Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith in Nora Prentiss (1947)


(director: Vincent Sherman; screenwriters: Richard Nash/Jack Sobell/from an unpublished story by Paul Webster “The Man Who Died Twice”; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Owen Marks; cast: Ann Sheridan (Nora Prentiss), Kent Smith (Dr. Richard Talbot), Bruce Bennett (Dr. Joel Merriam), Robert Alda (Nick Dinardos), Rosemary DeCamp (Lucy Talbot), John Ridgely (Walter Bailey), Robert Arthur (Gregory Talbot), Wanda Hendrix (Bonita Talbot), Helen Brown (Miss Judson), Rory Mallinson (Fleming), Harry Shannon (Police Lieutenant), James Flavin (District Attorney), Douglas Kennedy (doctor), Don McGuire (Truck Driver), Clifton Young (Policeman); Runtime: 111; Warner Bros.; 1947)
“If you were Nora Prentiss, would you keep your mouth shut?”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The director, Vincent Sherman, took a songwriter Paul Webster’s short magazine story, “The Man Who Died Twice,” and improved it so that there would not be one-note characters as in the original. The noir film was made by Warner Brothers, who needed a film for their contract star Ann Sheridan. They also asked Sherman to change the story around so that her part as Nora Prentiss, a nightclub singer, is expanded. This solid noir film also has the beautifully expressionistic B&W photography from cinematographer James Wong Howe.

The movie posters said, ‘If you were Nora Prentiss, would you keep your mouth shut?’ The other famous quote is: ‘A mouth like hers is just for kissing…not for telling!’ The film proved to be popular with the public, especially with the women in the audience, and it turned out to be a big hit for Ann Sheridan.

You can set your clock by the 43-year-old Dr. Richard Talbot (Kent Smith), as he has never been late to work in the last ten years. He’s a dedicated physician with a comfortable San Francisco lifestyle, whose life is routine at home and at work. He is married to a bossy wife, Lucy (Rosemary), who loves him and their two teenager children in her own prim way, but she can’t give him a better life than the dull conventional one he has. The romance has gone out of their marriage and the doctor feels confined but takes solace in raising his kids and in the success of his medical practice, where he’s a partner with Dr. Joel Merriam (Bruce Bennett). Talbot is so straight-laced that there is never a question of him fooling around with another woman. His wife keeps busy with either her mother or social causes, or with friends, allowing him free time to write for medical journals in order to gain a reputation in his field.

The doctor’s life is to change forever on the one day he reported late to work for the first time. As he was crossing the street, an attractive lady gets hit by a truck. He treats her minor bruises in his office and is taken in by her alluring sexy ways. She seems to be playing with him, pleased with his shyness and the attention he shows her, figuring he’s so different from her and the men she knows that she can get a few laughs out of his awkward flirtations. But when he takes an earnest interest and is not put off that she’s a chanteuse, things become more romantic and she becomes afraid that he’s the kind of guy she’s always been looking for. But she realizes that since he’s married, he will leave her as soon as he gets what he wants. She is afraid that she will be the one who is hurt in this romance.

Talbot goes to watch Nora sing, meets her nightclub boss Nick (Alda), and begins an affair with her, whereby he starts staying out late at night. He doesn’t have the nerve to tell his wife that he fell in love with someone else, but when forced into a situation of either telling his wife or losing Nora he decides to tell his wife. But that is the night his favorite child Bonita is having her ‘Sweet Sixteen’ birthday party, and he doesn’t have the heart to spoil the family celebration. Nora upon hearing that he couldn’t tell his wife, tells him she’s leaving that night for New York to work in the new nightclub her boss Nick is opening.

A patient of Talbot’s, Mr. Bailey, who is a loner, dies of a heart attack in his office. By coincidence, he is the same age, height, weight, and has the same colored brown hair as him. So Talbot decides to fake his death by putting his wallet and identification papers on Bailey and then exploding his car with Bailey in it. Talbot then flees to New York to live with Nora in her apartment under an assumed name. But he doesn’t go outside of the apartment, after he reads in the San Francisco newspaper that the district attorney opened up his car explosion case as a homicide.

Back in San Francisco Dr. Merriam had found a burned letter in Talbot’s office, whose readable part says how desperate he is. He becomes suspicious, reporting what he found to the police, thinking Talbot might have committed suicide. But the police say all the proof points to him being murdered, that he had been blackmailed, as they discover he emptied out his saving account before the car wreck.

Warning: spoiler in the next twp paragraphs.

Talbot starts drinking heavily when he sees that Nora is becoming a star and that his life seems wasted, and he imagines that she is seeing Nick. In a jealous, drunken fit, he goes after Nick and thinks he killed him. But he sees a silver lining to his misery when he gets into a car accident soon after that incident and has his face disfigured, which requires plastic surgery making him unrecognizable.

The film was told from the opening flashback, where Talbot is arrested in New York because of his fingerprint matching the one found in the San Francisco crime scene and he is brought back to San Francisco to face murder and blackmail charges. Talbot is told by his lawyer that he better tell him something in his defense, or else he will get the death penalty. In court his family and friends do not recognize him, but speak of Dr. Talbot as a fine man. He asks Nora to remain silent, that he’d rather die convicted of murdering himself than of having his family think of him as anything but a nice guy and a good family man.

The glossy story might not be much on paper (it certainly didn’t seem plausible) but the telling of it was superb, showing how trapped the main characters became because of their lie.