Noirvember Day 23: Obscure Noir – Decoy (1946)

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!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 23, 2022.

13 Responses to “Noirvember Day 23: Obscure Noir – Decoy (1946)”

  1. Thanks for these terrific posts!

    Robin Jones Sent from my iPhone while in motion- please excuse any typos!

    >

  2. I used to wish I could’ve had a seat at the Algonquin Round Table, but the more I get into Noir, the more I’d give to have had a front row seat to poverty row studios like Monogram trying to make a dollar out of fifty cents. Some of my favorite pictures are low budget programmers where filmmakers were forced to innovate, and they were able to get away with a lot because no one was paying much attention. This movie is right up my alley! Thanks for yet another obscure recommendation!!

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this film up for the
    holidays! I’ve owned a copy for years as
    well and why it’s not more popular is a real
    head scratcher. It’s made to order for the
    irony loving 21st C viewer.

    The info about the writer Nedrick Young
    makes perfect sense. Of course he appeared
    in Gun Crazy! Decoy comes off as eccentric,
    even zany, but when the story is examined
    closely, from a fellow writer’s perspective,
    it’s carefully and minutely crafted. With
    more production money, and some of the on
    screen outlandishness toned down, this is a
    story that could have wound up as a really
    sensational film.

    I’ve sent the youtube link to several
    friends whose lives would be improved with a
    viewing. All hail Jean Gillie!

    I hope your post creates some new fans.

    • I hope more people find their way to Decoy, too! And it’s interesting about Nedrick Young — I discovered a great blog the other day (https://consideringstories.wordpress.com/) and read a post on the Sterling Hayden western Terror in a Texas Town. Nedrick Young had a significant role as a bad guy, and I found out that he and Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay. That led me down a Nedrick Young rabbit hole, and that’s when I not only discovered his Gun Crazy role, but his other writing credits as well — AND the whole HUAC thing! So interesting!

  4. Absolute insanity, this film. I once wrote about Margot Shelby being one of my all-time favorite femmes fatale, though. She’s outstanding.

  5. Hmmm, never heard of this one. 🙂

    But seriously, it’s probably my favorite cheapo Noir (wrote about it a while ago) with – to me – the No.1 femme fatale of all times (cough cough). Gillie is fantastic and the movie has an especially good and strong role for the so often underrated and underused Sheldon Leonard.

    It’s a completely loony and intelligence-defying ride. But who cares? Not us B lovers.

  6. Thank you for what you do, I’m sure it’s a labor of love. Your insights and recommendations are much appreciated.

    Appreciate you and what you do. Noir is the absolute best genre!

    Thanks

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