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This past Christmas, I found a $3 discount DVD with four episodes of this
obscure 1950s TV series. I was intrigued about a cop show featuring a female
police officer dating back to the Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy era.
Plus I admit I thought Beverly Garland looked cute in uniform.
I was very pleasantly surprised to discover - at least based upon the 4 episodes on the DVD - that Decoy was an excellent, ahead-of-its-time show. Yes, it was very much a forerunner of Police Woman, only without the cheesiness. In fact the show felt a lot more like Dragnet - complete with Garland providing a Jack Webb-style narration.
The 4 episodes all focused on women being victimized by crime, and Policewoman Casey Jones' efforts to right wrongs, often acting undercover (in one episode she becomes what is called a "honey trap" to attract a bad guy). Despite it being 1957-58, an era when women were not expected to be action heroes, Beverly Garland provides a surprising amount of action in an appealingly understated way, whether it be sneaking through a forest to snatch a hostage to freedom, or (in the DVD's most memorable moment) outdrawing a bad guy with a rifle!
Casey Jones is a character who takes her work very seriously. Perhaps too seriously -- but then Joe Friday was never a bundle of laughs, either. If I had to pick a modern-day equivalent to Casey, it would have to be Mariska Harigtay's policewoman in Law and Order Special Victims Unit. The two characters have much in common.
Sadly, Decoy only ran one season (and it looks as if some episodes were in cold storage for a couple of years before being aired), and while there are a few DVDs out there with episodes, the series looks set to fade into undeserved oblivion. Personally, with the popularity of such female action hero series as Alias and La Femme Nikita on TV and on DVD these days, I think a DVD release of the Decoy series would be a great move. Decoy is undeniably an historical document - but it stands up well more than 45 years later.
One would call "Decoy" for what it is... a female "Dragnet", with the
beguiling Beverly Garland ("My Three Sons", "Scarecrow and Mrs. King")
and the city of New York filling in for Jack Webb and sunny Los
Angeles. But once you get caught in its premise, it's easy to overlook
other aspects of the show. Such as the fact that Ms. Garland is
required, in her role as undercover policewoman Patricia "Casey" Jones,
to play a different role in each of the 39 episodes filmed. In one
episode, she could play an exotic dancer in a carnival, in the next,
she can play an addict, and so on and so on, all in the guise of a
crime fighter. Whether Angie Dickinson, as Pepper Anderson - "Police
Woman", took her cues from Beverly Garland is open to debate, but it's
clear to say that Ms. Garland's Casey Jones is clearly a trailblazer
for other lady lawmen to follow.
As for the other co-star, New York City... "Decoy" isn't the first series filmed on location in the Big Apple, nor was it the last, but it was certainly one of the most effective in terms of its film noir look and fully fleshed characters. This isn't "Naked City", but it's as close a similarity as you can get on a shoestring budget. And it does the city justice, as "Naked City" would do the next year. Check it out on DVD when you get the chance.
"Decoy" is a Pyramid Production in association with Official Films, Inc. with technical assistance from the Policewoman's Bureau, NYC Police Department. 39 episodes were filmed on location in 1957.
Yes, this is a wonderfully gritty, no-nonsense cop yarn. What struck me is: Where's the sexism? Where's the condescension? Where's the "Oh, ya gonna arrest me, Officer Sweetie Pie?" This was the Fifties, right? It's a cop show with a twist: a cop who gets emotional over what she sees and what she has to do. But Casey Jones never, and I mean never, lets it get in the way of her completely professional approach to her job. She works with male officers, and they are nothing if not equals, comrades in arms. And for those of you who know Beverly Garland only from the fluff of My Three Sons, have you got a surprise coming. Great entertainment all the way around. And for something a little snappier, try Front Page Detective.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
....who seemed to be a lot tougher and didn't need to resort to skimpy
clothes and flirty looks. By 1957 television was awash with police
shows ("Dragnet", "The Line Up", "M Squad") but not one with a female
star. That changed when Beverly Garland took on the role of Casey Jones
the sultry undercover cop in "Decoy". Garland had appeared in a number
of TV pilots most of which went on to become regular series so she was
considered a "good luck charm" and was eagerly sought for the lead in
"Decoy". Filmed on the streets of New York, the show was heavily
promoted and praised and broke new ground with the occasional down beat
ending. It was also a valuable training ground for young stage actors
wanting to try their skills on TV. Director Stuart Rosenberg went on to
notable success with "The Untouchables" and "The Defenders" and films
such as "Cool Hand Luke" but unfortunately "Decoy" lasted only one
season - the producers didn't have the money to maintain the high
Casey was hard boiled and relied just as much on substance as style. "To Trap a Thief" had her going undercover as the get away driver in an effort to recover $10,000 that seems to be missing from a robbery. "High Swing" - Albert Dekker stars as Otto, an elderly man who has resorted to crime to keep his wife supplied with the drugs she craves. "The Sound of Tears" - a man's murder reveals a possessive mother (Muriel Kirkland), a secret fiancée (don't you just love Susanne Pleshette) and a cute little dog. "Night Light" - Martin Balsam is a ruthless fence who is not above using his son as a pawn in smuggling jewels. "The Comeback" has a young Peter Falk giving a terrific performance as a crooked racing tout that Casey helps rehabilitate. Harold Huber, he of all the gangster punks of the 1930s, finally gets a chance to play Mr. Big in this episode.
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