John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane

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Movie Review: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Spent last evening watching the interesting and quite good The Damned Don't Cry from 1950, starring Joan Crawford and a list of boy toys that includes David Brian, Kent Smith, and Steve Cochran.

This 1950 movie stars Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, Kent Smith, and Richard Egan, and also features Selena Royle. The basic plot of the movie runs something like this: Ethel Whitehead (Joan Crawford) is a weary housewife living at the edge of the Texas oil fields. When her young son is killed in a bicycle accident, she leaves her abusive labourer husband Roy (Richard Egan) for the big city. She quickly learns to use her physical charms to get ahead. In cahoots with bookkeeper friend Martin Blackford (Kent Smith), Ethel works her way into the entourage of George Castleman (David Brian), a mobster who enjoys an elegant lifestyle. With the help of socialite Patricia Longworth (Selena Royle), Castleman grooms Ethel in the arts of cultured living. After making her his mistress, he tries to use her to trap his arch-rival Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran). The trap fails when Ethel falls in love with Prenta. The betrayed Castleman kills Prenta and goes gunning for Ethel but dies in a shoot out with Blackford. Ethel's fate at the end of the film is uncertain, but one gets the feeling that it won't be happy.

By and large this film is a Crawford film, in that she surrounds herself with three somewhat no-name men (at least from my perspective), although Steve Cochran is the "name noir" guy here. David Brian had roles in Beyond the Forest and This Woman is Dangerous, as well as The Damned Don't Cry in his film noir resume, so that is perhaps why I consider him to be a "no namer". It makes sense to do so, as Crawford completely dominates this film and, to be honest, is exceedingly good in it, running the gamut from suburban housewife of a lowlife living at home with her folks to moll for a mob type fellow. Yet the acting in the film by the three male leads is actually pretty good. David Brian's George Castleman is excellent; he's the sophisticated mob boss with a ruthless, brutal streak who seduces Joan's Ethel into his world of luxuries and crime. By contrast, Kent Smith plays Martin Blackford the CPA who falls for Ethel early in the film, and gets pulled into the criminal world by his love for her. Kent Smith plays the role pretty straight for most of the film, but one sees the manner in which he begins to fall into the world of crime and takes on some of its corruption as the movie goes on. Excellent portrayal, but not a pretty picture. Finally, Steve Cochran enjoys his turn in this film as Nick Prenta, the slick rival mobster, and whose love of Ethel and her returned affections for him drive her to betray both Martin and Castleman, leading to the riveting final sequences of the movie. Cochran's portrayal is an excellent counterpoint to Kent Smith's accountant, but he was a bit too flash for my taste, and comes off with snake-like style, something that seems to have been intended here.

While the story is largely based on the true events surrounding Las Vegas gangster Bugsy Siegel and his mistress Virginia Hill, the movie is something of a rehash of Mildred Pierce, at least in its formula, as the ordinary, but acquisitive, gal works and sleeps her way up the ladder, makes good, then hooks up with the wrong men, and suffers a wretched demise. One of the things about this film is that Crawford's Ethel is willing to unleash her sexual prowess outside the bonds of matrimony, and this leads to the undoing of everyone concerned. In essence, she becomes high-class bait, caught between David Brian's semi-legitimate megalomaniac and pretty-boy Steve Cochran's Bugsy-esque mobster. But as with most film noir, this one has no happy ending, even if there is a bit of redemption to this film. In the end, Ethel's on the hook herself, and she winds up back in the dust-bowl oil town she came from, her mink coat being the only link she has left to the life that she has now been forced to leave behind.

From the point of view of the filming and cinematography, The Damned Don't Cry has pretty much all of the typical stuff that one expects to see in film noir, and the camera loves Crawford. There are plenty of daytime scenes in the film, all of which are shot with a slightly different tone, and thus they come across as somewhat muted. From the scenes of Ethel returning home to the oil field-surrounded house where she grew up and lived with her parents and her husband, to the sequence in her Desert Springs home where Ethel is beaten by Castleman and the lighting of the scene where Martin and Castleman confront Nick Prenta, the lighting and visual style of the movie is pure noir. Vincent Sherman's work on this film is quite good, and the main action sequences are night scenes, emphasizing the sheer emptiness of Ethel's heart, and the isolation and loneliness that she feels at times.

Overall, The Damned Don't Cry is a superb Joan Crawford vehicle, but it is a really good film noir as well. If you think of this movie as "The Rise and Fall of Ethel Whitehead", you will not be disappointed with this one at all.

I give this one 8 out of 10.

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