Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Classic Films in Focus: BLANCHE FURY (1948)

Of all the films I have watched so far in the Criterion Channel's Gaslight Noir collection, Blanche Fury (1948) is the darkest, even though it's also the brightest thanks to its use of gorgeous Technicolor. This adaptation of the 1939 novel by Marjorie Bowen (under the pseudonym Joseph Shearing) employs many of the familiar elements of Victorian Gothic fiction, including the governess heroine and the upper class's obsessions with legitimacy and inheritance, but it has more in common with Wuthering Heights than Jane Eyre in the romance department, with doomed lovers who are both far from innocent in their desires. Without spoiling the ending too much, let me at least warn you that Blanche Fury is true noir in Victorian dress, and no happy endings should be expected for any of the central characters. That said, it's a fascinating example of the overlap between traditional Gothic and noir, with a complex anti-heroine whose better angels are as dangerous to her as her demons.

Valerie Hobson takes the lead as the title character, a penniless young woman named Blanche Fuller who changes her surname to Fury when she joins her wealthy uncle (Walter Fitzgerald) and his household as a governess to the uncle's granddaughter, Lavinia (Suzanne Gibbs). Soon Blanche is married to her cousin, Lawrence (Michael Gough), but also engaged in a passionate affair with Philip Thorn (Stewart Granger), the illegitimate son of the estate's previous owners, who is now reduced to a servant in his own childhood home. The embittered Philip is obsessed with reclaiming the property for himself, even to the point of plotting to murder everyone who stands in his way. When Philip decides that Lavinia is just another obstacle to his plans, Blanche must choose between the man she loves and the innocent stepchild she longs to protect.

Hobson nimbly walks the fine line required for Blanche, who possesses both good and bad qualities that dominate her nature at different times. We first see her as a Becky Sharp type of adventuress, chafing under her subservient role as a paid companion and eager to improve her situation through marriage to the weak-willed but unfeeling Lawrence. At the Fury estate, her immediate kindness to Lavinia softens her, and her courage in retrieving stolen horses proves her fortitude. What seems at first like mere carnal lust for Philip develops into real love, which makes her choices in the third act all the more difficult, and she evokes our sympathy even as we recognize her complicity in the events that have brought her so much suffering. In addition, Hobson looks divine in the costumes and elaborate hairstyles worn by Blanche, with a finely made face that conveys hatred, love, and grief equally well in her many closeups. As the title suggests, this story belongs to Blanche and therefore to Hobson, but Stewart Granger has fantastic energy as Philip that evokes shades of Wuthering Heights' Heathcliff in his intensity and dark, brooding sex appeal. Their scenes together don't really need the confirmation of a closing door to tell us the nature of their relationship, while doors repeatedly closing against Gough's character symbolize the contrasting coldness of Blanche's marriage to Lawrence.

The real darkness and noir mood of Blanche Fury stem from the relentless sense of fate bearing down over the unfolding events, starting with the opening scene, which is actually the end of the story being told. The legend of the fierce ape who defends the Fury name and fortune serves to remind us constantly that the current family are interlopers who have usurped both the name and estate from the biological - if not legal - heir, Philip. Fate, as embodied by the figure of the ape, will not spare any of the usurpers as it works to restore the line of the rightful owners. Blanche's uncle and husband are too dim to sense the doom that hangs over them, but Blanche and the old Italian nurse (Sybilla Binder) both feel it. Fate wields a Shakespearean level of power here, so much so that neither Blanche nor even Philip can be considered free agents; they are pulled by forces they cannot fathom or resist. Blanche attempts to moderate the scorched earth tactics of Fate, but like many noir protagonists she suffers more for her good actions than she does for her evil ones, and Fate still wins in the end. 

