The story, which is told primarily in flashback (ala a Citizen Kane-esque non-linear plot) follows Ethel Whitehead, who leaves her husband, parents and lower-class life after her son is killed when struck by a truck. Locations are vague in the story, but it seems she takes off for the east coast where she works at a magazine stand until a customer notices her nice legs and gives her a job modeling clothes. That job, however, comes with a secondary occupation: She and another model are given a cut every time they steer clients to the back-room gambling set up at a restaurant where they entertain male customers. This activity eventually morphs Ethel’s personality to a more saucy conniving one.
Looking to land a wealthy beau, Ethel puts the moves on a CPA who does the clothing agency’s books but quickly learns he earns very little. She arranges for him to take on a well-paying client in the form of the owner of that restaurant with the shady back room. She gets a cut of that deal also. Things get rough, however, when that CPA, Martin (Kent Smith), is talked into running the books for the national racket that runs the gambling operation. In the scheme of things, the national boss, George (David Brian), takes a liking to Ethel and offers her the world.
Part of that world is changing her name and social status to that of Lorna Forbes, widowed oil heiress. Things are fine and dandy living off the married George’s good graces until he asks her to do a job: confirm the west coast racketeer is plotting against the organization so George can take him out with a clean conscience. Too bad that west-coast guy, Nick (Steve Cochran), is so handsome and sweet…
What impressed me with Crawford in The Damned Don’t Cry is that she moves through three different personalities. Although she finally ends on the persona she conveys in just about every movie from this portion of her career, she does not start that way. She looks plain to begin with dull clothes and pale lipstick and speaks in a less refined tone and with poor grammar. After moving into the modeling business where men are constantly hitting on her, Ethel becomes a sass-mouthed, forward woman with an unbecoming vocabulary before dissolving into a high society dame.
I have always noticed that Crawford had particularly expressive eyes. At the end of her career they provided more of a freaky look, but in The Damned Don’t Cry those wide eyes drill into men’s soul’s, particularly that of the lady-eyed David Brian.