Friday, May 25, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Damned Don't Cry (1950) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Tonight it was back to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for one more evening of the series The Sun Sets in the West: Mid-Century California Noir.

Last weekend's excellent movies, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962) and CRISS CROSS (1949), were followed up tonight by two more very entertaining films, THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950) and SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956). (SLIGHTLY SCARLET is reviewed here.)

Vincent Sherman directed THE DAMNED DON'T CRY, and it was a nice surprise when the evening started off with the announcement that his son Eric was there to introduce the film. Among other things, Eric acknowledged that his father had a fling with star Joan Crawford while making the movie. He also mentioned that Jerome Weidman's original script was 300 (!) pages long, then compressed down to manageable size by Harold Medford. The inspiration for the film was a Gertrude Walker story titled "Case History."

THE DAMNED DON'T CRY is a cross between a "woman's picture" and film noir, in the style of THE HARD WAY (1943) and Crawford's own MILDRED PIERCE (1945). It's the rags to riches tale of Ethel Whitehead (Crawford), a poor, beaten-down housewife who after a tragedy decides to dump her husband (Richard Egan, in one of his first roles) and -- after briefly teaming with CPA Marty Blankford (Kent Smith) on her move up -- eventually transforms herself into elegant Lorna Hansen Forbes, an "oil heiress" who is the mistress of mobster George Castleman (David Brian).

Lorna's life grows very complicated when Castleman sends her to "Desert Springs," California with a mission: to ingratiate herself with and spy on Castleman's underling, Nick (Steve Cochran), who Castleman suspects is plotting against him. Lorna initially finds the job distasteful, but then she starts to fall for Nick for real. If she tells Castleman the truth about Nick, Nick's a dead man, and things won't look too good for her either if Castleman realizes she's lied or figures out she's in love with Nick.

This is your typical engrossing Crawford melodrama, with noirish shadows and guns mixed in, plus a dash of Palm Springs. It was a good watch from start to finish, though I thought the surprisingly light final seconds of this 103-minute film wimped out just a bit from what I was expecting. I don't really understand why all the male characters find Crawford so incredibly attractive, but needless to say, she has a very compelling personality, which is why she was a star for decades.

As for the male actors, I would have liked it if there had been a lot less of David Brian and Kent Smith and a whole lot more of Steve Cochran, who first really came to my attention earlier this year in TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951). Cochran is incredibly handsome and very charismatic, while Smith (NORA PRENTISS) is just a nice-guy wimp and Brian is okay, but not someone I particularly enjoy. Cochran really helps make the movie as worthwhile as it is.

Also registering strongly is Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, who sponsors "Lorna's" entrance into high society. The cast also includes Hugh Sanders, Jacqueline deWit, Edith Evanson, and Jimmy Moss. Morris Ankrum wears a little too much makeup to disguise the fact that he's only a handful of years older than his movie "daughter," Crawford. I've got to take another look at this someday, as I apparently missed Bess Flowers as -- what else? -- a nightclub patron.

The Desert Springs sequences were filmed in Palm Springs, which is how the film came to be included in the museum's series on "mid-century California noir." As a matter of fact, the exteriors for Nick's house were shot at Frank Sinatra's home, built in 1947. The estate was known as Twin Palms, and there are some great shots of it, as used in the movie, here.

This movie is available on DVD in The Joan Crawford Collection or as a single-title purchase. It can also be rented for viewing on Amazon Instant Video. (March 2018 Update: This film is being reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive in April 2018.)

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. TCM has the opening sequence available on line.

May 2017 Update: I've posted a couple photos of the Twin Palms Estate, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.


Blogger grandoldmovies said...

This is a fascinating little noir, rather unusual in its focus on how the heroine undergoes so many changes - from down-and-out housewife to hard-boiled dame to gangster's mistress to high-society matron. The scene where David Brian slaps Crawford around is surprisingly brutal for the era. Brian was also in Flamingo Road and This Woman is Dangerous with Crawford. I agree that he's not a particularly compelling screen presence; maybe Crawford liked working with him because he didn't upstage her?

1:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi! Eric Sherman also mentioned the scene you refer to, where Brian beats Crawford, saying that the actors' commitment to the scene was extremely impressive. I'm very interested in both the films you mention, as the casts include Zachary Scott and Dennis Morgan, respectively; I always enjoy them.

You may well be right about David Brian!

Thanks for sharing your feedback on a good movie!

Best wishes,

3:54 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I too like Steve Cochran who is also good in COME NEXT SPRING and PRIVATE HELL 36.
I also like David Brian who was usually the heavy but ended up the good guy with Joan in FLAMINGO ROAD.
David also did well in the Randolph Scott western FORT WORTH

1:02 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

This is a serious story given an effective but over the top treatment. The characters are all based on actual figures of organized crime. Crawford's on Virginia Hill, David Brian on Frank Costello/Joe Adonis and Steve Cochran on Bugsy Siegel. In fact, Cochran is a dead ringer for Siegel. Oh, and the Kent Smith character is based on a gay mob bookkeeper. Worth researching for further detail.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, a belated thank you for your Cochran and Brian recommendations! I enjoyed Cochran earlier this year in WHITE HEAT.

Barrylane, thanks for that very interesting background. In the time since seeing the film at LACMA I bought the Warner Archive DVD, and I'll definitely be taking another look at this film; it would be fun to do more background reading prior to that.

Best wishes,

8:56 PM  

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