This is my contribution to the Joan Crawford Blogathon, hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Please do visit and read the other postings, covering a great range of films.
In her mid-40s when The Damned Don’t Cry was made, Joan Crawford was just a little too old for the part of a gangster’s moll. Yet that’s just what makes this movie so compelling, as she pours herself one more time into the kind of working girl role she had made her own earlier in her career. Although the film is often described as a noir, in some ways it is a successor of pre-Codes like Baby Face. Just like Barbara Stanwyck’s character in that film, Crawford here has nothing but her looks and her wits, and uses them to climb from one man to another, taking revenge on a world which has wronged her.
At the start of the film, a gangster’s body is thrown out of a car. Police start to search for a missing socialite linked with the dead man, Lorna Hansen Forbes, only to discover that her name and her whole lifestyle appear to be fake. Where did she come from? As they try to find out, Lorna (Crawford) turns up at the poor shack where her parents live. Her mother greets her as “Ethel”, but her father coldly ignores her.
I’ve been getting increasingly interested in the Barrymores recently and watching a lot of their films, so I want to write about some more of them here. Glossy drama Grand Hotel is one of three films made in 1932 which starred brothers John and Lionel together – the others were Arsene Lupin, which I have seen but only in almost unwatchable bootleg form, and spectacular historical epic Rasputin and the Empress, also starring sister Ethel.
By far the greatest of these three is Grand Hotel, a breathtaking MGM drama – and one of the first films to boast an all-star cast. Greta Garbo got top billing, with her name given in the cast list simply as “Garbo”, while the two Barrymores, Wallace Beery and Joan Crawford were the other big star names. The film had a huge budget for the time, estimated at 700,000 dollars, and was a smash hit – one of the special features on the Warner DVD, which is included in a Joan Crawford box set, shows excited crowds turning up for the premiere and breaking through a police cordon to swarm towards their favourite stars.
If you like either William Wellman or Loretta Young, I’m prepared to bet you would love this dazzling pre-Code film. Made at MGM, it blends that studio’s sexy glamour with Warner-style grit, and moves at a cracking pace to cram so much into just 74 minutes, with fast, witty dialogue and not a scene or a moment wasted.
I find myself grouping this one together with the slightly earlier film I’ve just reviewed, Frisco Jenny, since both are tales of women driven to murder, showing what took them to that point and culminating in the courtroom. (I also think of them together because they share a DVD in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 3 box set.) However, for me Midnight Mary is the more powerful movie of the two – and it is also more fun.
The main thing I have to say about this silent movie directed by William A Wellman is that, while it’s no great classic, it isn’t nearly as bad as Wellman himself made out. It’s also very interesting to watch for fans of his great silent movie Wings, as, even though this is a slapstick comedy, several elements of this film show the way forward to his First World War masterpiece, made the following year. The Boob has been released on DVD as part of the Warner Archive series (although it was made by MGM) and I’ve been lucky enough to see it, thanks to a kind friend.
Recently I’ve seen several films starring John Garfield, and been impressed by all of them. After seeing this fine drama where he plays a virtuoso violinist, I’m starting to wonder if he ever made a bad movie.
I was doubly interested by this film because it sees him opposite Joan Crawford, an actress whose work I want to know better. This is said to be one of her finest performances, and she actually gets top billing over Garfield, although he has more screen time, signalling that at heart this is a woman’s emotion picture.
John Garfield and Joan Crawford
Despite the title, which might sound as if this is a comedy, in fact it’s an intense melodrama, with a dark, noirish look about it, wreathed in shadows. However, what sets it apart from other melodramas I’ve seen is the sparklingly witty dialogue by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold, with plenty of lines to remember for later. Director Jean Negulesco, nominated for an Oscar a couple of years later for Johnny Belinda, was at the height of his powers, and, with great classical music on the soundtrack, it all adds up to a winning mixture.