Saturday, April 3, 2021

Movie Reviews: Decoy

directed by Jack Bernhard
This is an older and lower budget film noir that nonetheless stands tall as one of the most unabashedly hardcore noirs, with a femme fatale who runs rings around all of the men she encounters. This lady is cold and nasty but also extremely attractive. 
Her beauty allows her to get away with things because nobody believes until it's too late that she will turn on him. You might say that this film is a homage to the power of femininity gone wrong or conversely, an examination of how stupid men can be when women are concerned. One minor character finds the word 'dichotomy' in the dictionary and is fascinated by its sound and meaning. He mispronounces it and repeats it over and over again. He's talking about Jean Gillie's character though he doesn't realize it. The audience certainly will though. There is a serious dichotomy between Gillie's character's looks and words on the one hand and her character's actions on the other. 
I've written before that people do themselves a disservice if they dismiss all older movies as having poorly written female characters. I think too often people believe that women must behave as men behave in order to be strong. That's wrong. Gillie's character won't ever be mistaken physically or otherwise for a man. She won't be cursing, punching people out, or mouthing feminist platitudes. Gillie's character gets the most screen time, is perhaps the best constructed, and is fully in charge of things, from the beginning to the end.  
During this film, Gillie was married to the director. They divorced shortly afterwards. The English born Gillie returned to the U.K to try to reboot her British career but unfortunately came down with pneumonia and died at just thirty-three years old.
It was a shame because if Gillie had worked with the right studio she certainly could have been up there with actresses such as Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, and other classic Hollywood stars. 
The movie Decoy is, I think, something that is both excellent fodder for a remake and obvious inspiration for some neo-noir films or Quentin Tarantino actual or inspired works. This movie opens with a man who is obviously in great pain cleaning himself off in a gas station. He hitchhikes back to a city apartment building. Once there he enters an apartment occupied by a maid and the resident, Margot (Jean Gillie). We learn that the man is Dr. Craig (Herbert Rudley) and that he's been shot. Margot also has a gun.
A thuggish detective named Joe "Jojo" Portugal (Sheldon Leonard, you may know him from Guys and Dolls, I Spy, It's A Wonderful Life, or Gomer Pyle) who has been watching the building rushes into the apartment after he hears shots. Dr. Craig is dead. Margot has been shot. She probably won't make it. Margot starts to tell Joe, who has a crush on her, what happened.
Margot's flashback tale involves a number of double crosses, which were all initiated by her. Margot was the girlfriend of gangster Frankie Olins (Robert Armstrong), who stole $400,000 in a bank robbery and murdered a guard. Frankie is due to be executed soon. To Margot's barely disguised annoyance, Frankie refuses to divulge where he hid the money. 
Margot has taken up with another bad boy, gangster Jim Vincent (Edward Norris). Jim has been financing Frankie's legal defense and (ahem) taking care of Margot's physical needs, though obviously Margot and Jim don't talk to Frankie about that last bit. That wouldn't be wise or prudent, would it?
As Frankie is adamant that he won't share the money's location unless he's out of prison, Margot sets out finding a way to spring Frankie, before or after his execution. Margot has a crazy idea you see. Her idea will require assistance from the naive prison physician,  Dr. Craig. Margot will convince Dr. Craig by the normal incentive, though she apparently neglects to inform Frankie or Jim of that part of the deal. All the men in Margot's life are on a need to know basis. All they need to know is what Margot needs. Margot's cold self-assurance and deadly competence hold this film together, even through some of the more ridiculous plot twists. 
Wisely the director didn't ask Gillie to use an American accent. It feels real when Margot is (rarely) explaining why she feels as she does or snarling American 40s era tough girl talk in an English accent. I just can't think of too many classic femme fatales who were as clearly self-interested and heartless as Margot.
Decoy makes a half-hearted attempt to set Dr. Craig as a moral center. The doctor clearly knows right from wrong. He may even be married. But his lusts get him deeper and deeper involved until as Margot says, he's just as guilty as any of them. He's a sap and a simp but I didn't feel sorry for him. A lot of the camerawork is dreamy and shot from first person view. There is an immersive aspect to Decoy.
Although Decoy was set in the 1940s there's little that is tied to that period. Margot sneers to one man that she wants perfume that costs more than the man earns in a week; that attitude can be found in any era. Decoy also has a science fiction/weird element. Decoy was just under 80 minutes run time with little fat. The violence is not explicit, but the emotions are raw. There is no nudity (this movie was made in 1946 so obviously, right); sex appeal is limited to Margot's pencil skirts. Again, Gillie's Margot is a ruthless, vicious, sexy, evil femme fatale who shrinks at nothing to get what she wants. Here, the female of the species is indeed more deadly than the male.
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