Question. Has anyone ever filled a movie screen with cigarette smoke more authoritatively than Joan Crawford (see above)?

Hello, everybody.  Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to celebrate the ways audience can escape its quotidien woes by watching a darn good (and often unheralded) film.

And if it happens to star a furiously puffing Crawford, so much the better.

One of Joe’s favorites is Warner Bros.’ 1950 noirish drama, The Damned Don’t Cry, starring Crawford who here is assisted by Steve Cochran and Kent Smith (he’s the match-holding guy above). Joe was pleasantly surprised that the movie was one of the top box office hits the year it came out.

Kent Smith, it should be noted, made a career out of playing plain vanilla types, but in two marvelous RKO titles produced by Val Lewton — 1942′ Cat People, directed beautifully by Jacques Tourneur, and the film’s sequel, 1944’s The Curse of the Cat People — he turns in excellent performances as a concerned husband (in the first) and loving husband-father (in the second).

In any event, we can think of few better films than The Damned Don’t Cry as unadulterated escapist entertainment.

Crawford plays an ambitious woman of uncertain backround (which generally means, poor) who dumps her tightwad husband (Richard Egan) to take up — after several sexy stops along the way — with a syndicate boss (played smoothly by David Brian). The plot is said to be based on the actual antics of notorious mobster Bugsy Siegel and moll Virginia Hill.

Today we’ve invited the following contribution from Classic Movie Chat pal Kurt Niece — novelist (2008’s The Breath of Rapture published by Eloquent Books), entertainment columnist, academic and jewelry designer — with these thoughts on Damned and on escaping through the movies.

The Damned Don’t Cry —  by Kurt Niece

What goes around comes around.

Busby Berkley and 1930’s glam prospered from the public’s need to escape. The country had a serious financial hangover. Jobs were scarce and prospects were grim. Sound familiar?

But escapism, like most everything else, just ain’t what it used to be. It’s feels harder to get away. Don’t like violence? Repelled by greed? Weary by Nihilism? You may have to re-think escaping to the movie theater.

But wait… Is that really fair? Have movies changed all that much? Last night I watched, The Damned Don’t Cry, a 1950 rags to riches to rags story directed by Vincent Sherman and starring the radiant Joan Crawford.

It has plenty of violence, greed and nihilistic defeatism. Yet arguably, it was still an escape from the horrors of 2012.

An overwrought musical score, lighting crazed with foreboding innuendo, caffeinated directing: all contributed to a safe, comfortable place to pull the cinematic sheets over my head and make the world go away, at least for a while.

Besides, when was the last time you heard someone say,  I don’t care for orchids in the afternoon? as did Joan Crawford when she spurned the flowers and advances of a mobster suitor.

Much like “Release the Kraken!” those are words that everyone should be able to utter at least once in their lives. And when did you last hear “mobster”? That’s such a refreshing break from thugs, gangstas, gangs and cartels.

But back to escapism: what is it that makes classic, older black and white films so…escapy?

Perhaps it’s the lack of blood and gore splatter if someone is shot. Perhaps it’s the sexual stereotyping, unhealthy as butter and sugar but just as comforting to those struggling to keep up with the latest politically correct pronouncement.

Perhaps it’s the directness of the verbal dialog and blatant over-acted facial expressions. Perhaps it’s the myth of simpler times. And finally, why did the director choose to reflect three lights in everyone’s eyes but Joan Crawford’s?

She generally sported a single light glistening in her wide, moist eyes. Inquiring minds want to know, that is when those minds aren’t preoccupied with the need to escape.

The Damned Don’t Cry is a blessed 103 minutes respite, and I dare you to think of Afghanistan, crooked bankers and bat crap crazy politicians once in that one hour and 43 minute getaway.

Thanks, Kurt.

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