The Gaslight Noir collection includes two other movies adapted from novels by Marjorie Bowen: Moss Rose (1947) and So Evil My Love (1948). Her 1943 novel, Airing in a Closed Carriage, was adapted as The Mark of Cain (1947). Valerie Hobson also stars in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Great Expectations (1946), and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). See more of Stewart Granger in Scaramouche (1952), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), and Footsteps in the Fog (1955). If you enjoy melodramatic tales of governesses and forbidden love, try All This and Heaven Too (1940), Adam Had Four Sons (1941), and, of course, Jane Eyre (1943) or any of the other adaptations of the classic novel.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

My Criterion Closet Wish List

I really enjoy watching the Criterion Closet Picks videos where various actors and filmmakers get to choose movies to take home with them. Their selections reveal interesting details about their tastes and experience with film, although they do tend to favor certain genres, decades, and directors, partly because of the generational range of the guests themselves and partly because of the cinematic tastes cultivated by being in the film business. I don't own a lot of Criterion Collection discs because I spent many years building up a classic movie DVD collection back when they were more widely available and fairly cheap, but now that DVDs and Blu-rays of classic movies are much harder to acquire I am increasingly turning to Criterion and Kino Lorber to expand my collection.

The Closet Picks videos always make me wish I could afford a full scale Criterion shopping spree, but if, by magic or divine intervention, I got to be a guest on Closet Picks, what movies would I choose? I'd want to pick films I don't already own and that I have seen at least once and know I would enjoy owning. I'm limiting myself to eight movies because the Closet Picks videos only show a handful being selected, which means I spent a lot of time narrowing my list! 

Here's my fantasy Criterion Closet list:

I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) - I absolutely adore this comic gem from Powell and Pressburger, with Wendy Hiller as a headstrong young woman determined to marry a rich, older man in spite of the handsome Scottish laird fate suddenly throws her way. The location cinematography, the delightful visual style, and the wonderful characters make this movie truly special. 

Nightmare Alley (1947) - As much as I love the romantic swashbuckling version of Tyrone Power, I can't deny his brilliance as the scheming carny in this original movie adaptation of the novel. It's one of the weirder noir classics, but the carnival sideshow makes a perfect setting for noir's favorite themes. The Criterion Blu-ray has been in my Amazon wish list for ages, but other items keep taking precedence.

The Third Man (1949) - Carol Reed's fantastic post-war noir is such a great use of Orson Welles' sinister charisma. Who can resist Harry Lime? Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli are also terrific, and the musical score really gets into your head. I've seen this movie several times, but somehow I haven't managed to own it yet, even though I love it enough to build LEGO tributes to its more iconic scenes.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) - I would love to own all of the Ealing Studios films, but this one is especially hilarious thanks to Alec Guinness playing eight different characters. It's currently listed as out of print on the Criterion website, but I bet they still have copies in that closet. (It looks like Kino Lorber might have this and some other Ealing pictures available for those of us who can't get invited to raid the closet or launch a daring Ladykillers style heist.)  

Stagecoach (1939) - Along with My Darling Clementine (1946), this is one of my favorite John Ford Westerns, thanks to its amazing ensemble cast. John Wayne doesn't show up right away, but he has a tender romance with Claire Trevor that works beautifully and allows him to be sweet and vulnerable. I'm a sucker for great character actors, and this movie just bursts with them  - John Carradine, Andy Devine, Thomas Mitchell, and Donald Meek all have significant roles.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) - I don't have an actual Boris Karloff movie on this list, but he's present in spirit for this wacky Capra adaptation of the stage play, in which Karloff played the role taken by Raymond Massey for the movie version. This is one my top Halloween favorites, so it's a shame I don't own it yet, but I went with the Criterion edition of I Married a Witch (1942) the last time I had to pick which Halloween comedy to buy.

Beauty and the Beast (1946) - Jean Cocteau's dreamy fairy tale is a great starter choice for kids and people just venturing into foreign classics. It's both deeply familiar and hauntingly strange, and Disney borrowed heavily from it for their own animated version of the old story. Every frame is just gorgeous, and I'd love to be able to revisit it whenever I want.

Mildred Pierce (1945) - This Joan Crawford tour de force is another one I've seen several times but haven't managed to pick up yet for my personal collection. It's packed with so many of the things I love in classic movies - female narratives, noir style, romance and melodrama, great cinematography and costumes. Women's noir fascinates me, and this is one of the very best of the genre. I especially appreciate the way it focuses on Mildred's relationship with her poisonous daughter and the lengths to which the guilt-stricken Mildred will go to protect her.

Two Criterion films I already own (both great!).

