The “Oomph Girl”

Ann Sheridan

Clara Lou Sheridan (1915 – 1967) came to Hollywood from Denton, Texas when she was 19, playing mostly bit parts and B-movie roles for Paramount throughout the 1930’s till she switched to Warner Brothers and the roles improved, including Angels With Dirty Faces, They Made Me A Criminal, Kings Row, They Drive By Night and The Man Who Came To Dinner, starring alongside Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and John Garfield. Along the way, she’d changed her name to Ann Sheridan, and Warner Brothers claimed that men voted her the actress with the most “Oomph”…and so marketed her as “The Oomph Girl”, a tag she loathed.

Ann Sheridan 1

Sheridan took a break from movies during WWII to do three grueling years on the road in USO tours, during which time she became one of the most popular service men’s pinups. She went right back to work after the war, but quickly grew frustrated with many of the roles she was offered. Just as noir goddess Ida Lupino began working behind the camera as a director, Sheridan wanted to produce, and she did just that starting in 1949, including the cult classic low-budget 1950 film noir Woman On The Run.

Ann Sheridan 2

In the late 1950’s and in the 1960’s, Sheridan worked mostly for television, and mostly in westerns, her final project the CBS comedy-western Pistols & Petticoats. It was during the 1966-67 season that she was diagnosed with both cancer and liver disease, passing away at only 51, an episode of her TV series airing that same night. Ann Sheridan’s not the first name that pops up when you think of the film noir and crime melodrama greats, but when an actress has gone toe-to-toe with George Raft, Bogart, Garfield and Cagney, and produced one of the classic period’s cult classics, I’d say her ‘noir cred’ is intact.

Ann Sheridan 3

Nora Prentiss

Nora Prentiss - Hnd Colored

Not sure if I’ll be home in time for TCM’s 11:00 PM CST Noir Alley with host, noir maestro Eddie Muller. Tonight it’s Vincent Sherman’s 1947 Warner Brothers film Nora Prentiss, shot by James Howe Wong with a Franz Waxman score, starring one of Hollywood’s hardest working actresses, Ann Sheridan. I’ve never seen the film and would like to, particularly with Muller’s always insightful opening and closing remarks.

You like your film noirs with syndicate bosses, mobsters, dirty cops and gun fights? Who doesn’t? But there’s an equally essential subset of classic film noir and crime melodrama focused on smaller stories that are equally dark and fatalistic, Nora Prentiss among them, considered by some as one of the best “women’s noir”.

Nora Prentiss - MontageKent Smith plays Dr. Richard Talbot, bored with his humdrum life and marriage, who begins an affair with seductive nightclub singer Nora Prentiss, played by Ann Sheridan. He fakes his own death in order to run away with her, relocating from the west coast to New York, where she goes back to work in the clubs. But it can’t go well, and Dr. Talbot grows increasingly paranoid once he leans that his faked death is now a murder investigation. Soon he’s bitter, jealous, combative and drinking too much, finally crashing his car. Disfigured from the accident, unable to identify himself, he’s actually accused of his own murder.

Nora Prentiss still

Though the film sounds like it’s Talbot’s story more than Ann Sheridan’s, it’s really not, at least based on what I’ve read. And Ann Sheridan rarely disappoints, especially when she gets a meaty role where she can play street smart with an undercurrent of vulnerability (though I suspect her husband-stealing songbird might not be particularly vulnerable). Well, in or out, that’s what DVR’s are for. I’m catching this movie one way or another.

Nora Prentiss poster

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