As I mentioned in passing in the previous post, I watched Stage Fright a few weeks ago, which got me thinking about Michael Wilding. For one thing, he was not only Elizabeth Taylor’s second husband and the father of her two sons, he was also a reasonably successful actor (though, since more in England than in Hollywood, one I wasn’t familiar with). Plus he bears a striking resemblance to Alan Cumming, whom I’ve always found very attractive (I’m a sucker for rakish eyebrows) — so a straight version of that is not uninteresting to me.
So I checked Netflix for more of his movies, and ended up with Torch Song (1953) in my DVD player last night.
Oh good lord. Joan Crawford, in her ‘5os comeback, shows her versatility by playing Jenny Stewart, a huge star of Broadway musicals. Michael Wilding plays her pianist, Tye Graham, who, though blind, is the only one who can see beyond her selfish/perfectionist facade to the passionate woman within.
The synopsis makes the awfulness of the premise clear, and the execution is painful — but at such an over the top level (Crawford did nothing by half measures) that it becomes strangely fascinating.
Crawford, of course, had started out in musicals, though she hadn’t sung or danced on screen in a couple of decades. She ain’t much of a dancer, but damn, the stems on that tomato! (I was reminded of the dramatic appearance of Anglina Jolie’s right leg at the recent Oscars; Joan’s right leg plays a similar [pivotal? supporting?] role in several scenes.) India Adams dubbed Joan’s singing voice, and the DVD extras include clips of Joan singing for herself that make it clear that the dubbing was necessary.
Actually, all of the musical numbers are cobbled together out of other bits and pieces. The first musical number is set to “You’re All the World to Me,” which is the song in Astaire’s “dancing on the ceiling” number in Royal Wedding. We hear it as the instrumental of a big dance number for Jenny and a young man (played by Charles Walters, the director and choreographer of the film) whom she browbeats for tripping over her extended leg, in its first big scene. “If you could just move it,” suggests the dance director. “And lose that line?” retorts Jenny. No one puts Crawford’s right leg in a corner.
The other big number is “Two-Faced Woman,” originally from another Astaire vehicle (sic), The Band Wagon, for which Adams had dubbed Cyd Charisse’s singing. The number was cut from that movie, so they recycled it here. We hear it twice, first in rehearsal (Jenny and Tye argue about how she performs it), and then in the movie’s penultimate scene, the full dress rehearsal of the show-within-a-show’s big musical number.
Joan performs this, for absolutely no discernible reason, in black face.
After the number, she learns that Tye isn’t planning to go to Philadelphia for the try-outs, since his role as rehearsal pianist is over. She responds to this news the only way she can, by tearing off her wig:
PS: For those reading my blog to collect “Blue Moon” trivia, it also makes an appearance in Torch Song: Tye and some pals are jamming to it the first time Jenny storms into his apartment.