Torch Song (1953) w/Joan Crawford

A lonely Broadway star must come to grips with her need for power and love. Her new pianist might  just be the person to help her.

Joan Crawford stars  in Torch Song  (1953) as the power hungry Broadway performer who drives away everyone with her tantrums and sarcasm. In walks Michael Wilding as her new pianist who happens to be blind from complications of the war. He is the only person who is not afraid to give as good as he gets. Since so many others have cowered in her presence, Crawford learns to respect his refreshing candor. She also, in true MGM fashion, falls in love with the man.

Crawford and MGM

Life Magazine compares old MGM Joan with new MGM Joan.

Crawford was a big  MGM star in the 1920s and 1930s, known for her dancing and carefree glamour. Switching to Warner Brothers Studios in the 1940s, she was just in time for the great film dramas of the war years which would emerge from that studio. It was at Warners that the film star would win the Academy Award for her performance in the taut drama Mildred Pierce.

Released from her Warner Brothers contract, Crawford became an independent performer. She returned to her original studio in the 1950s for Torch Song. Not only was Torch Song her first film in color and the first time she had danced onscreen in decades, this was her reunion film with MGM.  A lot was riding on the success of this movie. There was a great deal of anticipation and angst. 

The build up was intense. LIFE Magazine compared the old MGM Joan with the new MGM Joan and found her winning.

The film received a positive review from The New York Times which describes Joan Crawford as lovely. Its one beef is that the plot is recycled from dozens you may have seen before - a tough woman needs love to soften her.

The plot was not the only thing recycled. Crawford was given the castoff recording of India Arie's dubbing for the song "Two-Face Woman," which was originally intended for Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon.  

It's clear that the first number, the number that introduces Crawford, is the exact recording of "You're All the World to Me" that Fred Astaire uses in the famous dancing-on-the-ceiling routine years earlier in Royal Wedding (1951).  The days of the big MGM musical were almost gone and Crawford was getting the dregs of this genre.

Torch Song would be Crawford's last film for MGM.

Charles Walters. Dancer. Director.

Charles Walters is a Broadway dancer known for directing and choreographing many of MGM's biggest stars. His terpsichorean talents would come in handy as he directed big musicals at the studio, including Good News and Easter Parade. You will occasionally see him in front of the camera as an uncredited dance partner for the biggest names in Hollywood. Torch Song is a case in point.

According to the author of Just Making Movies: Company Directors on the Studio System, Ronald L. Davis, Joan Crawford personally asked Charles Walters to direct the film.

 "The phone rang one night, and it was Joan Crawford. She said, 'I have  a script, and you're the only one that can direct it. Could I bring a bottle of champagne and the script and a bite to eat and read it to you?' Well, I couldn't say no to Joan Crawford.

"Torch Song was Crawford's first film in color, and it was the first time she had danced in twenty-five years on the screen. I said, 'We're not going to tease, we're going to open with a number right off.'"

After rehearsing with Walters, Crawford felt most comfortable with the director as her dance partner instead of someone else. Thus, you'll see the film's director tripping the light fantastic in the first scene with Crawford.  

What did you think of Torch Song?


  1. I had not known much about the background for this movie. Thanks for the info on what apparently was a big roll of the dice for Joan.

    1. Jacqueline, the more I research Joan the more she seems to be a risk taker. From fashion to film choices, she's one to do what she thinks is right. Even if it all turns out to be a stinker, she just brushes that off and moves on.

      Fascinating character.


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