Film Noir

Ann Sheridan, Homewrecker

Darling, you used to be so fun before you faked your own death
Kent Smith and Ann Sheridan grapple with the ethics of faking your own death.

Watching the story of a man’s untimely death is always fascinating, isn’t it?

We’ve all seen movies like this, where the circumstances surrounding a person’s demise is told in flashbacks. The inevitable death is no surprise; you watch events unravel until the individual finally kicks the bucket.

However, the 1947 film noir Nora Prentiss has a plot twist that you won’t see coming. You’ll think you have the movie figured out, but you won’t. Trust us.

Basic storyline: A straight-laced married doctor (Kent Smith) becomes involved with a nightclub singer (Ann Sheridan). They meet innocently enough; Sheridan is hit by a car outside Smith’s office. Smith treats her minor injuries like the no-nonsense professional he is, but Sheridan is an aggressive flirt. Ever the gentleman, he escorts her to her apartment, but makes a beeline home to his family.

The thing is, Smith is secretly sick of domestic life. His wife is a decent, pillar-of-society woman, but she’s dull and over-scheduled. Smith quickly becomes involved with Sheridan, and we see how the affair affects his family and his own personality. For example, he forgets his daughter’s sixteenth birthday because he’s so preoccupied with Sheridan.

Sheridan is not a homewrecker without a conscience. Unlike Smith, she feels it’s unfair to continue the relationship while he is still married. She begs him to go back to his family, but he refuses. He says he’ll ask for a divorce, but he doesn’t do that either. Smith, it seems, cannot be fair to either woman.

Then. One day a bizarre circumstance occurs and Smith realizes he can fake his own death and get away with it. He can drop his wife and children, drain his bank account and start over in a new city with Sheridan. Woo hoo! Get this party started!

Nora Prentiss is often regarded as “film noir for women”, which puzzles us. Never mind the fact we don’t know what that statement actually means, the movie is more about Smith’s character than Sheridan’s. (If you know what “film noir for women” means, please let us know.)

This film cleverly plays with traditional movie stereotypes. At the onset, we assume Smith the doctor is an upstanding citizen. By contrast, we are introduced to nightclub owner Phil Dinardo (Robert Alda), Sheridan’s boss. At first we think Alda is a bit sleazy and, perhaps, associated with the Mob. But, as the movie progresses, we realize Alda really is a decent person and Smith is the one without scruples.

As much as we grow to dislike Smith’s character, we admire his acting. He portrays a weak man who desperately wants a happy life but makes all the wrong decisions. He is completely credible as a man caught in a desperate situation of his own doing.

Truthfully, we were a bit unsure of Ann Sheridan’s ability to carry the movie; we sometimes feel ambivalent about her acting ability. However, in Nora Prentiss, she seems more skilled in each successive scene. In fact, she is exquisite when Smith calls her to say he didn’t ask his wife for a divorce. Sheridan’s face reveals an incredible depth of emotion; you can feel the sucker punch Smith gives her.

Have we convinced you to see this so-called “women’s film noir”? You really should, you know. It’s regarded as one of Ann Sheridan’s best performances, and it’s paired with a very smart script.

Nora Prentiss: starring Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Robert Alda. Directed by Vincent Sherman. Written by Arthur Weiss. Warner Brothers, 1947, B&W, 110 mins.

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20 thoughts on “Ann Sheridan, Homewrecker

  1. Ooooo, yes! This IS a must-see movie! I saw it recently and I absolutely loved it. And this is a wonderful review. As always 🙂

    I have no idea what “film noir for women” means either, though I’m curious…

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  2. Ah, the Oomph Girl! That was her nickname when my Dad met her during WWII. She visited his camp as part of a USO tour and somehow he met her. Needless to say, she was his favorite actress and could do no wrong in his eyes. 🙂

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      1. He was stationed in North Africa and later was transferred to Indis. He was a radioman in the Air Corps and they flew over “the Burma Hump” delivering supplies to the Allies and to the Chinese. I believe he met her in India, simply because it was relatively safe. I’ll ask my siblings if either remembers exactly.

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  3. I love Ann Sheridan and this is one of her best dramatic roles. She rarely got a good chance to show her acting talents, but she was always warm and real. Good flick and great review. Yes – those “noirs” for women – I guess they mean a dash of darkness and a touch of soap.

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  4. Ann Sheridan was (and is) extremely underrated as an actress. She had more talent and substance than most actresses who were forced down the cheesecake publicity path.

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  5. Ruth, your reviews are always great fun to read, and your take on NORA PRENTISS is terrific, as always! I saw most of NORA PRENTISS, and throughout it, I found myself totally rooting for Nora to kick whiny, underhanded Kent Smith’s character to the curb! For that matter, I also found Smith to be kind of a whiny mush in CAT PEOPLE, too. Has he ever NOT played an allegedly well-meaning guy who was pretty much a self-centered jerk? Am I being unfair? By all means, enlighten me! 🙂

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  6. Great review as always, Ruth! I’m fond of Ann Sheridan and so need to see NORA PRENTISS…she was quite the sultry siren back in the day. I like her in THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE and ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES. She’s quite good in very different, less glamorous sort of role in COME NEXT SPRING.

    As for Kent Smtih, he always seemed to play self-centered jerks, but I can’t begrudge a guy for continuing to mine the same territory over and over when he does it so well.

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  7. Juke Girl (1942) is a really nice film if you have never seen it. Sheridan was one of the best actresses of all-time who died so very young. She was one tough dame.

    Believe it or not she worked on The Man Who Came To Dinner and Kings Row simultaneously. On one set in the morning and the other set in the afternoon. Two contrasting roles but two great performances. She must had alotta oomph, :).

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