That's my wish list! Some of the movies that almost made the final eight are To Be or Not to Be (1942), Heaven Can Wait (1943), Hobson's Choice (1954), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), and The Heiress (1949), but there are dozens of others in the Criterion catalog that I would love to own. What movies would you pick from the Criterion Closet if you had the opportunity?*

* Reminder! If, like me, you enjoy classic movies on a more modest budget, you can get access to a wide selection of Criterion titles by subscribing to the Criterion Channel, which is a great bargain at $11 a month.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Gaslight Noir on the Criterion Channel

While many of the Criterion Channel's featured categories highlight newer or international films, the lineup for September 2023 also includes one of my favorite classic sub-genres, "Gaslight Noir." If you love films like Gaslight (whether the 1940 or 1944 version), this is a collection sure to send delicious chills up and down your corseted spine.

Most of the iconic noir classics take place in their own present day, usually the 1940s and 1950s, but gaslight noir sets the action in an earlier age, usually the 19th century and often in London or elsewhere in the UK or Europe, although looming manor houses in America can also provide a suitably sinister location. The protagonist is most often a young woman who is both victim and de facto detective, striving to solve a mystery before she meets a tragic end. The films provide a heady mix of Gothic sensibility, noir style, and romance, and many of them appeared in the wake of the success of Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and the 1943 adaptation of Jane Eyre, the Gothic masterpiece that Daphne du Maurier's original novel of Rebecca uses as a thematic touchstone. 

Here is the full list of films available this month on the Criterion Channel as part of the Gaslight Noir collection (use the links to read my discussions of these films):

Ladies in Retirement (1941)

Gaslight (1944)

The Suspect (1944)

Experiment Perilous (1944)

Hangover Square (1945)

Dragonwyck (1946)

Ivy (1947)

Moss Rose (1947)

Blanche Fury (1948)

Corridor of Mirrors (1948)

So Evil My Love (1948)

Madeleine (1950)

So Long at the Fair (1950) 

While I've seen and written about several of these films, quite a few are new to me, and I'm really looking forward to watching them. I hope to add several new Classic Films in Focus posts about these movies in the coming weeks.

For more in-depth discussions of the Gothic tradition in film, check out my essays:

"Consuming Passions: Gothic Romance and the Bronte Sisters"

"The Housekeeper in the Gothic Film Tradition"

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Classic Films in Focus: LADIES IN RETIREMENT (1941)

If Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) were a tragic drama instead of a screwball comedy, it might play out something like Ladies in Retirement (1941), in which a desperate young woman goes to extreme measures to protect her psychologically complicated sisters. We talk about insanity and mental health very differently today, as well we should, but the trope of the mad woman (or women) has a long history in literature and film, and in Ladies in Retirement we get a profoundly moving depiction of the type from both Elsa Lanchester and Edith Barrett, who play the two older sisters of Ida Lupino's grimly determined anti-heroine. Director Charles Vidor keeps the suspense brewing even though there's very little mystery about the story's central murder, while sharply defined performances from the stars and supporting cast members Louis Hayward, Evelyn Keyes, and Isobel Elsom draw us into multiple tangled webs of desire and deception.

Lupino leads the cast as paid companion Ellen Creed, who struggles to keep her difficult sisters out of an asylum or worse. Gentle Louisa (Edith Barrett) is a harmless chatterbox, but Emily (Elsa Lanchester) is prone to outbursts and mischief, and soon enough Ellen gets an eviction letter from the landlady in London where the two sisters have been living. Ellen deceives her wealthy employer, Leonora Fiske (Isobel Elsom), into letting the sisters stay with them in the country, but Leonora soon tires of the troublesome guests and insists that they depart. After Leonora mysteriously disappears for a sudden trip abroad, the sisters seem to be settling into the house for good, but the arrival of a charming, amoral cousin named Albert Feather (Louis Hayward) puts Ellen's schemes in danger.

Ladies in Retirement offers a feast of fascinating characters, with actors who know how to hold their own against scene stealers like Lanchester and Barrett. Both of those gifted character actors play their roles with sensitivity that tempers the more outlandish quirks of the sisters, and we sympathize with Ellen's desire to protect them. The aunts of Arsenic and Old Lace are comical figures, but Louisa and Emily grieve us because they cannot comprehend the tragedy of their situation or the despair to which they drive their devoted younger sister. Louis Hayward, who was married to Lupino when they made this picture, brings both menace and charisma to the cad Albert, although it's ironic that his romantic overtures in this story are directed at the gullible maid, Lucy (Evelyn Keyes), and never at Lupino's more skeptical protagonist. Isobel Elsom's temperamental Leonora is more like the sisters than she'd care to admit; it's easy to see why Ellen is so good at dealing with her but also pushed to the limit by having three difficult older women all making demands of her in one small house.

