Nora Prentiss is a 1947 black-and-white drama film noir directed by Vincent Sherman, and starring Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett and Robert Alda. Sherman also directed leading lady Sheridan in another 1947 film noir, The Unfaithful. The cinematography is by cinematographer James Wong Howe, and the music was composed by Franz Waxman.
Dr. Richard Talbot, unhappy with the dull routine of his married life, begins an affair with nightclub singer Nora Prentiss. Feeling unable to ask his wife for a divorce, he fakes his own death by substituting a dead man’s body for his own. He and Nora then move from San Francisco to New York, where Nora continues her singing career. Meanwhile, Talbot drinks heavily and becomes increasingly paranoid and reclusive as he learns that his death is under investigation. After a fight with Nora’s nightclub boss, Talbot crashes his car and his face is badly scarred. The police, not realizing that the man is Talbot, arrest him for his own murder. Guilty about the suffering he caused his family and feeling he has no future, Talbot convinces Prentiss to keep his secret, allowing him to be convicted and executed.
When the film was released, the staff at Variety magazine gave the film an unfavorable review. They wrote, “Nora Prentiss is an overlong melodrama, a story of romance between a married man and a girl. But it’s never quite believable. Ann Sheridan makes much of her role but the production has unsympathetic slant for leads and a lack of smoothness … Sheridan is the singer, and has two tunes to warble. As the doctor, Kent Smith is okay dramatically in a part that doesn’t hold much water. Bruce Bennett, co-starred, has little to do as a medico friend of Smith’s
**SPOILERS** Straight laced at his practice as a big city, San Francisco, doctor and wonderful family man Richard Talbot, Kent Smith,has never done anything more serious in his life then being late at his doctors office. That was all to change when one evening going to his car he ran into singer Nora Prentiss, Ann Sheridan. Nora has a fainting spell falling on the street and bruising herself. Bringing Nora up to his office Richard after treating her starts to slowly fall madly in love with Nora. That leads to him throwing away his very successful practice his family, wife and two children, and later even his life, which in the movie he loses twice. Where in the end Richard faces the California gas chamber for first degree murder.
The movie “Nora Prentiss” is about a mans obsession. That obsession leads him into such depths of depression and depravity that he destroys everything he held near and dear to himself in order to keep the woman, Nora Prentiss, that drove him into this madness and in the end loses her as well. Nora for her part is totally unaware of how far her lover was willing to go to keep her from disappearing out of his life. Spending money like crazy on Nora and using the excuse of working late at the office so that his wife Lucy, Rosemary DeCamp, won’t suspect his almost nightly lateness from home Richard is still very reluctant to divorce his wife, on what possible grounds? Then like heaven sent a patient of his Walter Bailey, John Ridgely, who not only fits Richards hight and weight but is even Richard’s age,43, pops into his office one night and collapses and dies from a heart attack!
Going to call the police to pick up the body Richard get this bright idea to switch identities and thus bury his past, as Dr. Richard Talbot, and start a new life as whoever he chooses with who he feels is the love of his life Nora Prentiss.
Nora who was leaving for New York for a job as a singer at the Sea Gull Cafe run by her very close friend and former employer Phil Dinardo,Robert Alda, runs into Richard who excitedly tells Nora that he’s divorcing his wife and within weeks when his divorce papers go through they’ll be able to get married. Rchard in fact disposed of Bailey’s body with his wedding ring on him to make it look like he was the one who was killed.
In New York living like a fugitive from the law Richard has Nora becomes a bit annoyed of his constant secrecy and avoidance of people. It soon gets to the point where she’s forced to live with Richard in a hotel room and only having her job at Phil’s nightclub as the only contact with the outside world. Richard, now calling himself Robert Tompson, for his part constantly keeps up with the news back home in San Francisco and learns that his “death” is being investigated by the police as a murder suspect with evidence found at his office; The cops found a letter of divorce that he partly burned that’s interpreted as a blackmail note. Also at the accident scene the police found a can of gasoline with his fingerprints on it.
Richard finally lose it when he finds Nora, who by then he already confessed what he did, in her dressing room with Phil! That has him go into a jealous rage and attacks the startled nightclub owner. This causes the police to chase Richard all through the streets of Manhattan ending up in a fiery accident in Central Park with his face badly burned.
