Torch Song (1953): Joan Crawford’s First Technicolor Melodrama

In Joan Crawford’s first Technicolor feature, the campy romantic melodrama Torch Song, she plays a musical comedy star named Jenny Stewart, a tough, competitive, lonely woman.

Torch Song was regarded as a comeback for Joan Crawford, who received an Academy Award nod for her performance in Sudden Fear the previous year.

Torch Song
Torch Song.jpeg

Original theatrical release poster

The script by John Michael Hayes and Jan Lustig was based upon the story “Why Should I Cry?” by I. A. R. Wylie in 1949 Saturday Evening Post.

Crawford plays Jenny Stewart, a tough Broadway musical star, alienating her colleagues with her demands for absolute perfection. Jenny takes offense when her new rehearsal pianist Tye Graham (Michael Wilding) criticizes her song stylings and ruthless ways.

Graham was blinded in WWII but fell in love with Jenny when he was a young reporter. Deep down, Jenny yearns for a real and lasting love but is disenchanted with the men around her such as Broadway parasite Cliff Willard (Gig Young).

At the home of her mother (Marjorie Rambeau), she discovers an old newspaper clipping in which Tye reviewed one of her first shows and made it evident he loved her. Jenny realizes she is loved, goes to Tye, and they embrace.

The film grossed $1,135,000 in the U.S. and $533,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $260,000 (vis-a-vis its budget).

Over the years, some of the sequences have become material for impersonators, and even Crawford’s hardcore fans see their preposterous, bad-taste quality, thus their camp status.

The film contains Crawford’s blackface musical number, and a ridiculous scene in which she simulates blindness so that she can better understand and be more sensitive to Graham.

Director Charles Walters, a former choreographer, appears as Crawford’s two-left-feet dancing partner in the opening scenes.

Crawford’s singing voice was dubbed by India Adams.

Torch Song has gained notoriety for the musical number “Two-Faced Woman” from The Band Wagon in which Crawford, in blackface, lip-syncs to the voice of India Adams while writhing with male dancers.

The film marked Crawford’s return to MGM after a ten-year absence. Her original recordings for the soundtrack, which were not used in the film, have survived and been included in home video releases.

Cast

Joan Crawford as Jenny Stewart

Michael Wilding as Tye Graham

Gig Young as Cliff Willard

Marjorie Rambeau as Mrs. Stewart

Harry  Morgan as Joe Denner

Dorothy  Patrick as Martha

James Todd as Philip Norton

Credits:

Directed by Charles Walters
Produced by Henry Berman, Sidney Franklin Jr., Charles Schnee

Screenplay by John Michael Hayes, Jan Lustig [de], based on Why Should I Cry? (1949) by I.A.R. Wylie
Music by Adolph Deutsch
Cinematography Robert H. Planck
Edited by Albert Akst
Color process Technicolor
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: October 23, 1953

Running time: 90 minutes
Budget $1,029,000
Box office $1.7 million

Songs

1. “You’re All the World to Me” – Danced by Joan Crawford and Charles Walters

2. “Follow Me” – Sung by Joan Crawford (dubbed by India Adams)

3. “Two-Faced Woman” (outtake) – Sung by Joan Crawford (dubbed by India Adams)

4. “You Won’t Forget Me” – Sung by Joan Crawford (dubbed by India Adams)

5. “Follow Me” (reprise) – Sung by Rudy Render

6. “Two-Faced Woman” – Sung and Danced by Joan Crawford (dubbed by India Adams) and chorus

7. “Tenderly” – Sung partially by Joan Crawford along to a recording by India Adams

  

Oscar Nominations: 1

Supporting Actress: Marjorie Rambeau

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Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Supporting Oscar Actress was Donna Reed for From Here to Eternity