Ethel Whitehead (Crawford) is a weary housewife living at the edge of the Texas oil fields. When her young son is killed in a bicycle accident, she leaves her laborer husband Roy (Egan) for the big city. She quickly learns to use her physical charms to get ahead. In cahoots with bookkeeper friend Martin Blackford (Smith), Ethel works her way into the entourage of George Castleman (Brian), a mobster who enjoys an elegant lifestyle. With the help of socialite Patricia Longworth (Royle), Castleman grooms Ethel in the arts of cultured living. After making her his mistress, he tries to use her to trap his arch-rival Nick Prenta (Cochran). The trap fails when Ethel falls in love with Prenta. The betrayed Castleman kills Prenta and goes gunning for Ethel but dies in a shootout with Blackford.
The movie was a hit grossing $2,211,000 nearly double its budget of $1,233,000. After being adjusted for inflation the 2009 film gross would be $18,600,038.
According to Variety the film earned $1.4 million in the US and Canada in 1950.
When the film was released, the reviews were mixed, even though the box office was considered good. The New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther, was tough on the film in his review. He wrote, "Miss Crawford as the 'fancy lady' runs through the whole routine of cheap motion-picture dramatics in her latter-day hard-boiled, dead-pan style ... A more artificial lot of acting could hardly be achieved" He added, "And Kent Smith, as a public accountant whom Miss Crawford lures into the syndicate, plays a Milquetoast so completely that his whole performance seems a succession of timid gulps. Steve Cochran as a tricky West Coast mobster and Selena Royle as a cagrant socialite do their jobs in a conventional B-story, A-budget way. Vincent Sherman's direction is as specious as the script."
Modern critics are generally more sympathetic. James Travers in 2012 said: "It is not hard to account for the popular appeal of The Damned Don't Cry. The plot may be far-fetched and the characters absurdly exaggerated, but the film is otherwise well-constructed (using the familiar film noir device of the extended flashback) and well-performed by a well-chosen ensemble of acting talent.
Film critic Craig Butler called the film "a ridiculous melodrama that is fairly poor as real drama but is quite enjoyable as camp." He added, "Damned starts out as if it were one of Crawford's earlier 'poor gal makes good' flicks, but it quickly becomes lurid and unbelievable. As is often the case in her later vehicles, Damned finds Crawford in a one-dimensional world and asks that she find ways of giving the illusion of depth to her character."
Critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film, Crawford's work and its direction. He wrote, "A dreary crime drama following the formula of Flamingo Road, which also starred Joan Crawford. It is efficiently directed by Vincent Sherman ... Joan Crawford gives a solid performance as the gangster's moll who discovers when it's too late that she took the wrong path."
Slant magazine film critic, Jeremiah Kipp, said of the film, "The direction by hack Vincent Sherman is adequate and humble before Joan, though some scenes feel like the transition into the editing room was hardly smooth. (At least two insert shots feel wobbly and jarring.) But Crawford gets what she wants, and that's all we really came for, no? Like the star in question, this diva showcase knows what it is and what it's good at. If you don't like it, why are you still here?"
The title is also the name of a song by Visage (1982). See also had a self developed make-up approach which gave her an exclusive face as an actress in Hollywood.