Decoy (1946 film)

Decoy is a 1946 American film noir. Directed by Jack Bernhard, the film stars Jean Gillie, Edward Norris, Robert Armstrong, Herbert Rudley, and Sheldon Leonard. The film was produced by Jack Bernhard and Bernard Brandt as a Jack Bernhard Production, with a screenplay by Ned Young, based on an original story by Stanley Rubin[1]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJack Bernhard
Produced byJack Bernhard
Bernard Brandt
Screenplay byNedrick Young
Story byStanley Rubin
StarringJean Gillie
Robert Armstrong
Music byEdward J. Kay
CinematographyL. William O'Connell
Edited byJason H. Bernie
Bernhard-Brandt Productions
Pathe Pictures
Distributed byMonogram Pictures
Release date
  • September 14, 1946 (1946-09-14) (United States)
Running time
76 minutes
CountryUnited States

Decoy is a showcase of how film noir can do so much with so little. Short-lived Jean Gillie stars as one of the film genre's toughest femme fatales. Gillie was married to Bernhard when this film was made.[2]


The story picks up in Margot Shelby's apartment, as she is dying from a gunshot wound. Police detective Joe Portugal arrives at the scene to hear her last moments and possible confession. Margot recounts all the events that led to Dr. Lloyd Craig shooting her shortly after arriving at her apartment. Via flashback, we travel back to the beginning:

Margot's boyfriend was gangster Frankie Olins. Frankie robbed a bank and got away with around $400,000. He hid the money in a safe place before being arrested by the police. Since Frankie accidentally killed a guard during the robbery, he has been sentenced to death in the gas chamber. Frankie has never disclosed the location of the buried money to anyone. Margot, in order to get both Frankie out of prison and get her hands on the money, pretends to be in love with another gangster, Jim Vincent. She promises to share the stolen money with him if she can get Frankie to disclose the location. To this end, Vincent is recruited to fund Frankie's defense and, later, his possible resurrection from execution. In order to counteract the effects of cyanide poisoning, Margot recruits the help of Dr. Lloyd Craig, the prison physician. They subsequently "steal" Frankie's body from the prison morgue.

Once Frankie is revived, he draws a map to the location of the buried loot for Margot, but on handing it to her, keeps half of the map for himself. Now that Vincent and Margot have the location, Margot encourages Vincent to shoot Frankie and take his half of the map. With Frankie truly dead, Margot, Vincent, and Dr. Craig now must be able to get out of the city.

Since Sergeant Portugal is aware of both Margot's and Vincent's possible involvement in the dead convict's body disappearing, they determine to use Dr. Craig and his car. As the doctor's license plates will get them through any police roadblock, they force the reluctant Dr. Craig to drive them out of hiding to look for the money. Vincent's plan is to kill Dr. Craig once they leave town, but Margot has a plan of her own. She flattens a tire and tricks Vincent into fixing the flat. As he is lowering the car from the tire jack, she runs him over, killing him. She now forces Dr. Craig, at gunpoint, to dig up the buried money. Once she has the money box, she shoots Dr. Craig, leaving him for dead. However, he survives and follows her to her apartment, where he shoots her in revenge, thus bringing the story to the present. As Margot finishes her story to detective Portugal, she dies. Portugal opens the money box only to find a single dollar bill wrapped in a note from Frankie, stating that he did not intend to leave any money to a double-crosser.



Critical response

Film critic Dennis Schwartz gave the film a mixed review, writing, "Jack Bernhard directs a darkly atmospheric but disjointed film noir that is rife with plot inconsistencies. The film's main virtue is the sinister performance by British newcomer Jean Gillie as Margot Shelby, who is the nonredeemable femme fatale with a history of using men and even resorting to violence to achieve her ends. Gillie is one of the more cruel femme fatales in film noir lore."[3]

Film critic Glenn Erickson liked the film, writing, "After 1978 Decoy rarely or never appeared on television or in museum screenings. In 2000 the American Cinematheque showed it with the writer of its original story, Stanley Rubin, in attendance. The movie brought the house down with its odd mix of melodrama, hardboiled gimmicks and unrestrained sadism. I thought then that, as far as violence goes, Decoy was to 1946 what Pulp Fiction is to 1994."[4]


  1. Decoy at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  2. Decoy analysis on YouTube by Glenn Erickson, Stanley Rubin, Dick Cavett and Molly Haskell.
  3. Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, October 9, 2004; accessed July 11. 2013.
  4. Erickson, Glenn. DVD Savant, film/DVD review, July 14, 2007; accessed July 11. 2013.
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