The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The Damned Don't Cry (1950) is a flashback rags-to-riches-lousy husband woman in the workplace corporate gangland crime kingpin's moll film noir, with Joan Crawford and David Brian, as well as a career highlight from noir superstar Steve Cochran

With Joan Crawford and an incredible four husbands in one movie, there are questions galore in the damned darkness of The Damned Don't Cry (1950).

Joan Crawford's character starts with a husband that she does not rate, even though it is Richard Egan. But he's too controlling and penny-pinching for her, and she is a film noir hero for whom enough is not enough.

Rephrasing that, this is a common enough film noir lesson: you are not satisfied with your mediocre and quotidian suburban working life, or as in this case, a rather blue collar existence on an oilfield.

As a result you break out into noir adventure, where there is money, there is murder, there are bars and cars, and there are dangerous men and women, and you become over-involved and ruined, and the good life you craved appears to be dangerous, criminal and the cause of much unhappiness.

Desert noir in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

This is the tale of noir and its morality. It's a chance collision of two very different capitalist modes, in which a cog becomes a wheel, and becomes rich and somehow corrupted by the circumstance.

What is the story of Joan Crawford's character and her multiple romances? I cannot think of a film in which a male character has so many sexual partners as Joan Crawford does in The Damned Don't Cry (1950). There's the husband she doesn't rate, whom she leaves after a catastrophic family bereavement. The husband's miserabilist father is proved correct when he says: "she'll be back". For she is.

Luxury desert accommodation in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

But then, in moving to the city for work and after being dissed around like a jerk in shitty labour, she takes up a job as a model, and then with beauty as her trade, men are easy to come by, except that they are all criminal.

Criminal cinema with Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

This is the point when Joan Crawford falls for the criminal kingpin, played by David Brian. Brian and Crawford did play together more than once, and there is slight height difference between them, which doesn't make them such ideal screen characters. But he is good at ruthless and bluff, and she is good at hard and resiliently scheming distaff.

Morris Ankrum in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The Damned Don’t Cry is a film noir directed by Vincent Sherman, featuring Joan Crawford as Ethel Whitehead, a woman who reinvents herself amidst tragedy and rises through the high society/criminal underworld. The story unfolds through flashbacks, revealing Ethel’s transformation from a downtrodden housewife to a powerful figure in a corrupt world.

Children in noir in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Ethel’s journey begins with the death of her son, Tommy, which leads to the dissolution of her marriage. She moves to New York City, starting as a clerk and model, and gradually ascends the social ladder. Ethel’s character challenges traditional gender roles, as she leaves her family and adopts a masculine approach to power and independence.

Richard Egan in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The film portrays a dark, bleak world where Ethel, now known as Lorna Hansen Forbes, navigates through wealth and crime. She becomes the mistress of gangster George Castleman, entering a life of luxury but also moral ambiguity. Ethel’s transformation is marked by her willingness to use her beauty and charm to achieve her goals, embodying a ‘lonely man’ trope typically reserved for male protagonists.

Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The Damned Don’t Cry rests easy on the long shelves of noir in a dark but delightful place, a constant black flame in the night of noir, a brief reel of proof of Joan Crawford’s star power, particularly highlighting her strengths during her mid-career. The film serves as a quintessential Crawford vehicle, offering her the opportunity to shine through a series of close-ups, dramatic costume transformations, and intense emotional scenes. Crawford’s character, Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes, transitions from a modest housewife to a sophisticated socialite, a journey accentuated by her commanding screen presence.

Morris Ankrum in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Richard Egan and Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The narrative initially sets up a traditional romantic triangle, with Crawford’s character caught between the honest but unexciting accountant Marty Blackford and the wealthy, charismatic mob boss George Castleman. However, the entry of Steve Cochran’s character, Nick Prenta, disrupts this dynamic, adding a layer of complexity and unpredictability to the plot.

Enter now the world of modelling in which model stands for various social sexual sins, as the model agency seems also to be a variety of pimping service, the clients of which appear to be local criminals.

The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Cochran’s portrayal of Prenta is particularly noteworthy for the handsome mock madness and careless criminal sleaze, attractive and ambitious, and as much a model for future cinematic criminal mis en scene as 1950 could display. Known for his rugged good looks and brooding presence, Cochran brings depth to the role of the noir gangster, infusing Nick with a mix of toughness and vulnerability. His performance is nuanced, offering a modern take on the archetype that stands in contrast to Crawford’s more established approach to her character.

Jaqueline deWit in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The film’s visual style complements Crawford’s performance, with scenes designed to emphasize her transformation and the power dynamics at play. Notably, the poolside scenes with Cochran showcase not only his physical appeal but also the film’s ability to convey character through setting and costume.

The birth of the office romance, here pictured, speaks further volumes in the battle for film noir courtship rights. Kent Smith here plays the nice guy in the office, and likely at some point the perfect marital material as he has charm, prospects, stability and a good enough sense of humour, despite the super safe personality.

This is not to be however and just as Kent Smith's character Martin Blackford is slowly corrupted by the money, so he becomes an impossible fit, just about to hold on to the wreckage in the sea of darkness that's about to swallow Joan Crawford's character. 

