In the desert of California, land surveyors come upon the dead body of a notorious racketeer; with no clues immediately available, detectives look into the man's home movies, which reveal that he was somehow connected to Texas oil heiress, Lorna Hanson Forbes (Joan Crawford). A visit to Miss Forbes' home reveals blood on the carpet of her empty house, and not sure whether that means she, too, was slain, the authorities begin an active search for her. Meanwhile, in another part of the city, the missing woman is reflecting on how she came to find herself on the run.
After her young son is killed while riding the bicycle she insisted he be given, money-hungry Ethel Whitehead (as Lorna was known then) sees no reason to stay with the husband she doesn't love. Tired of scraping and penny-pinching, yet barely getting by, Ethel wants more out of life and moves to New York where she begins a modeling career. In addition to modeling dresses, Ethel entertains her boss's out of town buyers by taking them to Grady's, a local gambling establishment.
Grady's is only a small part of a much larger operation of illegal activities---narcotics, prostitution, and gambling are all part of the business of George Castleman (David Brian), and Ethel, anxious to make up for all the lean years, soon gets involved with him. At Castleman's suggestion, Ethel invents an impressive past and takes on the grand socialite-sounding name of Lorna Hanson Forbes. Now the mistress of the wealthy, powerful Castleman, Lorna is privy to many of his business dealings, so when it appears to Castleman that his associate Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran) is double-crossing him, he sends Lorna/Ethel to seduce the man and discover what he is up to.
With Castleman's promise to be free when she returns, Ethel/Lorna sets out for California and quickly puts her plan into motion. What she didn't count on, though, was falling for Nick. Suddenly, she doesn't want to report his disloyalty to Castleman, but when reports from Lorna aren't forthcoming, the big man decides to investigate for himself. Will he find out that Nick intends to doublecross him? Will he realize that Lorna is in love with Nick? And what about the honest CPA (Kent Smith), who the flirtatious Lorna led right into the lion's den of criminal activity? And just which one of these men is the one thrown into the California desert? How it all plays out is the balance of the film.
The Damned Don't Cry is a very interesting, exciting, suspenseful film. Each one of the stars----Crawford, Brian, Smith, and Cochran---was great in their part. While Joan, at 44, may have been a trifle old to be playing the femme fatale role, that didn't matter to me. I thought her performance was believable, and even if a younger woman would have been more appropriate for the seduction of Steve Cochran (who was 33 here), I think Joan played the part perfectly. I thought she was fantastic...as was Cochran. He was his usual wonderful, sleazy self. David Brian, as the brutal crime boss, was terrific as well. The exciting storyline, coupled with the great acting, makes this a very solid 4-star film for me. The only negative I have is that everything seemed to wrap up too quickly, making the ending a bit abrupt.
The film is out on DVD as part of the Joan Crawford Collection. Other titles in that 5-volume collection are The Women, Possessed, Mildred Pierce, and Humoresque. Fans of Miss Crawford ought to really enjoy this film.