Dead Duck

Yes — DECOY is bad, cheap, and interesting, possibly in that order.

I’d read descriptions positing it as a kind of sci-fi noir — putting it in a very small club along with KISS ME DEADLY. The fantasy element is very small, however — the plot revolves around a box of stolen loot which, thanks to the genuinely atmospheric opening sequence, does acquire a kind of Pandoraesque aura. But the fantastical element is merely a drug (methylene blue) that can revive victims of the gas chamber. In other words, the film winds up backing into another genre purely because the writers have a faulty idea of realism.

Gas chamber POV is one of several bold directorial touches.

I was chatting with a friend about composers who make their theme tunes fit the movie title, as if there were going to be lyrics. Like, James Bernard’s DRACULA theme goes “DRA-cul-la!” Called upon to score TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, he simply added four notes on the front. John Williams gave us STAR WARS (“Staaaar Wars!”), and though RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK doesn’t have a tune you can easily sing the title to, you can definitely sing ~


Jones Jones Jones


Jones Jones Jones Jones Jones…

Well, DECOY has a sweeping and romantic tune that seems to be inviting us to sing “Methyline Blue.” So I did. Methyline Blue, Dilly Dilly…

The first image after the titles is the filthiest sink I’ve ever seen (and I live in Scotland… in my home). With the director credit supered over it. A self-loathing self-assessment?

Jack Bernhard was married to his star, Jean Gillie (THE GENTLE SEX), and she’s the best thing in this. A strange performance that’s mostly just cool statement of fact, with a few uncomfortable moments of shrill hysteria. Sheldon Leonard plays the detective shadowing her plot like a man in a state of deep depression, while her patsy, the prison doctor (Herbert Rudley), who IS in a state of deep depression, plays it like a Lugosi zombie.

The movie makes herculean efforts to pad itself out to a slender 75 minutes — one can’t help wondering if coming up with a bit more plot might have actually been an easier solution. One character resorts to literally reading from a dictionary, while Gillie and Rudley engage in a seemingly endless duologue that keeps circling back on itself like a rondo.

“Despair enacted on cheap sets” is Errol Morris’s unbeatable (curse him) phrase for the Monogram aesthetic, and it fits this one perfectly. A character is raised from the dead only to instantly perish again, something that also happens in THE INVISIBLE GHOST. A Monogram trademark? A metaphor for their entire line of goods? A series of last gasps — for shagged-out actors, burned-out directors, clapped-out sets. Resurrection into eternal death.


Robert Armstrong, of Carl Denham fame, plays the unlucky stiff, and it’s incredible looking at him to think he’d live to 1973, so convincing is his bone-weary performance here, whereas poor Gillie would die prematurely after one more film.

Gloom hangs over this movie in a more prevailing, soul-sapping way than it could in a more prestigious production — maybe because Monogram are so bad at comedy relief, yet they insist on having it. DETOUR does have some laughs, but they’re all horrible. DECOY has only the sour echo of a burlesque house rimshot.

15 Responses to “Dead Duck”

  1. Jack Lechner Says:

    I wrote lyrics to the “Raiders” theme years ago:

    Dr. Jones
    He digs up old bones
    I insist —
    If you’re after an ark
    He’s your archeologist!

  2. Brilliant!

  3. ehrenstein47 Says:

  4. Howard Curtis Says:

    I remember once going to a lecture by Richard Rodney Bennett during which he said that if he was stumped for a theme tune, he would set the film’s title to music: the example he gave was MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

  5. It’s a good technique until I start singing along.

  6. Craig Ferguson had a joke that all of John Williams themes were written with condescending lyrics in mind, hence according to him Indiana Jones’s would be

    He’s a hero
    You’re a loser
    He’s a hero
    You’re a lo -oo -ser
    He’s a Hero
    You’re a loser
    He’s a hero, a hero and you are a loser

    And Jaws was
    Loser, loser
    Loser loser loser loser (it’s a shark!)

    Regarding Decoy, it’s one my favourite movies, and Jean Gillie my feavourite femme fatale. Far from bad at all (unless you mean bad in the Michael jackson/Bette Davis sense)

  7. Oh, I think bits are bad in the “laugh out loud when you’re not meant to” way. But the whole package is certainly interesting and unusual, kind of like Detour though not as full of tricks.

    What are the other best Monogram movies?

  8. Looks like not many, but I’ve heard good things about When Strangers Marry, and maybe Dillinger

  9. Oh, certainy the former, been meaning to see it for ages. And I have Dillinger, I think, so that would be easy to investigate.

  10. chris schneider Says:

    I always imagined Bill Murray, in his SNL lounge-singer character, singing “They’re the raiders of the ark, just the raiders of that lost lost ark!” PETULIA has a similar theme — which was turned, as you know, into a not-very-good song with lyric by Carolyn Leigh.

    There’s a subsidiary theme in ON THE BEACH, one associated with Ava Gardner’s character, that I *wish* Ernest Gold had turned into a song.

  11. Maybe somebody thought “the love theme from On The Beach” didn’t sound right, conceptually. Although Stanley Kramer did feature the credit “Miss Dietrich’s gowns by Jean-Louis” over a shot of a giant swastika.

  12. ehrenstein47 Says:

  13. Haha, I love this movie. ‘Bad, cheap and interesting’ is right!

  14. Probably everyone here knows this already, but TV composer Ronnie Hazlehurst was particularly famous for using the titles of a show to dictate their theme music, most spectacularly when he came up with the opening to “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” by translating the entire thing into Morse code.

  15. Oh, I knew of his tendencies towards jinglehood, but I didn’t know the Morse code thing. That’s mad.

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