 2022, but don’t let that stop you from swimming in a sea of shadowy lines from the noir realm. For our final Sunday of memorable quotes, we’re hearing from the gents. Don’t get in over your head . . .

“All right, let’s play Twenty Questions. You answer them correctly, maybe I won’t knock your teeth out.” Mark Stevens in The Dark Corner (1946)

— “She knew how to handle a gun . . .”

“Flossie had looks, brains, and all the accessories. She was better than a deck with six aces. But I regret to report that she also knew how to handle a gun. My gun.” John Hoyt in Brute Force (1947)

“You’re a beautiful dame . . . one of the best I’ve seen. And you treat me like it was Christmas Eve. But no thanks. I see through you like those silk dresses you wear.” Richard Conte in New York Confidential (1955)

“Is this what you folks do for amusement in the evenings? Sit around toasting marshmallows and calling each other names? Sure, if you’re so anxious for me to join in the game, I’d be glad to. I can think of a few names I’d like to be calling you myself.” Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

— “Don’t try anything smart . . .”

“You like to shoot? So do I. So I’m warning you, don’t try anything smart with me.” William Talman in The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

“Every time I run into something worthwhile, it’s married.” Barry Sullivan in Suspense (1946)

“I don’t like gambling very much. I don’t like being at the mercy of those little white squares that roll around and decide whether you win or lose. I like to have the say-so myself.” Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947)

— “Five years have taught me one thing . . .”

“The biggest mistake I made before was shooting for peanuts. Five years have taught me one thing: anytime you take a chance, you better be sure the rewards are worth the risk, ‘cause they can put you away just as fast for a ten dollar heist as they can for a million dollar job.” Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)

“A shrewd man never asks questions until he has gathered enough information to be able to distinguish between lies and truth.” George Macready in A Lady Without Passport (1950)

“You’re insane. You’re out of your mind. Me, too.” Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 26: Barbara Stanwyck – In Her Own Words

•November 26, 2022 • 3 Comments

It’s not Barbara Stanwyck’s birthday today. And it’s not the anniversary of her passing. None of her noirs were released on today’s date. Nonetheless, I’m shining the spotlight on this iconic noir veteran today. (And I know I’ve already had one Stanwyck-centric post this Noirvember, but can you really ever have enough Stanwyck?) This post isn’t focusing on the many noirs in which she appeared (including my favorite, Double Indemnity), but on the actress herself, in her own words.

Just because.

I hope you’ll enjoy what she has to say . . .

“Just be truthful – and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

“Eyes are the greatest tool in film. Mr. Capra taught me that. Sure it’s nice to say very good dialogue if you can get it. But great movie acting – watch the eyes!”

“Put me in the last fifteen minutes of a picture and I don’t care what happened before. I don’t even care if I was IN the rest of the damned thing – I’ll take it in those fifteen minutes.”

“My only problem is finding a way to play my fortieth fallen female in a different way from my thirty-ninth.”

“A star is only as good as her last picture.”

“I’m a tough old broad from Brooklyn. Don’t try to make me into something I’m not. If you want someone to tiptoe down the Barkley staircase in crinoline and politely ask where the cattle went, get another girl.”

“Career is too pompous a word. It was a job, and I have always felt privileged to be paid for doing what I love doing.”

She said what she said. Join me tomorrow for Day 27 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 25: Opposites in Noir

•November 25, 2022 • 8 Comments
— Audrey Totter was destined to be a star.

One of my favorite Audrey Totter performances is in The Set-Up, where she plays the uber-supportive wife of an aging boxer. Another favorite Totter role is in Tension; there, she’s a perfectly awful wife who doesn’t give a second thought to stepping out on her milquetoast husband (and worse!). Both films were released in 1949, and both are solid films noir, but the parts that Totter played in each could not be more different; they’re virtual opposites, if you will.. And it’s Totter and these two roles who are the focus of today’s Noirvember post.

