Second Looks is a series in which I re-watch a classic I haven’t seen in a few years, analyzing it with a fresh pair of eyes. Today I’ll be taking a look at The Damned Don’t Cry, starring Joan Crawford. Previous posts in this series can be found in the archives.
Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran), a notorious gangster, has been murdered. One suspect in his death is Lorna Hansen Forbes (Joan Crawford), a mysterious woman who disappeared before investigators could get in contact with her. The police are able to find no information about her, as she appears to have been living under an assumed name.
Through the power of movie magic, the audience gets some insight that the police can’t get: a flashback to the woman’s past. As it turns out, her real name is Ethel, and she’s had a tough go of it. Her secrets include an impoverished childhood and a tragically failed marriage.
After that marriage ended, she was determined to make a better life for herself, and found that the only way to do so was to take advantage of her feminine charms. One smarmy suitor at a time, she worked her way up to the top of high society — and the top of a nationwide crime ring.
Vincent Sherman directs 1950’s The Damned Don’t Cry. The screenplay was written by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman from the story “Case History” by Gertrude Walker. IMDb also lists Joan Crawford as an uncredited contributor to the script.
The Damned Don’t Cry has a great script. The story is engrossing — much more engrossing than I remembered from my first watch of the film a few years ago. I enjoyed the film the first time around, enough to purchase it when I came across a moderately-priced used copy at my favorite record shop, but I don’t remember feeling quite so involved in the story as I did on second watch. The pace is fast and the film is full of drama.
There’s also lots of snappy dialogue from Crawford. After Ethel leaves her husband and begins her journey up the social ladder, she becomes a very witty, hard-boiled dame. This is the type of character many people associate Joan with, and for good reason: she’s a perfect fit for the role.
“Don’t talk to me about self-respect. That’s something you tell yourself you’ve got when you’ve got nothing else. What kind of self-respect is there in living on aspirin tablets and chicken salad sandwiches? Look, Marty. The only thing that counts is that stuff you take to the bank. That filthy buck that everybody sneers at, but slugs to get.” – Ethel
Steve Cochran’s performance is also great. His scenes with Crawford are some of the film’s strongest, especially their big confrontation over how he treats his enemies.
As if a great story and top-notch performances weren’t enough, the film’s cinematography is also wonderful. I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing me rave about shadows, but… those shadows! The film has been very well-preserved and is just a stunning black and white picture.
The Damned Don’t Cry is yet another wonderful entry into the filmography of Joan Crawford. I liked the film the first time I watched it, and I appreciate it even more after taking a second look.