With its Victorian setting and Gothic mystery atmosphere, Ladies in Retirement might seem like a classic tale of suspense, and a very good one at that, but it's also a serious engagement of the limited options available to unmarried women and caregivers struggling with their dependents' mental instability. The Creed sisters have no brothers or husbands to support them in a deeply patriarchal society that also makes no provisions for the humane care of mentally ill people. Ellen is a woman with no good choices in front of her, and the film dares us to judge her harshly for the course of action she takes. Some of Ellen's problems are specific to the time and place of the story, but even today older, unmarried or widowed women are more likely to suffer poverty and become homeless or dependent on overstretched family members (also more likely to be women). As I watched the film, I couldn't help but think about this NPR piece from 2016 about older women who had lost their homes and were reduced to living in their cars. What would happen to Louisa and Emily today? What would Ellen be forced to do in order to care for them? These questions give Ladies in Retirement currency and encourage us to think very carefully about the bonds and boundaries of familial devotion. 

The inspiration for the original stage version of Ladies in Retirement was apparently the 19th century French murderer Euphrasie Mercier, whose brief history makes a great read for true crime fans. A 1969 remake called The Mad Room stars Stella Stevens and Shelley Winters, but it's a more typical horror film that adds extra murders and gore. For other intense performances from Ida Lupino, see They Drive by Night (1940), The Hard Way (1943), and Devotion (1946). Ladies in Retirement would be the last screen appearance of Louise Hayward before several years of service in the US Marine Corps during World War II. His marriage to Ida Lupino ended in 1945, the same year he returned to films with his role in And Then There Were None.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Classic Films in Focus: THE MAD MISS MANTON (1938)

Although it's not on the same level as their later collaboration, The Lady Eve (1941), The Mad Miss Manton is still an amusing outing for stars Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. It's a goofy mix of romantic comedy and murder mystery, with Stanwyck leading a pack of socialite sleuths and Fonda falling head over heels as a reporter who gets entangled in the titular Miss Manton's adventures. You won't find a lot of household names here beyond the two leads, but Leigh Jason directs a fairly large cast that includes Sam Levene, Stanley Ridges, Penny Singleton, and the always memorable Hattie McDaniel. Fans of Fonda's funny side will especially appreciate his silly antics in this picture, but Stanwyck's all-girl Scooby gang also proves delightful, even if they're a little too prone to fainting when they find a corpse.

Stanwyck stars as wealthy socialite Melsa Manton, who discovers a murdered man while walking her dogs late one night after her return from a costume party. Her reputation and costume make the cops doubt her report, especially when the corpse in question has disappeared, but Melsa enlists the help of her society girlfriends to search for clues. At the same time, Melsa enters a war with newspaper reporter Peter Ames (Henry Fonda) because of his printed tirades against her and her group, but Peter's ire turns to adoration once he meets Melsa in person, even as he continues to frustrate her schemes. With the suspects and corpses piling up, Melsa and Peter must help the beleaguered Lieutenant Brent (Sam Levene) catch the murderer before Melsa becomes the next victim.

The Mad Miss Manton is not a comic masterpiece, but it moves along briskly and lands enough laughs to be entertaining throughout. It can be hard to differentiate Melsa's gang of friends, who might have more individual development if there were just three or four of them instead of a crowded half dozen. On the plus side, the picture passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test with flying colors as the women scramble to find clues and track suspects. Hattie McDaniel has a much larger role than any of the other supporting women, and she makes the most of it even though she's playing another of her inevitable maid characters. The film does, at least, depict McDaniel's Hilda as a sensible, capable person in contrast to the giddy socialites around her. 

Although Stanwyck's Miss Manton is much saner than the title of the movie implies, she doesn't let anything stop her from pursuing the case, even the death threats the murderer makes to scare her off. She has a general's command over her group of friends, who complain about their lost meals and dates but always follow her orders. Fonda's newspaper reporter is by far the giddier of the pair; he is absolutely smitten from the moment he meets Melsa, which leads him into some truly silly situations. One highlight is the scene in which Peter fakes being on his deathbed in order to trick Melsa into revealing information she has uncovered about the murders. The chemistry Fonda and Stanwyck share here paves the way for the sparks that fly between them in The Lady Eve, and if you enjoy them together in that classic then The Mad Miss Manton is well worth your time.

Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda made one additional movie together, the 1941 romantic comedy You Belong to Me. For more of Stanwyck's comedy roles, see Ball of Fire (1941) and Christmas in Connecticut (1945). You'll find her solving another comic mystery in Lady of Burlesque (1943). For Fonda's lighter side try The Male Animal (1942), Rings on Her Fingers (1942), and The Magnificent Dope (1942), as well as later career roles in Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) and The Cheyenne Social Club (1970).

Monday, July 10, 2023

A Vivien Leigh Tribute in Stratford-Upon-Avon


As I was walking from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I came across this sweet little tribute to legendary actress Vivien Leigh. Best remembered today for Oscar winning film roles as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Leigh was also a stage actress who starred in productions of Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and Titus Andronicus at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1955. You can learn more about Leigh's connections to Shakespeare in this 2015 post from Sylvia Morris at The Shakespeare Blog. It's clear that someone in the area continues to honor Leigh's memory; one of the two potted plants was a fairly recent arrival and still boasted blooms.

If you're ever in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I highly recommend the backstage tour at the RSC, which includes wonderful stories about classic stars of stage and screen. There's also a free exhibit onsite called "The Play's the Thing," which tells the history of the RSC and features costumes worn by some of the most notable performers to appear there (you will NOT spend a day at the RSC without learning a lot about Judi Dench, but she's fabulous and deserves the attention). You'll also find displays dedicated to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, both of whom shared the stage with Leigh. Olivier, of course, also shared a turbulent romance with the beautiful actress, who suffered from mental illness and tuberculosis throughout much of her career. If you want to learn more about Leigh and Olivier, check out the excellent blog, Vivien Leigh & Laurence Olivier, by Kendra Bean.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Wanting More: The Open Ending of THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950)

WARNING! This post contains major spoilers for THE DAMNED DON'T CRY and other classic noir films. Proceed at your own risk.

When I showed The Damned Don't Cry (1950) to my lifetime learners as the final film of our Joan Crawford series, they were especially struck by the open ending of the story, which leaves us wondering about the ultimate fate of protagonist Ethel Whitehead, aka Mrs. Lorna Hansen Forbes. Director Vincent Sherman and leading lady Crawford carry us through a dark journey over the course of the picture, which is equal parts melodrama and film noir as it shows us Ethel's seduction by avarice and ambition. My lifetime learners fully expected Ethel to die or at least go to prison in the movie's final scenes, but neither happens. Why doesn't Ethel pay a heavier price for her actions, and why are we surprised that she doesn't? Those questions deserve some consideration, especially since both melodrama and noir are known for killing off their most deeply flawed protagonists. Ethel Whitehead is, indeed, deeply flawed, but the film consistently displays a degree of sympathy for her that resists reading her as a villain or reaching a harsher conclusion as poetic justice for her crimes.

The picture opens with murder and scandal as the wealthy Mrs. Lorna Hansen Forbes is revealed as a fraud, but we are soon provided with her backstory. Ethel Whitehead is a poor woman from a working class family, scraping to get by and unable to afford any of the things her beloved young son desires. When the son tragically dies, Ethel feels that she has nothing to lose by leaving her old life behind. She heads to New York City and gets a job as a dress model, which she uses as a springboard to better - but increasingly criminal - prospects. Along the way she entangles Martin Blackford (Kent Smith), an accountant who accepts lucrative jobs with mobsters to win her love, but she abandons Martin in favor of the boss himself, the ruthless but refined George Castleman (David Brian). George remakes Ethel into socialite oil heiress Lorna, but his favors come at a price, and Ethel eventually finds herself dispatched to California on a dangerous mission to uncover the treachery of mob underling Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran).