Born in Joliet, Illinois, on December 20, 1918, Totter was one of five children of a streetcar conductor from Vienna, and his wife, a native of Sweden. She was determined from an early age to pursue an acting career and she excelled at mimicry as a youngster, quickly learning to imitate the accents of her parents (and sometimes earning a spanking for her accuracy). Her decision to perform was confirmed at the age of 12 when she was enthralled by the performances at a visiting circus. “Of course, later, MGM publicity changed this to read that I ran away as a child and joined the circus,” Totter said in a 1988 interview in Films in Review. Although the tale of Totter packing “a comb and a few undies in a scarf and heading for the big top” was fiction, it can’t be denied that the youngster was bound for Hollywood. “My mother wanted to make me into a home girl,” she said years later, “but I knew I was destined to be a star.”

In 1944, Totter signed with MGM at a salary of $300 a week. She was seen in her first film noir two years later – The Postman Always Rings Twice – followed by three more noirs in the next two years: Lady in the Lake (1946), The Unsuspected (1947), and The High Wall (1947). Her final two noirs were The Set-Up and Tension.

The Set-Up

— Julie tears her ticket into shreds.

Based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March, the action in The Set-Up takes place during a single night at Paradise City, where boxing matches are held. One of the boxers on the schedule is Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan), who is nearing the end of a not-so-stellar career. He feels confident that he’ll win his upcoming match, but what he doesn’t know is that his manager (George Tobias) has accepted a payoff from a local gangster to ensure that Stoker will lose. Meanwhile, as Stoker prepares for the evening’s bout, his wife, Julie (Totter) is expressing her increasing unhappiness: “It ain’t I want to hurt you, but what kind of life is this?” she asks. “It makes no difference to me if you go back to the docks, or drive a garbage truck, or go on relief, even. It’s better than having you with your brains knocked out. It’s better than having you dead.” Despite her misgivings, Julie always attends Stoker’s matches, and always sits in the same seat, where Stoker expects to see her from the boxing ring. But not this night. Julie spends this night walking, thinking, pondering whether she wants to – or even can — continue to support Stoker in his unsuccessful endeavor. It’s clear that she loves Stoker, that she has struggled through years of hard times with him, that she has devoted her life to championing his dream. But on this night, as she tears up her ticket to the match and tosses it in the path of an oncoming train, it’s also clear that Julie has had enough. She couldn’t know, when she made the decision to stay away from Paradise City, that the night would end in a kind of victory for both her husband and herself.


— Claire is not here to play.

Next up, in Tension, Totter plays Claire Quimby, whose husband Warren (Richard Basehart) is the bespectacled, unassuming night manager of a drug store. Bored with her devoted but humdrum mate and frustrated with their modest lifestyle (which includes living over the store), Claire spends most of her nights stepping out with other men. She swipes pricey perfume from Warren’s store and doesn’t even try to hide her contempt for him – like on the day that Warren excitedly drives Claire to show her the new house he’s planning to purchase. Claire refuses to even emerge from the car, rudely drowning out Warren’s enthusiastic ravings by repeated honking the horn and telling him: “I think it’s a miserable spot. It’s 30 minutes from nowhere.” Finally, Claire narrows her sights on a single target: Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough), whose job as a liquor salesman pays for the kind of life Claire wants to lead – and she doesn’t bite her tongue when she tells Warren that she’s flying the coop: “I’ve got what I’m looking for and I’m gonna grab it while I’ve got the chance: a real man,” Claire tells Warren. “There’s nothing to talk about. It was different in San Diego – you were kind of cute in your uniform. You were full of laughs then. Well, you’re all laughed-out now.” But when Barney is murdered, Claire comes running back to Warren quicker than you can say “Jack Robinson” and relies on her feminine wiles when the police zero in on her as a suspect. The question is, will that be enough?

Although Audrey Totter doesn’t get the recognition these days that she deserves, one only needs to take a look at her vastly different performances in these two noirs to know that she unquestionably possessed a unique and versatile talent. If you’ve never seen her in these features, or it’s been a while since you watched them, do yourself a favor and give Audrey Totter a look. You’ll be glad you did.

And join me tomorrow for Day 26 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 24: Happy Thanksgiving, the Marilyn Way

•November 24, 2022 • 13 Comments

When you think of Marilyn Monroe movies, you may envision Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, or The Seven-Year Itch, or Some Like It Hot, but of course I think of her film noir appearances. During her 15-year career, she was seen in four noirs: The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Clash By Night (1952), Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), and Niagara (1953).

