Decoy / Blonde Ice April 10, 2017
You can forget about your cynical private dicks, your corrupt police forces, or your trashed bureaucrats – the femme fatale is the film noir genre’s utmost sensational creation. Hardened misanthropes are good and fine, but the dangerous woman, a kind of lady who only intends to seduce, destroy, and usually collect in her typically short lifetime, is always a character type who never seems to grow old. More than six decades later has Rita Hayworth continued to titillate as Gilda; in the 20-plus years since her original incarnation as Bridget Gregory has Linda Fiorentino maintained her ability to pique our sensorial interests on the silver screen.
1946’s Decoy and 1948’s Blonde Ice, no-budgeters both directed by Jack Bernhard and produced by no-name studios residing under Poverty Row (the designated slang term given to frowzy production companies who churned out lousy B-pictures for no other reason besides making money), are quintessential femme fatale centric noirs. Not great femme fatale centric noirs, no, but rather ones that remain nonetheless watchable as a result of their featuring feminine creations who undeniably stand as some of the nastiest vamps to have ever seasoned classic Hollywood.
Decoy, the better of the two riffs, stars then-newcomer Jean Gillie as Margot Shelby, a temptress ravaged by greed, misandry, and a need for absolute power, whether that power be financial or sexual.
When we first meet Shelby, though, she’s paying for her sins. She’s shot by an angry, unknown assailant, poised to die painfully. The film finds its story in her recollecting (to a police officer, no less) the reasons why she’s been gunned down. And what we hear is a sordid tale of one woman’s quest to get her bejeweled paws on a hidden suitcase full of $400,000, seducing hordes of men to help her take down the obstacles standing in her way.
The film, noticeably cheap and obviously quickly written, is as unbelievable as the story Shelby spins to her captive audience. Its first and second acts are particularly dramatically garish, the adjective-heavy dialogue painfully cost-effective and the acting more children playing dress-up than seasoned professionals getting a paycheck. But the finale is something to cherish, as it gives Gillie the opportunity to indulge herself in the insanities that crawl about Shelby’s psyche. All is topped off with a fit of maniacal laughter that manages to feel right despite everything else about the movie feeling so wrong.
One can only wonder the sensation it might have created had it been given proper studio treatment and if it had more than 74 minutes to get its point across that some women are even more wicked than Phyllis Dietrichson. But it gets the job done, and considering that Gillie would die just three years later from pneumonia only solidifies the movie’s amalgamation of the strange, the nightmarish, and the tragedies of the missed opportunity.
Blonde Ice, by contrast, is sounder in terms of its writing and its acting. Trouble is is that it’s not nearly as demented as Decoy, and its pulpy aesthetic might have benefitted from a couple winks here and there. In the movie, the luring Leslie Brooks is Claire Cummings, a news reporter, who, as the film progresses, is revealed to be a man eater who would quite literally kill to get to the top of the food chain. Like Gillie’s Shelby, Brooks’ Cummings could get any man to do her bidding, whether a given task gets her a small payday or a more hefty one.
But the film’s logic is flawed, as it’s never quite clear if Cummings is acting as the United States’s premier black widow more because of the monetary benefits that come or because of the way her name rises in the ranks of the public as an effect of her being connected to powerful men, thus helping her career.
Even with plot holes abounding, though, it’s hard to much discredit anyone involved in the film. Fact of the matter is is that money-making is the name of the game and we should be grateful that there’s even a morsel to be savored.
That morsel, of course, is Brooks, who possesses a poker face so convincing that the eventual reveal that she’s actually a ruthless brute manages to shock even though the film in which she’s starring is called, after all, Blonde Ice. Whereas Gillie goes for broad, Brooks goes for precise, meticulous. And we can’t help but lap up how effective the actress is when it comes to playing a deadly woman. Akin to Gillie, her career was brief. But the brevity isn’t because of an early death: Brooks retired from acting the same year the feature was released in the midst of a haughty custody battle with her first husband.
Neither Decoy nor Blonde Ice are especially good – they sound much better on paper than they appear when executed on the screen. But both are fascinating because of the women starring in them. And since the two features are easy to find within the throes of the battlefield that is YouTube, turning a Sunday night into one characterized by a double-feature comprised of the not-so dynamic duo isn’t such a bad idea – for the film noir devotee, that is.
Blonde Ice: C+