Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

“Nobody cares about yourself except yourself.”

Ok, so I actually watched this several months ago, but I saved my notes so I could write about it during my favorite film-themed month.  So my memories aren’t as fresh on details.  Instead, I’ll just point out some of the more memorable highlights I can still recall.

First, like any good noir, the film is told in flashback format.  This is a character looking backwards, trying to chart the twisted path that led her here.  Joan Crawford is spectacular in this role, which give her a great arc to travel through as a performer.  Not only is she the femme fatale of the story, but by a miracle of storytelling arts, she is also the antihero protagonist.

The story recounts her life journey from a poor, simple oilman’s wife to a grasping gold digger, to a refined and elegant but deadly grand dame, and back to a poor unknown, a forgotten and unnoticed woman once again.  Her upward journey is incited by an act of fate - “God’s will” as her strictly religious father puts it.  She is happy with her humble marriage and healthy young son until on a whim she buys a bicycle for him with money she doesn’t really have, only to have him killed in an accident, and her husband turn on her, her family cast her off to find her own way.

Embittered, she fights against a system that is rigged against her success, battling her way to wealth and ease by any means at her disposal.  but as her success increases, it is slowly seen that it is not simply a desire for her “fair share” of “the good life,” but an ambitious greed that drives her on, and ultimately drags her back down into to abyss, as her social climbing and the criminal enterprises she uses to pay for it get her tangled up with the mob.

The script, by Harold Medford from a story Gertrude Walker, is ripe with great pulpy noir dialogue that oozes the post-war cynicism that gives noir a healthy portion of its appeal.  The film is directed by Vincent Sherman with appropriate sense of weight and drama, and scored by Daniele Amfitheatrof, with several popular tunes woven into the mix to appropriately punctuate the scenes they accompany.  I couldn’t verify it, but I thought I caught strains of the Victor Herbert melody “Temptation,” which also happened to be the name of the perfume Crawford’s character uses.  Little touches like this added a great deal to the overall effect of the picture.

Supporting Crawford’s performance is an excellent cast, which includes Steve Cochran at his roughest and most brutal, David Brian as an unusual and nuanced mob boss with a soft spot for his mother, and Kent Smith in one of his best roles as an untouchable CPA, an honest joe who’s satisfied with his life’s work and can’t be bought by any of Crawford’s many offers. Selena Royle also puts in a good show as David Brian’s senile mother.

It was an interesting and dramatic choice to have Crawford’s one noble deed in the story be to accept punishment in order to save Kent Smith’s character when the law pins him for the crime she tries to get him to do for her. That the ending lets her live may be a bit of a cop-out, but on the whole this is top-shelf noir, and one of Crawford’s best performances.

**** out of 5

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