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The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

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The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Postby moira finnie » October 26th, 2008, 1:43 pm

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The Damned Don't Cry (1950), which I've heard dismissed as minor league Joan Crawford, was a great deal of cynical fun when I saw it for the first time this weekend. Many of this movie's successful moments fall on the square shoulders of La Crawford, in her Warners' phase. Joan actually looks more beautiful at the beginning of the film with minimal makeup and longer hair--when she's supposed to be haggard--than she does later with a mannish haircut and stuffier wardrobe, when she's supposed to be a "lady". For one thing, at the beginning of the movie, you can feast your eyes on this woman's bone structure, which was extraordinary. Naturalism really was anathema to you guys in Hollywood back then, wasn't it?

Crawford plays a downtrodden oil town wife and mother whose inner drive is released after a family tragedy, and she heads to the big city to see what she can make out of the remainder of her life, leaving behind her parents and her dour, snappish husband (Richard Egan, seen below with Joan before her transformation). Landing in the big city, she takes what little she has (a face and figure, and no education), and does what she can with it, becoming a model, a front for her new milquetoast pal, Kent Smith, and finally transforming from Ethel Whitehead (does anyone name their kid Ethel anymore?) to Lorna Hanson Forbes, faux socialite, and mistress and cat's paw to David Brian, (who, despite his own origins, we know is "classy" 'cause he knows who the Etruscans were).
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Many commentators on Crawford's movies of this period seem to feel that she surrounded herself with B movie actors in order to highlight her own unmistakable quality, but I think that the supporting cast in this movie made this movie a success as much as the star. Thanks in no small measure to some excellent work from Kent Smith as a timid accountant who becomes enthralled with Joan, David Brian as an oily mobster with a civilized veneer, and the even oilier Steve Cochran, playing a Bugsy Siegel type, (and doing so much more convincingly than a certain W. Beatty), this movie is quite engrossing, even if it doesn't approach the iconic power of a Mildred Pierce or the inadvertently funny moments of Flamingo Road. Those two films were directed by the masterful Michael Curtiz, but The Damned Don't Cry was directed by Vincent Sherman, a talented man, whose gifts included making silk purses out of Warner Brothers many sows' ears in the 1940s. Sherman, whose best movies may be much better than average B movies such as The Return of Doctor X, The Hard Way, and All Through the Night made several successful A level films, (i.e. Mr. Skeffington, which had one good scene in about 2 hours, that between Claude Rains and Marjorie Riordan, the little girl playing his daughter), though those smaller budgeted jobs were much livelier and, to me, were more fun.
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One of the interesting qualities in this movie is that, unlike the original story, that called for an actress capable of playing a 16 year old girl, Crawford, at 46, was older and her character seemed more desperate and more determined than a teenager could have been in the same role. She even says more than once that she doesn't have much time as she ruthlessly pursues her inchoate dream to "be somebody."

We believe her when she tells Kent Smith "Don’t talk to me about self respect. That’s something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else. The only thing that counts is that stuff you take to the bank. That filthy buck that everybody sneers at but slugs to get. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up because nobody’s going to give you a lift. You gotta do it for yourself because no one will do it for you!" Later, when she softens noticeably in the seductive presence of the much younger and quite fetching Steve Cochran, I kept thinking that on an unconscious level the audience is supposed to sympathize with her protective feeling toward this mobster, not just because his brutal nature is described as a product of his environment, not an inherently evil nature, but because he looks so much like Crawford's son! Calling Dr. Freud!?

Vincent Sherman, whose memoir, Studio Affairs: My LIfe as a Film Director, was an interesting look at the inner machinations of the former actor and journeyman director's time at Warner Brothers and later, provides a commentary track. Unfortunately, made when this gentleman was 99 (!), the track doesn't provide much more insight into the movie than his book did, though he does give much deserved nods of appreciation to the acting of Crawford, Kent Smith, and Selena Royle, as well as the cinematography of Ted McCord. Perhaps in fond memory, a gentlemanly pang or due to his age, Mr. Sherman did not go into detail about the rather tense relations he chronicled with Crawford behind the scenes here as an affair that the married director and his star wound down during filming. Nevertheless, Sherman did direct this woman well, building the action to a violent, logical crescendo.

