Torch Song is the quintessential Joan Crawford vehicle: a Broadway/backstage drama about an aging star (although, in the exact opposite vein of All About Eve, Crawford never vocally mourns the loss of her youth, as did her lifelong — and far less vain — rival Bette Davis did in the 1950 classic about what turned out to be the last days of Broadway’s golden age. In Torch Song, Crawford weeps, tosses and turns, opens and closes her curtains, throws then cancels parties, and pouts — conveying her menopausal restlessness and loneliness without saying a word.)
(UPDATE: chatting with a friend this morning about this post, I remembered I should have mentioned that Crawford was almost 50 when she made Torch Song, which is about 65 or 70 in “2011 Female” years…)
Crawford displays her famous sense of self-awareness — she knew exactly where her key light was (and where it should be). But for some reason, this same attention to microscopic personal detail stopped being applied to anything from her neck up when she reached mid-life.
Crawford had an astonishing figure, even in middle age, and she knows it, wisely wearing cinched waists, bullet bras (the better to display the recent “work” done on her breasts), 3/4 sleeves and high necklines but showing off her stunning dancer’s legs at every opportunity.
However — and I invite Crawford fans to explain — this self-awareness went haywire when she reached her forties and started favoring weirdly shaped short hairstyles with curls that resemble nothing so much as clenched fists, and doing that thing with her lipstick and eyebrow pencil.
The result is the creepy androgyny which made her beloved of gay men.
(Note the repeated assurance in the trailer below that Crawford is a “woman” and “female.”)
Crawford plays Crawford, more or less as the public thought of her: a passionate-yet-lonely glamourous, superstar perfectionist with enormous stores of affection available to her fans (who’d actually given her her stage name as part of a studio/fan magazine contest; she answered every fan letter all her life; in the movie, this task is assigned to a black executive assistant) but little patience with some of her colleagues (especially young female ones.)
(Although she showered crews with gifts and was rewarded with that key light…)
The film was shot in Technicolor for some reason; you forget about that right after the opening credits, until you first see Crawford’s red hair.
And again when Crawford sweeps across the screen in a long, unflattering gown in a shade that would, were we talking about a sports car instead of a kaftan, be described as “douchebag yellow.”
The plot concerns the love/hate “relationship” between Crawford’s Broadway star and her new (also blind) accompanist, played by Michael Wilding (the then-Mr. Liz Taylor.)
The reason we’re given for Wilding’s infatuation for Crawford are so bizarre I can’t bring myself to type it.
Gig Young co-stars as her blandly handsome pseudo boyfriend or something. Young makes a surprisingly unconvincing drunk.
The musical numbers are competent if forgettable, the kind of slow, “girl singer” numbers popular (or at least, endured) during the big band era.
Crawford’s voice is dubbed by India Adams, who also dubbed her in the breathtaking curio Johnny Guitar, and voiced Cyd Charisse in a musical I loathe beyond all comprehension, The Band Wagon. (It is so corny and claustrophobic.)
Today, Torch Song is best remembered for the audacious [black face] “Two-Faced Woman” number which is featured in That’s Entertainment! III (1994). In a segment devoted to the glamorous leading ladies of MGM, it’s revealed that “Two-Faced Woman” was originally part of the film The Band Wagon (1953). When the song was cut from that film, the same India Adams track was later used in Torch Song. It’s fascinating to see the deleted Cyd Charisse scene compared along side Crawford’s “tropical make-up” performance. Debbie Reynolds, who narrates the segment, coyly suggests that “they may have dropped the wrong version.”
Torch Song is camp fun, if you like backstage dramas, cool mid century modern furniture and the allure of glamourous “high society” New York of the 1950s.