Glamour! Glamour! We scream for it nowadays. Everyone is glamorous now, but back in the day not everyone was so lucky. There are a few that could give you exactly what you deserve. One of my favorites is Joan Crawford. Sister brought it to the table and served it right up to you mouth. Watched you eat it and then turned and walked the fuck out. That is how you do it. One of the best examples of how glamour does not age, was her BIG 1953 Technicolor dream masterpiece musical, TORCH SONG.
Jenny Stewart has one goal in life and one goal only. That is to be a complete bitch! She has somehow managed to become a beloved Broadway star. Fans of all ages clamor to be near her. Whenever she leaves the stage door, she is mobbed by adoring teens! She loves having teen fans. After her manager tries to shoo them and their play bills away, Jenny barks, "Always be kind to your fans!" TRUE! ARE YOU LISTENING WHITNEY HOUSTON!
The movie plops us right down in the last few weeks of rehearsal for Jenny's big sensational comeback simply entitled, "An Evening With Jenny". SIGN ME UP! It promises to be a night filled with dancing, singing and a couple of jaw-dropping (and racist) musical numbers. Miss Stewart does not accept lukewarm co-stars and eats them for lunch. She shames the male lead in front of everyone when he cannot hit the marks in their not so complicated dance number. She pushes him aside, pops out her leg and growls, "You want to step over my leg?!". As she moves her hand down her fishnet limb, she adds, "And spoil that line?!". I'm on her side.
But not all is right in Jenny Stewart's universe. She is growing older by the second her and is starting to realize her name just doesn't seem to draw the audience like it use too. That means she has to work harder, look better and bitch out anyone who comes near her. When told that tickets sales for "A EVENING WITH JENNY" are down, she exclaims, "NO SHOW OF JENNY'S IS A FLOP!!" I'm on her side. At home in a penthouse overlooking NYC, all she does is stand around, smoke and look good! Jenny's bedroom is larger than my modest condo, but just as glamorous. It is lonely at the top and Jenny Stewart wants more out of life. Mainly she wants a good man, but she just can't seem to stop bitching out every single person she meets! COMPLEX!
One afternoon, free of those pesky rehearsals, she is hard at work on her designs. Yes, she is a fashion designer! Sketches everywhere. All the ashtrays filled and not an empty glass of booze in the place, we get to meet her playboy/best friend/token gay. She refers to him as completely useless, but beautiful, which is true. She goes on and on about her life and how devoid it is of love. But, life has a surprise in store for Miss Jenny Stewart. Back to the stage, she bitches out the piano player for being a total fuck up, which he is and she is introduced to the new piano player. Enter Michael Wilding as Tye Graham. He is a phenom at tickling the ivories and he is BLIND!! Dog and cane and all!!! And he doesn't give a fuck when Jenny Stewart tries to bitch him out. He give her the WHAT, WHAT and fucking quits!! She rallies him back in, but has to be nice. And then it happens. With a one and a two...something happens in a Joan Crawford movie that stunned me. She opened her mouth to sing. The beautiful ballad, "FOLLOW ME". Out comes the voice of India Adams. India no stranger to being the voice behind someone else (she had previously sung for Crawford in Johnny Guitar and Cy Charisse in Band Wagon). It is kinda shocking at first, but once you settle into it, it is hilarious! And the best part is that Jenny Stewart TOTALLY DESERVES IT! After this soul shattering episode, he turns to Tye and states, "Feels Good." That it does.
So now that Jenny Stewart has finally got a good pianist and worked all the kinks out of her supporting cast, she is just about ready to open the show. And if you thought you had seen it all, hold onto your dancing belt, because you get treated to one of the most nerve wrecking moments in movie history. It's dress rehearsal and the shit is about to go down. The drums start. The dancers take to the stage. But something is off. On not so close inspection, the dancers are not black, but in black face. And black hand if you are counting. Viewers of the day might not have even batted an eye at the time, but today is is super weird. I actually kind of hate looking at the dancers. Very Song of the South bullshit. Then Jenny Stewart appears and starts her big production number of "Two Faced Woman". Clever. If you think racism is clever. It's not. I can't even tell you what happens or how the song goes, because I can't stop staring at Jenny Stewart's face! At the end of the number, Jenny ascends a flight of stairs and rips off her wig to reveal a bright orange FRIGHT WIG! AACK!!
I NOW UNDERSTAND WHY SHE HAS A HARD TIME FINDING SOMEONE TO LOVE HER.
The movie kicks right back in, like nothing happened and we are at a party scene. Jenny Stewart basically spends the last 20 minutes of the movie yelling at Tye. HEY JENNY!!! You are yelling at a blind dude! She gets pissed when he tries to do his own arrangements and barks, "DON"T STEAL MY SPOTLIGHT!" and the seeing eye dog hates her guts. He is always barking at her and trying to jump on her. Dogs know. But we are suppose to learn that Jenny Stewart is a flawed hero of sorts. Tye loves her because she is very frank about his blindness and never feels sorry for him. She loves him because he can't see her and doesn't love her just for her looks (!!!!). He refuses to adore her and she doesn't give a fuck if he is blind. A match made in hell for sure. BAD ROMANCE. They get over some shit and "An Evening With Jenny Stewart" opens to a packed house and she bumps it like a trumpet as she lip syncs another beautiful low tempo ballad called "You Won't Forget Me". Fade to black. Thankfully, not fade to black face.
TORCH SONG was made in the height of Joan Crawford's 8 millionth come back. She was unstoppable. She followed this with the western classic JOHNNY GUITAR and FEMALE ON THE BEACH. Always a work horse, Joan Crawford served up FACE like you have never seen it served before. Even if she did it in black face once. ACK!