After the movie concluded, I started to wonder if Joan Crawford--had she been born two generations later--might have had a different path through life; even channeling some of that scary energy that informed so many of her performances with such preternatural intensity--into the production side of the movie business. Then again, maybe she should have just taken over Pepsi.
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I hope that you'll let me know your take on this movie too.
Last edited by moira finnie on October 27th, 2008, 6:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sue Sue Applegate » October 26th, 2008, 2:28 pm

Dear Moira,

I enjoyed the Finnie "treatment" on this film that I viewed for the first time many moons ago, and recall making a mental comparison between it and Mildred Pierce. But I also sense that surrounding herself with 'B' players, as your posted photo and prose reveal, is a way that Crawford not only used to insulate, but also maintain her elevation.

It seems the men who write about their experiences in the film industry, like Vincent Sherman, are never quite as revealing as the gals who made the same journey.
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Postby jdb1 » October 27th, 2008, 8:54 am

I really like David Brian in this one - he's a sort of combination of Raymond Massey and George Macready. He was really good at oily and very credible as a sadistic player of mind games.

One shocking aspect of this movie is the quite brutal beating that Crawford endures. Altough played out in semi-darkness, it's pretty stark. However, as one commentary I heard pointed out, it's Ethel's punishment, really, for being a party to a murder (well, it's one of her punishments -- she is also shot). An alternate title for this movie was The Victim, but since it was a Crawford vehicle, there were bound to be other victims besides her, and she did plenty of psychological and physical damage herself. Since the character survives to live another day, I suppose the alternate title was deemed insufficient.

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Postby MissGoddess » October 27th, 2008, 11:10 am

The Damned Don't Cry is one of my favorites from Joan's career in this
period. I think it has a lot going for it.

I really liked the scenes shot out in the desert, they felt much more
sinister than the New York City scenes. And I really liked David Brian in
his role, too, he was most attractive.

As for Sherman, I have always felt he tells too much, WAY too
much. He takes great delight in recounting his bedroom success with
many actresses, not just Joan and Bette and all the while praising his wife
for her "understanding" and "wisdom" about it. :shock:
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Postby moira finnie » October 27th, 2008, 11:56 am

Hey, I'm glad to see that us gals liked The Damned Don't Cry so much, but didn't any fellas ever see this one?

Looking back, I like David Brian's iciness but it is Kent Smith, who usually plays such a clueless guy in most movies, whose performance is most endearing here; especially as he wises up during the course of the movie. I particularly like the way that he keeps calling Crawford "Ethel" even after she's metamorphized into "Lorna". Smith is particularly good in the scene when he shows up suddenly in Palm Springs, wearing a jarringly uncharacteristic Hawaiian print shirt, shorts and dark sunglasses, and speaking to "Ethel" in a near monotone, dripping with disdain for her descent (and his along with her). As Kent Smith, who says he's there as an emissary from Mr. Castleman, (David Brian) grills Crawford about her activities with Cochran, he never really looks directly at her, but leans back on his chaise lounge catching some desert rays like a big, smug lizard he's become, (though, of course, we know Smith is just hurt...poor baby!).

Wow, come to think of it, did Kent Smith's relative colorlessness, beautiful speaking voice and nice manners ever win him any true love in the movies?? Between this movie, Nora Prentiss, Cat People, and The Fountainhead the guy couldn't catch a break, could he?
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Well, maybe things were really hunky-dory in The Spiral Staircase between Kent & Dorothy McGuire after that little serial killer business was tidied up, eh? I guess he proves the truism that you can be "too nice".
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Postby feaito » October 27th, 2008, 8:21 pm

I have never seen this film, but your great review certainly piqued my interest. I'd definitely like to see this one! :D

And I agree with your assessment Re. Crawford's appearance; she certainly looks much more attractive and younger when she's supposed to look plain, in that still with Richard Egan, with scarce make-up and longer hair.

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Postby Mr. Arkadin » October 27th, 2008, 10:10 pm

Hi Moira, I like and own the film, just been in a different headspace lately and didn't feel I could change gears to contribute to the thread.

