Edward Norris, Jean Gillie, and Herbert Rudley in Decoy (dir. Jack Bernhard, 1946).

Director's credit w/grimy sink.

Robert Armstrong (check out the "filler" headline below his picture, and for that matter, all the text in small print that has nothing to do with anything: obviously midcentury filmmakers never anticipated viewers with the ability to freeze the frame).

Director Jack Bernhard made a small handful of films for Monogram (one of the "Poverty Row" B-studios) in the late forties, and then as far as I can tell, nothing is known about him. He married Jean Gillie, the star of Decoy, shortly before filming, and they were divorced soon after. About three years later, she died of pneumonia. This pall of foreshortened potential that hangs over Decoy doubtless has added to the air of mystique and cult status it has generated in recent years. Not that it's not, on its own merits, a true hard-boiled classic: despite some embarrassing production values and overplayed moments, it's right up there with Edgar Ulmer's Detour as one of the strangest and darkest noirs ever made.

Jean Gillie's Margot Shelby is, as has often been noted, about as fatale as a femme can get. She toys with her male suckers like a cat with a finch, and just as bloodily. There are two scenes in particular that epitomize her inhuman audacity: one in which she runs over a guy in a car (supposedly, in a since-edited version, she backs up and does it a second time), and another in which she simply laughs in a guy's face. What's so bad about laughing in a guy's face? You just have to watch it.

As I mentioned in my last post, this is part of a twofer DVD with Crime Wave. In retrospect, I probably should have watched Decoy first, because after Crime Wave's richly realized mise en scene and flawless ensemble of players, Decoy felt a bit one-dimensional. In any other context, however, I'm sure I would have come away raving just as strongly as I did about Crime Wave. Fortunately, they are on the same disc, so you can check them both out yourself.

See another viewer's report (with spoilers), and a clip of the first five minutes, at Noir of the Week.

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