Today’s Noirvember post takes a look at Monroe’s roles in these features, and celebrates Thanksgiving with Monroe’s recipe for stuffing. Enjoy!

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

— “You big banana head.”

One of cinema’s best heist films, The Asphalt Jungle focuses on a disparate group of gents who unite to knock over a jewelry store. Headed by ex-con Dr. Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe), the group includes safecracker and family man Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso); Gus Minissi (James Whitmore), the crackerjack getaway driver who has a hunchback and a soft spot for cats; Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), a low-level hood hired to be the muscle for the crew; and Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern), a shifty lawyer who’s on hand to fence the stolen jewels. Marilyn played Angela Phinlay, Emmerich’s beautiful, child-like mistress, who calls her lover “Uncle Lon” and punctuates her conversation with excited bursts of “Yipes!” Marilyn’s part was a small one, but so memorable.

Clash by Night (1952)

— “You smell like a cooch dancer!”

Barbara Stanwyck stars as Mae Doyle who, at the film’s start, is returning to her hometown after a lengthy absence. Before long, she has attracted the attention of Jerry D’Amato (Paul Douglas), a salt-of-the-earth sort who makes his living as a fisherman, and Jerry’s best friend, Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan), a cynical and bitter man who works as a film projectionist. Seeing a man who will “fight off the blizzards and the floods,” Mae winds up marrying Jerry, but she can’t fight her attraction to Earl. Marilyn plays the independent and outspoken Peggy, who’s engaged to Mae’s brother, but is unsatisfied with her job in a fish cannery and longs for the exciting life she believes that Mae led during her years away from home. Marilyn more than held her own alongside her more experienced co-stars, turning in a performance that was both feisty and poignant.

— “I hate people bossin’ me.”

Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Here, Marilyn stars as Nell Forbes, an emotionally unstable young woman who previously attempted suicide following the death of her lover in a plane crash. When her uncle (Elisha Cook, Jr.) arranges a babysitting job for her in the hotel where he works as an elevator operator, Nell passes the time by wearing the lingerie and jewelry of her charge’s mother. She attracts the attention of Jed Towers (Richard Widmark), a hotel guest who invites himself to her room. Plagued by an increasing distress, Nell confuses Jed with her dead lover and accuses the child in her care with coming between them. By the time the girls’ mother returns to check on her child, the situation has completely spiraled out of control, and Nell has lost all connection with reality. Marilyn earned mixed reviews for her first starring role, but for my money, she was superb.

— Sure. I’m meeting somebody. Just anybody handy, as long as he’s a man.

Niagara (1953)

This film focuses on two couples staying in a cabin park at Niagara Falls: Ray and Polly Cutler (Casey Adams and Jean Peters), who are there for a belated honeymoon, and George and Rose Loomis (Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe). George is brooding and disturbed, and his beautiful younger wife treats him with contempt. It turns out that Rose has a lover (Richard Allan), and that the two are planning to murder George. Unfortunately for Rose, George has plans of his own. The top-billed Marilyn was luminous in this Technicolor feature — sexy, saucy, and scheming.

I hope you’ll find time during the holidays to check out Marilyn in one of her outstanding film noir roles — and maybe even make her dressing!

Marilyn’s Thanksgiving Dressing

  • A 10-ounce loaf sourdough bread
  • ½ pound chicken or turkey livers or hearts
  • ½ pound ground round or other beef
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped curly parsley
  • 2 eggs, hard boiled, chopped
  • 1½ cups raisins
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1¼ cups chopped walnuts, pine nuts or roasted chestnuts, or a combination
  • 2 teaspoons dried crushed rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons dried crushed oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried crushed thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon salt-free, garlic-free poultry seasoning (or 1 teaspoon dried sage, 1 teaspoon marjoram, ½ teaspoon ground ginger and ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon pepper

Step 1: Split the bread loaf in half and soak it in a large bowl of cold water for 15 minutes. Wring out excess water over a colander and shred into pieces.

Step 2: Boil the livers or hearts for 8 minutes in salted water, then chop until no piece is larger than a coffee bean.

Step 3: In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef in the oil, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat.

