The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Produced by Jerry Wald
Written by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman, based on a story by Gertrude Walker
Cinematography by Ted McCord
Edited by Rudi Fehr
Costumes/Wardrobe by Sheila O’Brien (Joan Crawford, uncredited consultant)
Warner DVD (1:43)
I don’t think most people really understand what an absolute force Joan Crawford was. Watch just about any of her films (especially from the 1940s and early 50s) and you’ll see what I mean. No matter who’s directing the picture, Joan is in charge. She commands the screen and defies you to look away. You don’t even want to look away, even when some of her movies aren’t that good. But this one is.
As the film opens, local racketeer Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran) has been found shot to death in Desert Springs, California. The police learn that an oil heiress named Lorna Hansen Forbes (Crawford) had ties to Prenta, but apparently she’s skipped town. Enter film noir’s best friend, the flashback, as we learn that Lorna didn’t start out as an oil heiress, but as Ethel Whitehead, a poor Texas housewife who left home to escape a family tragedy and found herself on a journey to both riches and danger.
Ethel’s journey may remind you – at least somewhat – of another Crawford character, Mildred Pierce (1945), but this journey is in many ways seedier, more dangerous, with the potential for damage running very, very high. Ethel is looking for a better life and she’s opportunistic, using her daytime job as a dress model to lead to something better. Maybe not better, but at least more lucrative as she becomes involved with George Castleman (David Brian, above middle), the head of a local crime syndicate. Castleman has lately become suspicious of Prenta, one of his underlings, and sends Ethel to find out what he’s up to. (Hmm… That may not be such a good idea, George…)
Those who know far more than I do about Crawford often state that this role is the one that hits closest to who she really was. Crawford worked hard early in her career as a dancer and chorus girl before working in films. As MGM screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas once said, “No one decided to make Joan Crawford a star. Joan Crawford became a star because Joan Crawford decided to become a star.” (LaSalle, Mick . Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood) You can see that drive in every scene she’s in of The Damned Don’t Cry.
Yet the supporting cast should not be overlooked. If any man onscreen ever came close to equaling the ferociousness and venom of Crawford, it was David Brian as Castleman, one of the toughest racketeers in all of noir. Every time he’s onscreen, it’s like someone has opened a basket full of cobras.
The woefully underrated Steve Cochran is also excellent as the lower-tier racketeer wanting to take control from Castleman. Cochran not only had the good looks and the swagger necessary to pull off roles like this, he also had a much wider range than he gets credit for. Watch his eyes and listen to his voice, watch his mannerisms. I’m not sure why he never became a bigger star. Kent Smith (below left) is also good as the reserved bookkeeper and Sara Perry and Morris Ankrum are so good as Ethel’s parents, they could star in their own movie.
The performances are all first-rate and the story (based on the actual affair of Virginia Hill and gangster Bugsy Siegel) is one you simply can’t turn away from, not even for a second. In her review of the movie, Film Noir Blonde states, “…Crawford is especially tough and in touch with her masculinity, from her lean, angular body to her complicated helmet-like hair and it strikes me as implausible that every man she meets falls madly in love with her. In fact, it’s not that far from the truth. Making the movie, she began a long-term affair with director Vincent Sherman (he was married) and found time for a fling with co-star Cochran. Clearly, she was seductive as well as steely.” Watch The Damned Don’t Cry. I think you’ll agree.
Photos: Classic Movie Favorites, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings