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DAMNED DON’T CRY, THE (director: Vincent Sherman; screenwriters: Harold Medford/Jerome Weidman/story by Gertrude Walker; cinematographer: Ted D. McCord; editor: Rudi Fehr; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: Joan Crawford (Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes), David Brian (George Castleman/Joe Cavany), Steve Cochran (Nick Prenta), Kent Smith (Martin Blackford), Hugh Sanders (Grady), Selena Royle (Patricia Longworth), Morris Ankrum (Jim Whitehead), Edith Evanson (Mrs. Castleman), Richard Egan (Roy Whitehead), Sara Perry (Mrs. Whitehead), Jimmy Moss (Tommy Whitehead), Eddie Marr (Wally Talbot), Jacqueline De Wit (Sandra); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jerry Wald; Warner Brothers; 1950)
“Joan Crawford gives a solid performance as the gangster’s moll who discovers when it’s too late that she took the wrong path.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dreary crime drama following the formula of Flamingo Road, which also starred Joan Crawford. It is efficiently directed by Vincent Sherman; the screenwriters Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman base the melodrama on a story by Gertrude Walker.

Ethel Whitehead (Joan Crawford) is in a loveless marriage with her poor working-class husband Roy, who has no ambition to rise above his circumstances. The marriage dissolves when their 6-year-old son Tom gets accidentally run over by a car. Ethel heads for the Big Apple, where she uses her smarts and good looks to move from the job of a store clerk to that of a model for a chintzy fashion house wholesaler. Sandra, a model in the same place, clues the ambitious Ethel into accepting expensive dates with businessmen representing the firm. At a restaurant owned by Grady, one of Ethel’s dates, a CPA named Martin Blackford (Kent Smith), turns out to be a nice-guy but is only a low-paid working stiff. With Ethel’s prodding, Martin moonlights as Grady’s accountant and soon the naive accountant does such a good job that as a result he gets a pile of work through recommendations. But Martin’s dissatisfied because all the new clients are gangster types running legit operations as fronts, but he stays with it because he’s fallen in love with Ethel and realizes that is what she wants. When Ethel discovers the crime-boss of the syndicate is George Castleman (David Brian), she ingratiates herself with him and soon spurns Martin to become the married gangster’s moll. The sophisticated but sinister Castleman, once a bootlegger thug by the name of Joe Cavany, takes Ethel into his confidence and finances her transformation into a society lady as she takes the name Lorna Hansen Forbes and palms herself off as a Texas oil heiress.

When Castleman suspects that the head of the West Coast operation for the syndicate, Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran), killed his operative Grady and is planning something fishy, he orders Lorna and her best friend/mentor Patricia to go to the West Coast and for Lorna to ingratiate herself with Nick and supply him with information about his movements. But Lorna has become disappointed that Castleman only thinks of her as an investment and despite her misgivings falls in love with Nick, failing to keep the boss informed. Things pick up in intensity when Castleman and Martin, now the well-oiled top bookkeeper for the syndicate, pay her a surprise visit.

All Ethel ever wanted was a life better than her oppressive economic existence, but her blind ambition led her into the dark cycle of a noir world that she couldn’t get off even if she wanted to. Ethel can only see the world as divided between the ‘haves’ who take whatever they want and the ‘have-nots’ who are honest but always poor. Her sudden downfall comes when she is asked to get her hands dirty in a murder, something that she can’t do without feeling plagued by guilt. At that point she realizes that she has miscalculated what she stands for and has been given a jolting life lesson about how corrupt her life has really become.

There are more elements that suggest it is a romantic tragedy rather than a noir tale. The saddened heroine finds herself disillusioned with both romance and herself, which is not exactly the way a noir protagonist (always a romantic, no matter the circumstances) would ever react.

Joan Crawford gives a solid performance as the gangster’s moll who discovers when it’s too late that she took the wrong path. In the last scene she returns in a mink coat to her poor parents’ house hiding from a pursuing Castleman, who aims to kill her for betraying him. The rich lady is now just as out-of-place in her birthplace as when growing up poor.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”