Step 4: In a large mixing bowl, use your hands to mix the sourdough, livers, ground beef, celery, onion, parsley, eggs, raisins, Parmesan and nuts. Whisk the rosemary, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper together in a bowl, scatter over the stuffing and toss again with your hands. Salt to taste. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch square baking dish and bake at 350 degrees until the top is evenly browned, about 1 hour. Enjoy!

And join me tomorrow for day 25 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 23: Obscure Noir – Decoy (1946)

•November 23, 2022 • 13 Comments

I love sharing obscure films with noir lovers. And I love it even more if they’re readily accessible – for free, even. Well, today’s Noirvember post fits the bill on both accounts, I’m happy to say.

I’ve had a copy of Decoy (1946) in my collection for several decades now – it’s a fairly good print, with subtitles that, I believe, are in Romanian – but I seldom encounter anyone else who’s seen the movie, and I rarely see it discussed online. If you’re unfamiliar with this low-budget Monogram noir, then you have hit the jackpot, my friend. It’s now available on YouTube, and I strongly urge you to head over there with the quickness.

Decoy is one of those noirs that grabs you from the first seconds of the film – and I do mean the very first seconds. Our initial view is of the name of film superimposed over some kind of small chest. As the film’s title fades, a shot is fired into the top of the chest and the source of that shot is tossed casually into the frame. The credits appear and we’re left to wait and wonder, greedily anticipating the story that will soon unfold.

— Margot is a femme like no other.

When the credits are finished crediting, we’re taken inside a gas station bathroom, where a blood-stained sink indicates that the man working the faucet isn’t in the best of shape. And his slow gait and odd manner of holding his right arm give us further confirmation. He hitches a ride to an apartment in San Francisco where, at the same time, a broad-shouldered, behatted dude with a gun seems to be headed as well – but he is just a couple of seconds too late. As he approaches the door of the apartment, he hears a gunshot and he doesn’t appear to be surprised at what he finds inside: the body of the now-deceased man from the gas station and the woman he just shot.

The man with the hat is Sgt. Joe Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) and the woman, who he affectionately calls “Kid” as he lifts her from the floor to the sofa, is Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie). Margot plaintively begs for the chest – the one we saw in the opening frame: “I want it!” she cries. “It’s all mine now.” This scene launches us into a flashback that will last almost the entirety of the film, as Margot tells “JoJo” the chain of events that brought her to this end.

— Things aren’t looking good for the doc.

Margot’s tale starts with her convict boyfriend, Frankie Olins (Robert Armstrong), who was on death row for stealing $400,000 from an armored car and killing the driver. Frankie alone knew where the money was hidden – and he wasn’t inclined to share its whereabouts (“The secret to where that money is doesn’t walk out of here unless I walk out with it,” Frankie tells Margot.) It doesn’t take a mind reader to know that Margot will do just about anything to get her mitts on that cash which, incidentally, would equal approximately $6.1 million today. It’s not possible to get Frankie out of his impending execution in the gas chamber, but Margot has a better idea, which includes utilizing her significant feminine wiles to juggle a trio of men: Frankie, his duplicitous right-hand man Vincent (Edward Norris), and Dr. Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley), the man from the opening scene, who is drawn into Margot’s web after she pays a single visit to his office. Oh – and her scheme also involves bringing Frankie back to life after he’s put to death. And that’s all I’m going to say about that – except that in Margot Shelby, Jean Gillie serves up one of noir’s most ruthless, most mercenary, most don’t-give-a-damn dames you’re likely to ever encounter. The rest you’ve got to discover on your own – and I hope you will.

You only owe it to yourself.

Other Decoy stuff . . .

The film was written by Nedrick Young, a talented actor who appeared in such films as Gun Crazy (1950) (as John Dall’s childhood pal Dave Allister) and Terror in a Texas Town (1958). Decoy was Young’s first screenplay; he went on to write the story for Jailhouse Rock (1957) and the screenplay for Inherit the Wind (1960), and he won an Oscar for co-writing The Defiant Ones (1958). (The Oscar was won under the name of Nathan Douglas – the pseudonym Young adopted after being blacklisted for refusing to testify before the 1952 House on Un-American Activities Committee.)

