Musical Monday: Torch Song (1953)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Torch Song (1953) – Musical #315

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Charles Walters

Starring:
Joan Crawford, Michael Wilding, Gig Young, Marjorie Rambeau, Harry Morgan, Dorothy Patrick, Maidie Norman, Benny Rubin, James Todd, Paul Guilfoyle, Nancy Gates

Plot:
Jenny Stewart (Crawford) is a selfish and demanding Broadway star. She is difficult to work with and appears to run off her piano accompanist (Rubin). Jenny’s new accompanist Tye Graham (Wilding), who is also blind, doesn’t back down to her angry demands like others do. Jenny is unhappy that she finds herself drawn to him.

Trivia:
-Joan Crawford is dubbed by India Adams.
-Music recycled from Royal Wedding (1951)
-The film’s director Charles Walters also plays Joan Crawford’s dancing partner.
-Rudy Render, who is a piano player at Joan Crawford’s party, is dubbed by Bill Lee
-This was Joan Crawford’s first time back at her home studio of MGM after 10 years. She was under contract at the studio from 1925 to 1943.
-Was originally going to be called “Why Should I Cry?” and be a film of three short love stories, according to a 1951 Hollywood Reporter article.
-In 1952, the Hollywood Reporter said Lana Turner would be starring in the film, and in 1953, Ann Sheridan was reported as the star.
-The song “Two-Faced Woman” was originally recorded by India Adams for Cyd Charisse to perform in “Band Wagon.”
-Joan Crawford’s first full-length color film. We saw her in color in brief clips like in “Ice Follies of 1939.”

Joan Crawford dancing with director Charles Walters in “Torch Song.” Her legs are amazing!

Notable Songs:
-“Two-Faced Woman” performed by Joan Crawford dubbed by India Adams
-“You Won’t Forget Me” performed by Joan Crawford and dubbed by India Adams
-“Follow Me” performed by Joan Crawford and dubbed by India Adams
-“Tenderly” performed by Joan Crawford and dubbed by India Adams

Awards and Nominations:
-Marjorie Rambeau received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her work in this film.

My review:
I love Joan Crawford, and I love a melodramatic 1950s film. And “Torch Song” is both of those. Now, let me be clear, “Torch Song” isn’t a very good movie. No one is saying this is as great as “Grand Hotel” (1932), “Mildred Pierce” (1945) or “Possessed” (1947). But “Torch Song” is campy, fun and visually very colorful.

While called a musical film, “Torch Song” is more of a drama with a few songs added in.

It’s interesting because such a big fuss was made when Joan Crawford returned to MGM after 10 years. A large welcome banner was put at the gate and a red carpet was rolled out. But the studio also cut corners and did a good bit of recycling from other musical films.

For example, the film begins with Joan Crawford dancing at rehearsal with Charles Walters to music recycled from the MGM musical “Royal Wedding” (1951). Joan Crawford also was hoping to do her own singing but was dubbed by India Adams, because MGM already had Adams’s voice recorded singing “Two-Faced Woman.” A number using the song had been filmed with Cyd Charisse for “Band Wagon” (1953), but the number was cut from the film. You can see Crawford and Charisse’s numbers side by side in “That’s Entertainment III.”

Speaking of “Two-Faced Woman,” this number is very … off-putting and bizarre. For some reason, the decision was made that Joan Crawford needed to be in blackface. I’m confused why this makeup decision was made, and I’m also surprised that Joan would agree to perform in blackface. The Cyd Charisse number wasn’t performed in that type of makeup in “Band Wagon.” It’s a definite sour spot in the film.

Joan Crawford performing “Two-Faced Woman” in “Torch Song.”

But outside of her make-up in this number, Joan Crawford, who was 47 here, looks fantastic. Her hair may have been dyed a bit brighter than usual, but she still looks fantastic. Her legs look gorgeous (and are shown off) and her figure is great here too, set off by gorgeous Helen Rose costumes.

As for the supporting cast, Gig Young is barely in the film. Michael Wilding wasn’t one Hollywood’s biggest stars, and I guess his role is cheesy as the blind pianist, but I like him in it.

Michael Wilding and Joan Crawford in “Torch Song.”

Along with Joan Crawford being dubbed, there is also another odd dubbing. Rudy Render has a small role of a pianist singing at Joan Crawford’s Sunday cocktail party. Though Render is only on screen for a few moments, he’s dubbed by Bill Lee! Wouldn’t it have been easier just to hire someone who could sing?

While this really isn’t Joan Crawford’s “first Technicolor film” like it was advertised, it was her first full-length film in color.

I saw one review call “Torch Song” the “Reefer Madness of musicals.” I think that’s taking it a bit far (and clearly this person hasn’t seen enough lousy musicals to think this one is the worst). No, “Torch Song” is not a great film (though someone thought enough of it to nominate Marjorie Rambeau for an Academy Award), it’s fun and engaging. I like “Torch Song,” and while it’s not excellent, I found it a pleasant way to pass 90 minutes.

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One thought on “Musical Monday: Torch Song (1953)

  1. I really enjoy “Torch Song” for what it is — a Joan Crawford vehicle. It’s plot may not be complex, but Joan gives it her all and she really shines in some moments. Wilding has just the right mixture of vulnerability and masculinity to balance the classic Crawford character. Glad I have it in my Crawford collection.

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