Crawford gets a lot of criticism in this period of her film making career and there were certainly some bad roles, but I think she's pitch perfect in most of this film. Standouts for me are the early scenes when she comes back home and the early flashbacks with her husband and young son. Crawford shows a whipped cur look that is truly memorable and her scenes are not just natural in her appearance, but her acting. It would be very easy to go over the top, but Joan holds back and the result is quite touching.

Another great scene is when she goes to Castleman's office to play a little cat and mouse. Brian is a great foil for her here and they both do a great job turning each other inside out. Also with a nice bit part is Edith Evanson as the elder Mrs. Castleman.

Probably one of the reasons the film works so well is the fact that much of it mirrors Joan's life (coming from poor beginnings) and driving ambition. While it's not my favorite of her work, The Damned Don't Cry is a nice film with better than average preformances and deserves a closer look from JC fans.

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The Damned Don't Cry

Postby Alan K. » November 6th, 2008, 10:09 am

This is one of my favorite Crawford films. The story, liberally borrowed from the life and times of Bugsy Siegel girlfriend and mob courier, Virginia Hill does emulate Joan's climb up the show biz from the most humble of beginnings -as noted by Mr. Arkadin.

In addition to the attributes of "Damned" that have already been mentioned, I really dug the Palm Springs locations along with underrated Steve Cochran as "Nick Prenta". Cochran was a terrific actor. He really shines in "TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY" alongside Ruth Roman.

Viewing this particular film, my rationale system got put in a Crawfordized state of suspended animation as to why all of these guys are throwing themselves at a 46 year old Joan, but that's why she was Joan- right?

She really does get knocked around by Brian near the end of the picture. One line I remember is Brian exclaiming "If you see dirt, clean it up!" as he backhands Joan past a glass breakfront with a cactus on it.

David Brian was a tough customer on screen and apparently quite a character.

A contemporary who worked with him once remarked that, "David gave up the bottle for the Bible. It wasn't an even trade."
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Re: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Postby RedRiver » July 31st, 2011, 4:39 pm

I came across this movie in a one horse town in Kentucky. Literally. The horse was tied up outside the store! A rack of five dollar videos. Teen comedies. Car movies. Zombies who rip your head off. And out of nowhere, JOAN!

I like this "minor" Crawford film. It's not MILDRED PIERCE. Not QUEEN BEE. But it's mature, unpretentious storytelling. With just enough dark flavoring to put it on the noir menu. The brutality element, sad as it is, serves the drama well. If there's a soap opera quality, so much the better. What's a "Joan-a-drama" without a little soap?

The discovery for me was the nice guy. The character saves the movie from being totally gloomy. It was a good choice by the writers, played effectively by an actor I'm not familiar with. Kent Smith?

This is not a great movie. It is, however, a good one.

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Re: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Postby JackFavell » July 31st, 2011, 7:15 pm

I make fun of Kent Smith often, especially in Cat People and the sequel, where his white bread expectations of normalcy come off as almost delusional.

But I have seen him give some good performances, most notably in This Land is Mine, directed by Jean Renoir. Renoir left all that bland on the cutting room floor somehow, and got a great performance out of Smith.

I'll have to check out TDDC, which is available at Netflix, though not for streaming.

I love how you found the movie!

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Re: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Postby moira finnie » August 1st, 2011, 9:42 am

I love Kent Smith's lack of affect after he is drawn into the mob--especially when he shows up in Palm Springs with some bad news to deliver. Smith more than holds his own with more flamboyant performers such as Crawford, David Brian and Steve Cochran. He even tries to talk reason to his psycho boss:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4X2jWO7dzY[/youtube]
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Re: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Postby JackFavell » August 1st, 2011, 10:18 am

Hey, he's good! I'm renting this!

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Re: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Postby RedRiver » August 1st, 2011, 4:04 pm

Just look for the horse!

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Re: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Postby moira finnie » August 1st, 2011, 4:44 pm

JackFavell wrote:Hey, he's good! I'm renting this!

Don't miss the scene when Kent Smith shows up wearing sunglasses--it's as though Mr. Freeze has arrived in the desert. It's a very enjoyable movie with terrific black and white cinematography by the great Ted McCord.
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Re: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Postby JackFavell » August 1st, 2011, 5:15 pm

OK! It's at the top of my Netflix queue.... now if I can only remember to send back my last watched movie.


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