— Gillie with Gregory Peck in her final film.

Jean Gillie receives the “Introducing” credit in the film, but while it was her first American film, she’d been on screen in her native England since the late 1930s. At the time of filming, Gillie was married to the film’s director/producer Jack Bernhard, who she’d met in Britain during the war. The couple divorced the year after Decoy was released, and Gillie would appear in only one more film: The Macomber Affair (1947). She died just two years later, of pneumonia, at the age of 33.

Speaking of the film’s director, Bernhard also helmed several other low-budget noirs, including Blonde Ice (1948), which starred Leslie Brooks; Violence (1947), with Nancy Coleman and Michael O’Shea; and and The Hunted (1948), penned by Steve Fisher, who also wrote (or co-wrote) the screenplays for Roadblock, Lady in the Lake, and Dead Reckoning.

And that’s it! Join me tomorrow for Day 24 of Noirvember!

Presenting the First Shadows and Satin Giveaway!

•November 22, 2022 • 10 Comments

As we continue to celebrate Noirvember 2022, I’m excited to present the first Shadows and Satin giveaway. You can win one of the six books below — just in time for the holidays! Just request a free sample electronic copy of the Dark Pages and you’re in. (If you’re on Twitter, you can have an extra entry if you retweet my announcement of the giveaway!) The giveaway is open until December 15th. After the entry deadline, I’ll use my trusty Raffle Winner Generator to select the six winners and randomly award a book for each winner for the giveaway. To request the sample Dark Pages and enter the giveaway, just click here — one request per person. Good luck!

Noirvember Day 22: Trivia Tuesday (Part 3)

•November 22, 2022 • 6 Comments
— Anne Shirley started out as Dawn O’Day.

Dive into a lively pool of trivia featuring your film noir faves!

Born Dawn Evelyeen Paris, and known at the start of her career as Dawn O’Day, Anne Shirley took her final screen name from her character in RKO’s Anne of Green Gables (1934).

Sydney Greenstreet made his feature film debut in The Maltese Falcon (1941) at the age of 61.

The role of Mother Gin Sling in The Shanghai Gesture (1941) was originally offered to Gloria Swanson. Negotiations with director Josef von Sternberg ended when Swanson rewrote the screenplay, beefing up her part. The role wound up with Ona Munson (who’d previously played Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind).

— Howard Duff as radio’s Sam Spade.

Howard Duff’s first big break came in the mid-1940s when he landed the title role on radio’s The Adventures of Sam Spade. It first aired as a summer replacement and Duff remained on the popular series until 1950.

In March 1962, the press discovered that Veronica Lake was living at the Martha Washington Hotel in New York, playing seven dollars a day in rent and working as a barmaid in the hotel’s cocktail lounge. Fans reportedly sent her money once her circumstances were unearthed, but she sent it back.

When Peter Lorre was cast in the 1934 version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, he spoke no English. He learned the language as the production progressed; in fact, his accent changed so notably during filming that his scenes had to later be reshot.

— Barbara Hale and Bill Williams

Barbara Hale, who was featured in The Window (1949), was married to Bill Williams, who starred in the 1946 noir Deadline at Dawn and was perhaps best known for playing the title role in TV’s The Adventures of Kit Carson. Hale and Williams had three children, including a son, William, who would later gain fame as the star of The Greatest American Hero on ABC-TV.

After graduating with honors from Manhattan College, Mike Mazurki worked as an auditor with a Wall Street firm and attended law school in the evenings. After a year of this schedule, a friend invited him to try out for a basketball team called the Brooklyn Visitations. Shortly after making this team, he also began playing professional football with a franchise in Staten Island, New York, and then graduated to professional wrestling.

Steve Cochran earned the distinction of receiving the first flying ticket issued by a policy helicopter. In October 1956, the actor – who’d been flying for about two years – was cited by officers when he dipped over his mountaintop home in Studio City and rocked his wings. He initially pleaded not guilty, but later reversed his plea and was fined $500, grounded for 90 days, and given a suspended sentence of 30 days in jail.

When Lizabeth Scott signed on at Paramount Studios, the publicity department labeled her “The Threat.”

Join me tomorrow for Day 23 of Noirvember!