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The murder of gangster Nick Prenta touches off an investigation of mysterious socialite Lorna Hansen Forbes, who seems to have no past, and has now disappeared. In flashback, we see the woman's anonymous roots; her poor working-class marriage, which ends in tragedy and her determination to find "better things." Soon finding that sex appeal is her only salable commodity, she climbs from man to man toward the center of a nationwide crime syndicate...a very perilous position.Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Joan Crawford: From Ethel Whitehead to Lorna Hansen Forbes
Joan Crawford once again follows the familiar trajectory from poverty and discontent to affluence and deeper discontent. It was a storyline that would win her an Oscar in her comeback vehicle Mildred Pierce and would serve as a template for many of the films in the post-war decade for which she is so strongly remembered. And while it's not the best of them it's derivative and overstuffed it's far from the worst.
When her young son is killed, greasy-skinned drudge Ethel Whitehead (Crawford) leaves her loveless marriage and her sour parents' house next to the oilfields to seek the good life. In New York, her stint as a `model' at Fit-Right Frocks toughens her up, particularly the evenings spent entertaining out-of-town buyers (`I feel like something on sale in the bargain basement,' she gripes). Her avaricious eye lands on the firm's bookish accountant (Kent Smith), whom she propels from the poor-paying straight-and-narrow to the fat fees of cooking books for the syndicate. She has no time for his moral qualms: `Don't talk to me about self-respect! Self-respect is what you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else.'
But she drops the doting Smith like a hot brick when she finally meets Mr. Big (David Brian), who likes her spunk but opens the window on her strident perfume Temptation (`I suppose it is...in some quarters,' he sniffs). He enrolls her in a kind of finishing school for high-class molls run by Selena Royle, even sending her abroad for a year so she can tell a flowerpot from an Etruscan `vahse.' Crawford emerges in `provocative' new guise, as oil heiress Lorna Hansen Forbes a phony clotheshorse who becomes Brian's mistress and the toast of the town.
When sedition brews in the western end of Brian's crime empire, however, he sends her out to the gambling oasis of Desert Springs to spy on Steve Cochran (playing much the same role of disloyal lieutenant he did the year before in White Heat). Crawford and Cochran, of course, fall victim to Cupid's arrows. But Brian, grown suspicious, pays an unexpected visit, while Crawford's cover is blown when she's spotted by somebody who knew her as Ethel Whitehead....
The Damned Don't Cry benefits from a frisky script which nonetheless could use some pruning (the hardscrabble first marriage and the child's death are unnecessary echoes of Mildred Pierce). And Warner's new leading man Brian stays as charmless against Crawford as he was the year before against Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest; both Smith and Cochran, however, supply some acting that's at least two-dimensional. It's a story that shows Crawford as tough but not unvanquishable. In fact, she gets knocked around more than she ever was or would be until she matched up against Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Or married Alfred Steele.)
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