The Joan Files is a recurring series of posts focusing on the life and career of the legendary actress, Joan Crawford.
Most of my favorite Joan films are her campiest efforts, and 1953’s Torch Song is no exception. It airs next on December 12 on TCM at 1:15AM Eastern, so set those DVRs!
Much like Berserk! you really can’t take Torch Song too seriously. Watch it for the sets, the costumes, and the over-the-top acting. And of course there’s the blackface scene… There’s no defending it other than to say that it was the 1950s. You just have to see it to believe it!
In the film, Joan plays aging Broadway star Jenny Stewart, and she gets assigned a new rehearsal pianist, Tye Graham. Tye fell in love with Jenny back in the day, but he was blinded during WWII. That’s probably a good thing, given the blackface scene and all. Over the course of the film the two have continued spats as they work out the songs for Jenny’s latest production.
Tye gets sick of Jenny’s crap and leaves the production, but then he has a change of heart and returns. Meanwhile, during a trip to visit her mother, Jenny discovers an old review in a scrapbook of one of her performances written by Tye and realizes that he loved her. Jenny goes to his apartment, sends his unworthy girlfriend away, and then tells Tye her true feelings for him. Ladies and gentlemen, the show must go on as usual! You can read a full synopsis on TCM’s website.
If you’re at all put off by that farce of a plot, well, you should be. But Joan is really fantastic in this film. Her dancing is impeccable, and she really shines in the role of Jenny Stewart. The character reminds me quite a lot of of Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls actually.
Joan was, of course, a well established movie star by 1953. She’d already won the Oscar for Mildred Pierce several years earlier, but Torch Song marked her return to MGM after ten years with Warner Bros. This was also Joan’s first Technicolor film, which the studio promoted along with noting her Oscar nomination for her 1952 film, Sudden Fear.
Described as “vivid and irritable, volcanic and feminine” in the role by a movie critic at the time, it’s also important to note that Torch Song showcases Joan’s impeccable comic timing. She is still usually remembered for her dramatic roles, so it’s a real pleasure to watch her repartee in multiple scenes in this film.
I hope you’ll watch Torch Song next month and let me know what you think! And if you’ve already seen it, what are your thoughts?