With Phil not pressing charges and Richard getting a face-over, plastic surgery, it now looks like he and Nora can finally get married and put his life as Doctor Richard Talbot behind him. It’s then his being fingerprinted by the police for car theft and those fingerprints matched those back in San Franciso on the can of gasoline come up as a match! This made Richard the number one suspect in his own murder! how’s that for ultimate justice.
Now with nothing to look forward to with his wife and family as well as Nora out of his life forever Richard, or as he’s known now as Robert Thompson, can only sit in his dark prison cell and count the days leading up to his scheduled execution. He can also see what a mess he made of his life by reaching for something that he should have known was well out of his reach Nora Prentiss.
From the very beginning it’s all downhill for Dr. Talbot!
Author: grasshopper54 from Cromwell, CT
1 March 2003
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Never in the annals of film history has one man screwed up his life as badly as Dr. Richard Talbot, played by Kent Smith. From the very beginning of this film, Talbot’s life unravels, at first very slowly, but, as the film progresses, in a hideously downward spiral that goes out of control by the end of the film. Watching this film makes one want to chant `I’m glad I’m not this guy!’ over and over again. Kent Smith’s antics as Dr. Talbot in this film make Fred Mac Murray’s Walter Neff of `Double Indemnity’ or Wendell Corey’s Cleve Marshall in `The File of Thelma Jordan’ look like child‘s play. Both of these movies can scare you silly regarding infidelity, but still, there is no comparison.
As the film begins, Talbot is portrayed as a straight-laced family man; an individual who has no clue about the world around him save for his family and work. This, of course, doesn’t last too long. Enter Nora Prentiss. Ann Sheridan does a superb job portraying the alluring Nora, a nightclub singer who gets clipped by an automobile while she’s crossing the street. Just by luck, Talbot is outside of his office and sees the accident. Being a doctor, he brings her up to his office in order to repair the damage, which consists of a bruised knee. The ride downhill to ruin begins for Dr. Talbot, first in a subtle way. He becomes tempted to see her perform in the nightclub across the street from his workplace. You can feel the rush toward disaster get a little quicker at this point.
First it’s dancing, then it’s a jaunt to his summer cabin when the family is away on a trip, then it’s expensive gifts, then it’s his coming home in the wee hours of the morning. By then his wife, played by Rosemary De Camp, becomes suspicious, but (miraculously) maintains her reserved attitude about what’s happening around her and her family. The gnawing anxiety inside of her finally prompts her to angrily quip, `Not everyone in San Francisco is in poor health’ or “I wonder what’s going on inside of you” to her husband during one breakfast. Of course this is the day of their daughter Bonita’s birthday which, of course, he forgets because of his frequent late evening trysts with Nora. You can feel the plunge toward certain disaster getting more apparent, just like feeling a noose being put around one’s neck.
It gets so bad by this time that he can’t even concentrate on his work. Before a New York doctor witnessing an operation, he almost kills the patient. Of course this happens after Nora tells him that she wants to call it quits (good timing!). Talbot can’t give her up. He pursues her like a male moth pursues a pheromone laden female. She keeps pushing him away, but nothing can stop this guy by now.
By now everyone viewing this film has a clue that this guy is tormented by the demon of infidelity. He feels like a trapped rat in a corner. He wants to divorce his wife, but lacks the courage to tell her. The viewer can feel the gnawing dilemma within Dr. Talbot and by now is REALLY glad that he’s not in his shoes! Enter Walter Bailey, played by John Ridgely. Bailey is a heart patient who, coincidentally, collapses and dies in Dr. Talbot’s office the moment he is writing a note to his wife asking for a divorce. Talbot notices that Bailey is the same age, height and weight as himself. In a day before DNA identification, Talbot sees a way out of his dilemma. He places his ring, watch and money clip on Bailey, drives his 1941 Buick to a cliff somewhere in Carmel, CA, douses the interior of the car with alcohol and sets it on fire with (of course) Bailey in the driver’s seat. It gets much worse, by the way…
So, Talbot “kills” himself in his endeavor to by with Nora. The continuing downward spiral gets a little more bizarre and precarious… He takes off to New York City with Nora and keeps informed with San Francisco newspapers about his death. He then notices that the District Attorney is investigating his death, so another factor is introduced in the plot: paranoia. He and Nora stay shut up in the hotel they’re living in. Nora is perturbed that they’re not living a “normal” life like everyone else. She is also confused as to why he is acting the way he is, not knowing what’s being written in the San Francisco papers.
