Day 13 of Noirvember: Notes on Nora Prentiss (1947)
Ann Sheridan was known during her career as the “Oomph Girl.” It was a label that she reportedly despised, but one look at this sultry dame certainly lends an understanding to the designation. Sheridan demonstrated her comedic chops in films like I Was a Male War Bride (1949) opposite Cary Grant, and showed that she was equally at home on the dramatic side of things in movies like Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) and They Drive By Night (1940). But for my money, she really showed her “oomph” in one of my favorite lesser-known noirs – Nora Prentiss (1947), co-starring Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett, and Alan Alda’s dad, Robert.
Married family man Dr. Richard Talbot (Smith), unhappy with his staid and structured existence, falls for the nightclub singer of the film’s title. His back street affair works for a while, but when his preoccupation with Nora causes him to forget his daughter’s 16th birthday and nearly kill a man during surgery, it’s obvious that something’s got to give. Unfortunately for Richard, Nora’s solution is to end their affair and leave town, and that’s not a solution that sits well with the doc. He’ll do anything to keep Nora – and that’s when this noir kicks into high gear!
I like the scene where Richard and Nora first meet. She has been hit by a car and he takes her to his office for treatment. The scene serves as an ideal showcase for introducing the vast differences between the two characters, and supporting the notion that “opposites attract.” Nora makes fun of the doctor’s rigid persona – it turns out that she lives right across the street from his office and is able to set her clock by his carefully timed comings and goings. Despite her minor injuries, Nora’s street-smart sassiness shines through; when the doctor allows a brief visit from a cop and the driver of the car that hit her, Nora notices the men gazing at her injured leg and cracks, “I’ve been examined already.”
Both are by Nora Prentiss (Ann Sheridan):
“It would take more than a drink to improve my outlook, but it helps.”
“You might as well get this straight, doc. I may not have been handled with care, but I’m not shopworn.”
Richard Talbot’s daughter, Bonita, was played by Wanda Hendrix. Nora Prentiss was only her second film. Later that year she starred opposite Robert Montgomery in another noir, Ride the Pink Horse.
Robert Alda played the owner of the nightclub where Nora worked. Incidentally, the actor was born Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Robert D’Abruzzo. His professional surname was derived from the first two letters in his first name (Alphonso) and last name (D’Abruzzo). He won a Tony Award in 1951 for his performance in Guys and Dolls.
The screenplay for Nora Prentiss was written by N. Richard Nash, who also penned the script for The Rainmaker (1956). He was married to actress Janice Rule for six months. (Rule later married actor Ben Gazzara; this union lasted considerably longer – more than 20 years.)
Nora Prentiss was directed by Vincent Sherman, who also helmed several other noirs, including The Unfaithful (1947), also starring Ann Sheridan; Affair in Trinidad (1952); and The Garment Jungle (1957). Sherman was born Abram Orovitz in Vienna, Georgia, and changed his name when he joined the Group Theater in the hopes of starting an acting career. After appearing in several movies in the early 1930s (including Counsellor at Law with John Barrymore), Sherman turned his talents to directing.
The doctor’s wife (Rosemary DeCamp) was named Lucy Talbot, which is the same name as the wife (Karen Morley) of the philandering doctor in Dinner at Eight (1933).
Nora Prentiss received widely varying reviews upon its release. William R. Weaver of Motion Picture Herald stated that “the skill with which the story is unfolded gives it fascination,” while the ever-caustic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times labeled it “major picture-making at its worst.”
Hey – don’t pay any attention to what Bosley Crowther said. Make it a point to check out Nora Prentiss!
You only owe it to yourself.
And join me tomorrow for Day 14 of Noirvember!