Non-resistible office romance with Joan Crawford and Kent Smith in
The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Ethel’s relationships are complex and strategic. She befriends Martin Blackford, an accountant, and manipulates him to further her ambitions. Her interactions with Martin and other characters highlight the film’s exploration of themes such as self-respect, ambition, and the harsh realities of striving for success in a ruthless world.

Kent Smith, Hugh Sanders and Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The real-life actual factual down to earth and up in the sky lobby cards and associated advertisements for this movie contrived the following words of mash-up sales recommendation in order to interest you in this darkest of noir arts film production:

Warner Bros.' Flaming Stars of 'Flamingo Road' Meet in Scarlet Shadows Again!

Warner Bros.' flaming stars of "Flamingo Road" meet in another scarlet alley!

"Call me CHEAP?" Nothing's Cheap When You Pay the Price She's Paying!

Racket Queen Fronts for Crime Syndicate - Mobsters Battle for Crooked Empire

New Warner Bros. Dramatic Smash

She's the Private Lady of a Public Enemy!

Kent Smith and David Brian in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The climax of the film involves Ethel’s entanglement with another gangster, Nick Prenta, and the violent consequences of her actions. Castleman’s paranoia and aggression lead to a brutal confrontation, showcasing the film’s noir elements and the high stakes of Ethel’s double life.

By this stage it could be argued that Joan's character is Ethel is all but dead, all but a husk of a body of a person, unwillingly in the fourth set of male arms, in a round of relationships that are largely abusive, excepting the one she sets up with the charming not-to-be played by Kent Smith.

There is an odd lack of questioning around promiscuity in this film, which states that multiple partners of women are somehow not to be noticed, perhaps on the men-propose and 

Steve Cochran's criminal portrayal of the quite and violent and considered and charming and vitally nasty gang kingpin Nick Prenta is something of an early noir gangland blueprint for the type of mobster who'd remain at the centre of attention for decades, here pulling one of the famous faces of crime as he meets the new guy, played by Kent Smith, while clearly being an existential threat to his boss, played by David Brian.

David Brian in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)
Steve Cochran in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Truthfully, The Damned Don't Cry (1950) is the type of lesser known and yet semantically or semiotically rich film noir story that keeps on giving. A book could as readily be written about The Damned Don't Cry (1950) as it might be about a great and classic noir. But often the detail lies in the more blatantly exploitative and less careful additions to the style.

The Damned Don't Cry (1950) is one such rough movie. Observe as Joan Crawford achieves her career dream of meeting that rich and influential husband. Observe how she appears and approaches and observe that the first thing he does is quite literarily de-flower her. In these actions David Brian as the gangster speaks and acts for all men, if the romance game is to be played this way. And which way is that? Neither of the couple appear to be in this for the other party, and certainly not for love. It's almost a marriage of commercial convenience, a case of who wants what and gets it. 

Joan Crawford and David Brian in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

New 1950s gambling den in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Kent Smith as the nice guy turned criminal accomplice in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Lady meets the men in a smoke filled gangster's lair in
The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

David Brian and Kent Smith in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The term femme fatale in the context of the film noir style is not just somewhat overused but something of an ill-defined quantity. OK it's for women, but what type of woman?

All of which of course framed in a flashback, brings the fantastic element to the fore of this compelling and packed film noir. The fantastic element lies within the flashback framing to begin with. What better experience than to be framed by the darkness of the cinema, within which the flashback narrative framing, as most famously employed in the early Modern period by Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, takes those viewers to a remove within a remove, where many things and any things can be explored to the deadly hilt.

As an object lesson of dark and dreaming fantastic social mobility, as opposed to the mundane fact of social immobility, common to this new era of Capitalism, The Damned Don’t Cry is a gritty narrative that examines the lengths to which a person will go to escape poverty and seize control of their destiny, even at the cost of their morality and relationships. 

There is more lost than just that though, because this is the exact fantastic storyline needful of the style, as the quotidian is dropped for a more complex and dangerous and fast lived and short lived exciting lawless life. Film noir plays that lack of law, the rules of courtship and engagement and business and fidelity, and revenge, and social mobility are all anarchically up for grabs, as they might be in the pure and Platonic notion of  North America itself. 

Joan Crawford’s performance as Ethel/Lorna is a study in the complexities of power, gender, and survival in a world that offers limited choices to women. The film’s cinematography, wardrobe, and performances contribute to its status as a classic of the noir genre.

The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

The damned don't cry for the very reason of their noirish damnation, there is nothing to cry and no tears available for the evilly bound, the weak, those who have been tempted and succumbed, those who have given up ion the good of Americana, even if that good is but a mere blue collar oil derrick job and a crummy home to clean.

Joan Crawford's character leaves this all behind to become the damned. She arrives in the city to become an independent woman, but her only skill is cleaning houses, which she does not want to do. It's this that then obliges her and tempts her into modelling, also known in this business as prostitution, using what this society makes and takes of a woman, and it begins her rise, or perhaps it is her descent. Gender fates are likewise for the damned, and as the title suggests, nobody cries because they are spent husks of folk, emotion and energy drained, waiting to be rubbed out by a bullet or other quick death.

The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Directed by Vincent Sherman

Genres - Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Film Noir  |   Run Time - 103 min.

The merest of encounters but this Joan Crawford dodging a vacuum cleaner in film noir in
The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

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