Monday, July 19, 2010

"The best-looking swimming pool in the west"

Two months after 711 Ocean Drive had so much trouble with its location shooting, the crew of The Victim moved into Palm Springs. Like 711 Ocean Drive, elements of The Victim—which would eventually be retitled The Damned Don't Cry—were based on the lives of Bugsy Siegel and Virginia Hill. Ethel Whitehead (Joan Crawford) leaves behind her marriage, and poverty, and moves to New York, where she snares accountant Martin Blackford (Kent Smith). When the opportunity arises for him to get a job with syndicate boss George Castleman (David Brian), he declines, but she notes his low salary as an honest 9-to-5er, and persuades him to go for the big bucks. Her affections quickly turn from Blackford to Castleman, and they're soon married. But Castleman, all business, sends his wife to the west coast to keep an eye on Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran), the California representative of the syndicate's wire set-up. He figures her feminine wiles can do him some good.

If you missed it: Whitehead is a little bit of Virginia Hill (impoverished small-town girl takes up with New York gangsters before heading out west to spend time with the guy running California). George Castleman is a little bit of Joe Adonis (the N.Y. gangster who was involved with Hill before she left town), and a little bit of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky (who sent Bugsy Siegel out to California in the first place). But Mickey Cohen had been sent out to L.A. by Lansky to keep an eye on Siegel, so Whitehead has a little Mickey in her DNA as well.

Prenta's mostly Siegel, but he's got trace amounts of Cohen, too: Castleman asks "Why do they string microphones all over your house and plant that bug in the fireplace?"; Prenta's response is, "You know something? I planted one on them!"

Whitehead meets Prenta at the Shadow Mountain Club in Palm Springs and, naturally, falls in love with him.

And, as with 711 Ocean Drive's Mal Granger, Palm Springs means the beginning of the end. She gets a note to meet the jilted Blackford—Castleman's proxy, visiting from New York—at the Lone Palm Hotel. Blackman grills her on her betrayal of Castleman, but he's got his own reasons to be bitter as well. She's the reason he's working for Castleman in the first place.

Before long, Castleman shows up at Prenta's desert home—

—where bullets fly.

You may recognize Prenta's place as the home of Frank Sinatra. He reportedly loaned it to the production for shooting because he owed someone a favor (the specifics of this arrangement, sadly, are lost to time). While the cameras rolled at his place, he kept the company of his brand-new girlfriend, Ava Gardner—another noir love story just beginning.


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