Sunday, September 21, 2014

Torch Song

Holy Joan Crawford in blackface!
In the immortal words of Eric Idle, say no more! Well, actually, i will: Torch Song is one of the purest examples of camp ever filmed. Aging movie queen? Check. A nonsensical plot? Check. Ridiculous dialogue? Check. Garish sets and costumes? Check. Jaw-droppingly bad musical numbers? Bonus!
This movie was Crawford's follow-up to Sudden Fear -- i believe that one was her fourth comeback -- and was a return to the MGM lot where she had been under contract for two decades. Crawford was 49 and she'd had her face lifted, boobs boosted and hair dyed Carrot Top-crimson. It is any wonder that drag queens from RuPaul to Tallulah Vale love Torch Song?
So, Joan Crawford plays musical comedy star Jenny Stewart. She's... well, she's kind of like Joan Crawford in demeanor and attitude...

"Always be kind to your fans." And a total raging cunt to everyone else. Including your younger, drunken boyfriend who runs around behind your back and always makes you pick up the tab at El Morocco. Interestingly, even though Gig Young died of alcoholism, he cannot play a convincing drunk scene. You'll notice that she's redoing all her costume sketches. Earlier she redid her arrangements and changed the choreography. Jenny Stewart is like Kanye that way: Better at everything than everyone else.

Also, enough of a SeeYouNextTuesday that your accompanist quits and is replaced by Michael Wilding, aka Mr. Elizabeth Taylor No. 2. We learn that he's not only British but he's blind. We also learn that watching people stand around and lip-synch is boring. I mean, Britney Spears is barely interesting doing that and she's jumping up and down in a sparkly bathingsuit. Also, watching people rehearse the same dance routine over and over again is boring. Even if it's shot with a sense of impending doom because if this guy fucks up one more time, Joan Crawford is going to tear off his balls and gouge out his eyes and put his eyes where his balls should be and his balls where his eyes should be.
However, Crawford's pad is pretty mid-century marvelous, with everything powder blue and built in.

That's Maidie Norman as Joan's loyal retainer -- secretary, housekeeper, cook, dresser and personal assistant all rolled into one. I hope she is very well compensated because it seems like a bitch of a job to do for a bitch.
Anyway, Crawford fires Blindy becase, well, blind. She figures she will go visit him in his squalid garret so that she can be the first to view his corpse, as anyone who is rejected by Joan Crawford -- i mean, Jenny Stewart -- will immediately go hang himself in grief and shame. So she is pretty pissed to find, rather than the wretched remains of a destroyed man hanging from the ceiling, a dude living in a groovy penthouse with modern art and a Chinese butler, having a few pals over for some bourbon and a jam session. Pals who can see! The nerve! She is so disgusted she gives him his job back.

More lip-synching, more bitchery. Joan Crawford has parties to which no women are invited. (Make of that what you will....) However, Blindy doesn't come. Blindy seems totally disinterested in her. And there's this blonde with a sweet hollowbody guitar and a nice rack who's gotta be under 35 hanging around....
Character actress Marjorie Rambeau pops up as Crawford's tippling, money-grubbing mama in the best Mama Jean/Ethel Gumm tradition.
 And now we get to the moment you've been waiting for. The ghastly "Two-Faced Woman" musical number, in which Joan Crawford dons blackface for no discernable reason.

The song is bad, the dancing is lousy, the whole thing is wack beyond wackness... and, of course, the crowd goes wild with applause. I hope somewhere Miss Norman is signing her letter of resignation with a flourish. Note that Two-Faced Woman was also the title of the film that made Greta Garbo walk out on her career. It seems to bode ill....
But Joan Crawford seems to be utterly unaware of how foolish she looks. Because she's in love! With Blindy! Now, at no point do they say what we're all thinking: Bitch, you love him because he thinks you still look like you did ten years ago!

Still, Joan Crawford does realize that Blindy's indifference and her jealousy have stirred something in her heart that may or may not be love but, hell, the disillusioned are sometimes easily fooled and any kind of movement feels like progress to the emotionally crippled. So, Joan Crawford stalks over to Blindy's penthouse to tell him this. But, oh oh, Blonde is there...

She and blonde leave the room as Blindy plays on, oblivious. Count five and Blonde scuttles top-speed toward the door, coat clutched around her. Whatever Joan Crawford did to her in those five offscreen seconds must've been horrible. And you know Joan Crawford can do horrible things. It was probably like all five Saw movies at once. With wire hangers.
Torch Song is weirdly beloved by Crawford fans, who either dig the irony or embrace the dying rays of an imploding star. And, well, Joan Crawford as tyrannical diva bitch who wears blackface and bullies blind people... how can you not?


  1. Hi there! I love, love, LOVE your blog. Anyone who watches bad movies and then writes about them in great, suffering detail is always alright in my book. Just a correction though, Joan's maid was played by Maidie Norman, not Theresa Harris. Maidie would go on to play (surprise!) Joan and Bette's long suffering maid in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?

  2. Thanks so much! I try to do my best to warn the people.
    And also thank you for the correction--not sure how i missed it, but the change is made.