Given that Ethel abandons her husband and parents, ruins Martin's life, misrepresents her identity and social standing, and knowingly gets involved with gangsters, we might imagine death or prison to be more than justified, and perhaps even obligatory given the Hays Code demand that crime always be punished. She also demonstrates dissatisfaction with married poverty and a desire to have money and nice possessions, and that kind of rebellion against conservative, patriarchal values usually doesn't end well for female characters, especially after the enforcement of Hays in 1934, which brought an end to heroines who cheerfully hustle their way to the top. Ethel wants more, and wanting more is very dangerous to a woman's life expectancy in Hays era films. Crawford's heroine in Humoresque (1946) drowns herself as penance for her sins, while her rival Bette Davis pays the ultimate price in pictures like Of Human Bondage (1934), Jezebel (1938), The Letter (1940), and Another Man's Poison (1951). Although melodramas sometimes kill their heroines, noir's femme fatale types are especially likely to meet violent ends. Mary Astor's slippery Brigid faces hanging or hard time at the end of The Maltese Falcon (1941), while Barbara Stanwyck eats lead in both Double Indemnity (1944) and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). If we hold Ethel fully responsible for Martin's corruption and Nick's murder, then we might conclude that she deserves the same fate as her "sisters under the mink," as Gloria Grahame says in The Big Heat (1953) (her character doesn't make it out alive, either).

Ethel, however, is never presented as a true femme fatale, and the film repeatedly balances her materialism with scenes that humanize her. We sympathize with her desire to get out of her miserable life in the oil fields and away from her brutish father and domineering husband. Her child's death breaks her resolve to endure that life any longer, and we can't blame her for running away from a hollow existence without the sole joy she found there. As a dress model, Ethel at first balks at the shady aspects of the job, but she grows accustomed to trading moral qualms for money by degrees. The rewards are concrete - a nicer place, better food, prettier clothes - while the costs are less tangible. Ethel doesn't intentionally corrupt Martin or plan to jilt him from the beginning; she really cares about him but can't stop herself from taking the opportunity that George represents. She holds no animosity toward George's pitiful wife and is, in fact, gentle with her in their one scene together. When George orders her to California, Ethel obeys because she thinks she loves him, but her sympathy for Nick and revulsion at the idea of murder prove stronger than her loyalty to George. Martin, who has clearly resented Ethel for his fall from grace, similarly reveals that his love for her trumps other concerns, and his forgiveness encourages our own.

By the end of the film, Nick and George are both dead, Martin has turned police informant, and Ethel has been shot by George after returning to her parents' spartan hovel. Her ruse as Lorna Hansen Forbes is definitely over, especially with the source of her illicit wealth now gone. The final scenes focus again on Ethel's humanity and the better aspects of her nature. We see her reunited with her parents and with Martin, whom she bravely tries to protect by going alone to face the vengeful George. After George shoots Ethel, the movie could easily have ended with her death, but instead we see that she survives to be comforted by her parents and questioned by both reporters and the police. Martin is notably absent at the conclusion, possibly in police custody and possibly on the lam; we get no hint about a reunion with Ethel. The clusters of policemen all around the house suggest that Ethel might also be looking at jail, but instead of speculating about her trial the departing reporters wonder if she'll make another attempt to escape the stark poverty of her home. "Wouldn't you?" asks one of the reporters, and the other nods his answer with certainty. We leave the story not knowing the fates of either Ethel or Martin, but we're encouraged by the last bit of dialogue to wonder what happens next.

While this open ending might well surprise viewers expecting a definite conclusion, it lets The Damned Don't Cry obey the letter of the Hays Code while still offering us hope for a flawed heroine whom the narrative encourages us to care about in spite of her flaws. Ethel has already suffered a great deal, although of course a narrow-minded moralist like Joseph Breen would be happy to see her die in the dirt or the execution chamber. Instead, we get an ending that lets the viewer imagine what happens next according to his or her own preferences. Personally, I like to imagine that Ethel and Martin get back together and disappear into new identities far away from the shadow of their shared past, maybe somewhere in Mexico. I don't blame Ethel for wanting out of her miserable, downtrodden life, but I hope that she can find a via media to real happiness somewhere between poverty and ruthless materialism. A less sympathetic viewer might assume that jail time, if nothing worse, awaits Ethel as punishment for her crimes, and the hovering police officers certainly make that option plausible. If we want more from the ending of The Damned Don't Cry, that in itself makes us more like Ethel than some viewers who judge her harshly might care to admit. How much is someone allowed to want? How much wanting is too much, and what should happen to someone who wants it? Like Ethel, we're left wanting more, but we'll have to make it up ourselves to get it.

If you're interested in reading more of my posts about Joan Crawford, check out the following: