The Damned Don't Cry

The Damned Don't Cry - Released May 7, 1950. Directed by Vincent Sherman

The 'Damned Don't Cry,' but Joan Crawford does in this 123 minute updating of the common early 30's pre-code story in which a beautiful young woman packs up her hard-won knowledge from the school of hard knocks and sets out for the city to build a fortune over whatever body (usually male) that gets in the way.

Director Vincent Sherman repackages this hard-luck melodrama into a noir action / gangster film, speeding things along as Joan (who was 44 years old during the shoot, but doesn't look forty-four. On the other hand she doesn't look like a young mother either) hurtles from the poverty of an oil derrick town, with derricks so close they seem to be sprouting from the homes themselves, and then into New York City.


Why is Joan (as Ethel Whitehead) doing this? It's part of an effort to forget the death of her young son and to get something better out of life than the drudgery of being a housewife. The man she was married to seems so claustrophobicly defeated by his own existence he was primarily devoted to maintaining his life insurance policy, and to color the picture a bit darker, seemed to be on the verge of beating Joan/Ethel throughout their conversation (he is in the film rather briefly). Also left behind are Ethel Whitehead's parents, two old people, the mother a lifetime veteran of housewifing, and her father who says the same self-defeated things that the ex-husband did.

The useful men she finds in the city are principally three: the pathological mob leader George Castleman (played by David Brian), junior mobster Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran) and especially the ethically compromised accountant-CPA Martin Blackford (Kent Smith).

The Accountant CPA is a stepping stone to better things, a bridge to Joan/Ethel getting closer to king mobster Castleman. Once that is established (and Castleman sees the possibilities in the relationship) he finances a completely new identity for Ethel, morphing her into socialite "Lorna Hansen Forbes," and having her sent across Europe to be trained on how to behave and conduct herself as a wealthy woman with three names. Ethel doesn't realize it, but she is also being refashioned into a handy tool for Castleman for when he needs an attractive woman to pressure other men for information.

Even though she is now the glamorous L.H.F., Kent Smith's CPA character keeps right on calling her Ethel, regardless. He eventually becomes Castleman's right-hand man, the only member of the gang able to keep Castleman's prodigious temper from going completely off the rails, an activity that the CPA seems to be doing primarily to try and protect Ethel/Lorna. Why he persists in this isn't explored in this script by Harold Medford, Jerome Weidman, Gertrude Walker, (and uncredited, Crawford).

Joan (Ethel/Lorna) thinks all this expenditure on making her into a new person is a form of love, but Castleman doesn't actually know what love is unless it involves money and power (or, creepily hinted at, his mother). The truth about the situation finally dawns upon Ethel/Lorna when she is assigned the task of ferreting out secret information from junior-gangster Nick Prenta, and instructed to go to whatever lengths necessary.

Of course, she goes too far and falls in love with the likeable Prenta. He operates out of Las Vegas, and is worrying Castleman in that Prenta has lately been too uppity and might be planning a revolution within Castleman's tidy empire of corruption. (Prenta is also in some ways an almost mirror image of Ethel/Lorna.)

The Film

The damned don't cry, and crime doesn't pay, but Joan will have time to ponder all this when everything gets turned upside down and she ends up back amid the oil derricks with her long-suffering Mom and Dad, laying on her old bed and worrying about when Castleman will find her again. And then the CPA shows up at her parent's door...

Sherman's direction keeps the story rolling at a high rate of speed, and Crawford gets to play the sort of character (and she does it expertly) that was part and parcel of the pre-code era, but was a much rarer bird by 1950. Soaked in thick melodrama with gangster activity mixed in, that is, gun fights and a brutal beating delivered to Joan/Ethel/Lorna by Castleman, creating the astonishing unique spectacle of a Hollywood glamour star being shown on screen with facial bruises. Sherman and Crawford mix up the established formulas with The Damned Don't Cry, an unusual Hollywood hybrid.

The Damned Don't Cry was made on a budget at Warner Bros of approximately $1.3 million, and worldwide receipt returns were $2.3 million.

Joan Crawford Films

Tramp Tramp Tramp - 1926

Sadie McKee - 1934

The Women - 1939

Strange Cargo - 1940

A Woman's Face - 1941

Flamingo Road - 1949

The Damned Don't Cry - 1950

Sudden Fear - 1952

Original Page December 2015

What's Recent