When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
A Lesson in Motion Picture Economics

Since I’ve worked over many years in several aspects of the Industry, most of my posts approach a movie as more than an end product:  they also look at the work culture of making a film plus the bottom-line realities of how everything up on the screen had to be paid for one way or another.

That’s why I really enjoyed this post from Bluebird TV’s YouTube channel, showing how one tune’s orchestration was recycled by M-G-M from 1951’s ROYAL WEDDING for 1953’s TORCH SONG.  The score from Fred Astaire’s famous dancing-on-the-ceiling number was reused for the opening sequence in Joan Crawford’s full color musical that was her return to M-G-M after leaving a decade before.

This was a common practice.  For example, a cool and chic melody penned by André Previn for Vincente Minnelli’s DESIGNING WOMAN was used as a bed (pardon the pun) for the sexual banter between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on the train in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  And if you’re a lover of Universal Studios’ product from its heyday, you know the cutting and pasting of stock music from one movie to another reached the heights of overlay and appropriation usually reserved for a Robert Rauschenberg art piece.

Crawford’s dancing partner in this scene is actually the movie’s director, Charles Walters.  A former Broadway chorus boy (one look at that rock-solid butt of his and you can tell he was a well-trained dancer) and actor (he was in the original Broadway cast of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN), Walters was choreographer and dance director on many M-G-M films (such as Esther Williams’ THIS TIME FOR KEEPS) before getting the chance to run the whole show.  A talented filmmaker, Walters’ feature film directing career surprisingly lasted only 19 years — from 1947’s GOOD NEWS to 1966’s WALK DON’T RUN (which incidentally was also Cary Grant’s final film — it was the only film in which he didn’t play the male lead and sex interest, so he retired after playing the role of matchmaker to young lovers Jim Hutton and Samantha Eggar).

TORCH SONG opens with a shot of Joan Crawford’s legs.  Crawford knew that — despite the ravages of time on other parts of her body — her legs were sexy and superb:  at the age of 62, she still wore tights to display her prime assets in her penultimate film, BERSERK! 

However, in the right-hand clip, what’s with those cutaways of a disinterested stagehand looking on?  Did Crawford flub some steps that needed to be covered by cutting to some guy leaning against a piano??  The shot, inserted twice, seems more like a device to save a scene in the editing room instead of a conscious ingredient in a visual scheme.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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