27 July 2001 | TJBNYC
"And spoil that line?"
Sadly out of print, this camp classic is a textbook example of the very worst of 1950's cinema. There's the incredibly saturated Technicolor; the absurd art direction (Joan's oh-so-modern, electronic bedroom, for instance); the sublimely exaggerated wardrobe; and, above all, late-mid-period Joan Crawford, acting, acting, ACTING. By this time, Crawford was already a Hollywood legend; she'd made her debut in 1924, was a top box office draw throughout the 1930's, was considered a has been by the 1940's, and then made a phoenix-like comeback with her Oscar-winning turn in "Mildred Pierce." Since then, her screen persona had hardened into that of the glamorous, ballsy dame--increasingly mannish and emasculating. Where the young Crawford had once been romanced by the likes of Clark Gable, Robert Taylor and Spencer Tracy, this atomic-era Crawford chewed up and spat out her increasingly colorless male foils. In "Torch Song," her unfortunate co-star is the veddy British Michael Wilding (then Mr. Elizabeth Taylor), who plays a blind pianist. (No, really.) Crawford is Jenny Stewart, a huge musical comedy star, who "has the mouth of angel, but the words that come out are pure tramp!" Needless to say, Ms. Stewart makes Helen Lawson look like Mother Teresa. Flashing her huge eyes, shoving cigarettes between her blood-red lips, sashaying about in various glamorous creations, Crawford is the undisputed star of the show. Wilding doesn't stand a chance (poor Gig Young fares even worse--his dissipated, parasitic character is written out halfway through). Crawford and Wilding "meet nasty"--that is to say, she berates him with such gems as "Why don't you get yourself a seeing eye girl!" I won't ruin the ending for you, but suffice to say, it's pure Hollywood soap. Joan even has a poor-folks, plain-speakin' Ma, played by Marjorie Rambeau! Along the way, Joan does several song-and-dance routines designed to show that the 45-year-old star still had a formidable figure. The two most famous are, of course, the notorious "Two Faced Woman," performed, inexplicably, outrageously, appallingly, hysterically, in blackface; and the rehearsal hall scene where Jenny Stewart practically castrates a chorus boy who trips over her leg. "He's paid a very handsome salary to dance AROUND that leg!" she growls. "Torch Song" really exists as an offering on the shrine of Joan Crawford--a big, fat, juicy Technicolor love letter to her glamour and legend. As such, it doesn't get much better than this.