Decoy (1946)

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*. And the winner for the Worst Impersonation of an Elevator Award goes to this film, with whatever that is Dr. Craig and Sergeant Portugal go riding up to Margot Shelby’s apartment in.
*. Of course, when a cop gets in an elevator and wants to go to the sixth floor in a Poverty Row (Monogram) noir he doesn’t just tell the elevator attendant to take him to the sixth floor. Oh no. Instead, he immediately pulls his gun on the attendant and tells him to take him to the sixth floor. Naturally.
*. This is sometimes referred to as a cult film, though what basically happened is it disappeared for a long time, only to be rediscovered in 2000, a time when film cults were pretty thin on the ground.
*. On the DVD commentary Glenn Erickson oddly defines a cult movie as “a movie people can’t see.” I guess by that definition Decoy was, at least for a while, a cult movie. Absence fueled public interest.
*. It’s main claim to cult status is Margot Shelby, who is a very amusing psychopath (more on this below).
*. The actress who plays Margot, Jean Gillie, has an air of mystery about her because she was only in one other movie after this before dying of pneumonia at the age of 33. And she was only in this movie because the director had just married her (it didn’t last long) and wanted to give her a starring role. I don’t think she does anything special here. Margot Shelby is a great part, with lots of campy, over-the-top lines, but it’s not a standout performance.

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*. The charity jar on the bar is for Yugoslav Relief. I wonder how big a cause that was in 1946.
*. Watchaprague State Prison? Where is that?
*. Could the car that picks up Dr. Craig at the beginning have any more mud on it? That’s a realistic touch that you don’t often see. Usually they clean a vehicle up a bit before they film it.
*. How bad is the script? Here are some of the lines poor Jean Gillie is saddled with: “The box! The box! Give it to me. I want it. I want it. Give it to me! I want it!” And here she is with Lloyd digging up the treasure: “I found it, Lloyd! Come on! Come and dig it! Come and dig for it! Dig! There it is in the ground. It’s right there beneath you, Lloyd. In the ground. All our hopes, all our plans, they’re all right there beneath you. Quickly, Lloyd. Quickly! Dig for it! Deeper, faster! Quickly, Lloyd! They killed for it! They all killed for it! Frankie, Vincent, I killed for it! And you, you too, you killed for it! [she shoots Lloyd] Get off! Get off it! It’s mine! It’s all mine now! It’s mine, I found it! It’s mine!”
*. According to film historian Glenn Erickson: “the dialogue is not bad.”
*. What it sounds like is radio-drama dialogue. You could play that whole scene with Lloyd digging up the box in the dark, without any visuals at all. In fact, the story was originally written by Rubin for radio, and I think this explains the “tell, don’t show” quality the script has.
*. Otherwise, credit (or blame) goes to Nedrick Young, who you may remember expiring, very slowly, in Crime Wave. He went on to get writing credits for Jailhouse Rock, The Defiant Ones, and Inherit the Wind, and had a bit part in Seconds. He was often blacklisted. An interesting, if not very happy, career.

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*. It goes without saying that Dr. Craig is doing his secretary/assistant. She calls him darling and wonders if he’s growing tired of her. Doctors.
*. Margot, meanwhile, has something going on with everyone: Frankie, Jim Vincent, Dr. Craig, and even Jo Jo. Does she know Dr. Craig (carnally) before she goes to his office with a sore shoulder? One gets that impression, but the timeline isn’t clear. His assistant introduces her to him, but in the next scene they are clearly well acquainted and she speaks of their history together.
*. Margot is bad, to be sure, but she’s also quite vehemently antisexual. Note how it’s her horror at being kissed by Frankie that leads to his being killed. Before she kills Jim, she tosses the cigarette he’d taken a puff from away from her, as though disgusted at the thought of it touching her lips again. Finally, just before she dies she draws Jo Jo forward for a final kiss only to laugh in his face. There’s something more going on here than just her using men. She really doesn’t like them.

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*. Another nondescript, generic noir title. Stanley Rubin explains on the commentary: “What we [the writers] were given, by the way, was a title. And [the studio] said ‘give us a script based on this title.’ The title came from exhibitors, who fed the studios with titles that they thought would attract customers to the theatres. So we would be handled a title and [told] ‘Well, you know, give us a screenplay.'”
*. I do like the parody of Frankenstein in the revival scene, culminating in Frank Olin’s much delayed but still startled ejaculation “I’m alive. I’m alive!”
*. Wow. That’s a pretty good treasure map Frankie draws them. It’s “a cinch” they’ll find the loot. How they can tell from the map that it’s ten feet from the eucalyptus tree, or a quarter mile off the highway is anyone’s guess. The map clearly isn’t drawn to any scale. I also didn’t hear Frankie mention what tree he’s talking about or see where it was marked on the map. Later Margot will be looking for a tree with a hatchet mark, and I’m not sure where she’s getting that from either. She’ll also count off ten paces, and then another five paces in another direction. Where did this information come from?
*. “You drive.” It’s never a good sign in film noir when a woman takes over behind the wheel.
*. It’s also a really bad idea to tell anyone that you’d “like” to kill them. All you’re really doing is telling them that you can’t. Which is something Margot understands right away.
*. Apparently the DVD version is missing a bit of material. Glen Erickson avers that when he saw it at American Cinematheque Margot backs up and drives over Vincent again (after already killing him). I have to admit, that’s what I was expecting her to do here and was sort of surprised when she didn’t.
*. So . . . a cult classic? It’s an entertaining quickie, at times managing to be so bad it’s good. Perversely, it’s a movie I come back to, if only to get another dose of Margot.

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