Talbot becomes even more paranoid when they go out dancing one evening and he runs into the same doctor who watched that botched operation mentioned earlier. He tells Nora that they have to leave NOW without explaining to her what the problem is. By now Nora is really perturbed about what’s going on so she confronts him. He finally explains to her the mess that he got himself into, all because he wanted to be with her. The walls start to close in on Talbot as you can see him deteriorate in the seclusion of his hotel room. Hotel meals, newspapers and alcohol are all that he looks forward to in his `prison’. Nora gets a job as a singer at Phil DiNardo’s (played by Robert Alda) nightclub and manages to make a living for both herself and her `prisoner’ boyfriend.
Still another factor appears in the plot: jealousy. Talbot, who by now is calling himself Thompson, becomes enraged that Nora is spending too much time at the nightclub and with Phil. It doesn’t help any when he reads in the gossip pages how Nora and Phil are `an item’. One night he slips out of his hotel room and goes to the nightclub, pummeling DiNardo and fleeing in the latter’s car. As can be expected in this film, he speeds off, is pursued by the police and has an accident resulting in severe facial injuries. He treats his injuries like a blessing, thinking that his being altered in this way can let him live a `normal’ life in the great outdoors without being identified by anyone. Can Dr. Talbot really put away his past self now? Not a chance.
In perfect timing, the law arrests him because of a fingerprint identification on the can of alcohol he used in order to destroy his previous identity. Whew! They extradite him back to California where he is tried for the death of himself. He is so disfigured that not even his wife or past colleague, Dr. Joel Merriman, recognize him. He is sentenced to die and he makes Nora promise never to tell anyone who he is. Would you? Warner Brothers advertised the movie with a tremendous advertising campaign. The billboards asked: `If you were Nora, would you talk?’
If there ever was a deterrent for philandering, this is it. The film is filled with a tragedy of errors from beginning to end. Dr. Talbot’s fall from grace is truly astounding. His impulsiveness at throwing caution to the wind, as one would say, shows the stupidity of one man on his ability in screwing up his life big time. It really leaves one chanting over and over again, `I’m glad I’m not this guy!’
Not exactly film noir, but excellent thriller
Though labeled a film noir drama, this film doesn’t really qualify for that genre. For one thing, the femme fatale, Nora Prentiss, is not really a femme fatale. She is a thoughtful, caring woman, who truly loves the good Doctor Talbot and earnestly tries to do what is best for him. She is played to perfection by the wonderful actress Ann Sheridan. Though Talbot loves her too, it is a more selfish, possessive kind. The one who sincerely loves her is her manager, Phil Dinardo, played with knowing skill by Robert Alda, but Nora does not return his love. He is more of a helpful long-time friend who is always there for her, even if she usually does not reciprocate.
Unfortunately, two of the main parts are given rather perfunctory readings by two ho-hum actors of the period, Kent Smith as Dr. Talbot and Bruce Bennett as his partner, Dr. Merriam. Too bad more capable Thespians were not assigned those roles, especially the key one of Dr. Talbot. Rosemary DeCamp is excellent in her cold hearted portrayal of the good doctor’s nondescript wife. The viewer wonders how Dr. Talbot has tolerated her for all those years.
The story is exceptional, very complex yet realistic. Most of us have had one little event, at the time seemingly insignificant, drastically alter our workaday lives, sometimes for the good, other times for the bad. In this film it is an accident that occurs right in front of Dr. Talbot. Being a physician, he rushes to the aid of a pretty young nightclub singer, has her taken to his office, and proceeds to treat her. From that time on, the entire fabric of his life is changed. What twists and turns until the denouement! Director Vincent Sherman permits no cop out at the end.
This is one of those pictures where everything counts, including the music and the photography, to accentuate the main theme. Listen to the music and to the lyrics of the songs Nora Prentiss sings, in particular “Who Cares What People Say?” Cinematographer James Wong Howe blends San Francisco photography and crisp black and white interior shots into the story settings to emphasize the mood and the importance of a particular scene. Note for example how what look to be bars on Nora Prentiss’ sweater in the lodge sequence indicate the happiness the two lovers are enjoying may be short lived.
The title is not a good one. Automatically one thinks of “Nora Prentiss” as a chick flick. It is not. There is little melodrama and not much sentiment. It is brash and harsh most of the way.