Nick the bartender, a vicious Limey hotty, yummy hard-boiled eggs, dumbass morgue attendants, a smashed Hippopotamus oath, and a condemned jailbird’s practical joke from the grave.
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Dr. Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley) wakes up in a restroom somewhere along a dusty state highway. He appears confused and distant, but soon his mood grows sinister. Silently and hypnotically, he makes his way back to San Francisco and confronts the vivacious Margot (Jean Gillie) in her apartment. Hot on the Doc’s heels is cool customer detective Joe “Jojo” Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) but he’s too late to stop Craig from fatally wounding Margot. Craig drops dead and Portugal rushes to Margot’s side to eke a confession out of her. Here she unravels the sequence of events that brought her to this lowly fate. Margot’s ex-squeeze Frank (Robert Armstrong) is on Death Row and is scheduled to get gassed very shortly. She tries in vain to obtain the whereabouts of his stolen $400K loot buried somewhere in the sticks. She enlists the aid of another gangster Vincent (Edward Norris) to piece together a caper to revive Frank after the execution by corpse-napping and then filling him up with an antidote supplied by a patsy doctor. Under the watchful eye of Detective Jojo, Margot sets her sights on golden-hearted Dr. Craig who volunteers at Frank's prison and runs a free clinic in the slums. She seduces the kind doctor and paints a rosy picture of wedded bliss and promise of non-stop humma-humma. Of course, the ruse completely consumes the doctor and he abandons his practice for her. He becomes maniacally obsessed and tosses away his life's work and the affection of his cute nurse (Marjorie Woodworth). Margot's plan goes off without a hitch and Frank is resurrected in Craig's office. But things go completely awry when Vincent kills him after he draws a map leading to the booty. After Margot is revealed as a back-stabbing tramp, Craig is forced to drive them to the location. With Jojo the Wonder Flatfoot close behind, Frank may not wind up as the only dead man plugged by the betrayed of a high maintenance woman with daggers for fingernails.
Decoy has somewhat of a cult following, even amongst film noir geeks. I suppose this is mostly due to the alluring, poisonous performance of Gillie as a deliciously evil femme fatale. Coupled with Gillie's tragic death just a few years after its production and the fact that the movie has wallowed in obscurity since then, I can see how it attained this regard. But there's something not quite even or satisfying about the movie that I found difficult to pinpoint. Gillie does a fine job as the glamorous but deadly female heavy, but I did not feel she was anything special outside the normal expectations of her role. She's a little too shrill, a little too forcefully crazed, and just not sexy enough to capture my imagination. That's not to say she fails utterly, she certainly does not, but I was not wowed by this movie that seemed crafted to be carried by her performance. Director Jack Bernhard presents an uneven story that's hobbled by leaps in logic (a miracle drug that revives the dead?) and a lack of believable character motivation (the good Doctor's instant poon-tang fever). There are, however, some interesting shots such as the moment Dr. Craig sees himself in the cracked bathroom mirror, his face awash with horror and simmering rage, and Margot's sadistic snuffing out of Vincent and others. Rudley is considerately intense as the tragically manipulated Dr. Craig and Leonard is a George Raft-ish wisecracking ball buster who supplies some sorely needed light sequences and moments of tension. Decoy is a lean and efficient low budget offering that does an adequate job with what little it has to work with, for that reason it comes mildly recommended.