Friday, November 1, 2013

#1,173. Glen or Glenda (1953)

Directed By: Edward D. Wood Jr.

Starring: Edward D. Wood Jr., Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot

Tag line: "Strange Loves... of those who live and love but can never marry!"

Trivia: The film was originally intended to be loosely based on the story of sex-change pioneer Christine Jorgensen

Glen or Glenda is the film that launched the career of Edward D. Wood, Jr., aka The Worst Director of All-Time, and it is an uproariously lousy little picture.

Following the suicide of a transvestite, police inspector Warren (Lyle Talbot) pays a visit to Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell), a psychologist, in the hopes of understanding what it is that drives someone to dress as a member of the opposite sex. To help him better explain this lifestyle, Dr. Alton discusses the details of two of his most recent cases. First, there’s Glen (played by the director, Ed Wood), a transvestite who, when in women’s clothing, also goes by the name “Glenda”. Glen hides his true nature from his fiancé, Barbara (Dolores Fuller), out of fear she’d leave him if she ever learned the truth. In contrast to Glen, Dr. Alton also reveals the story of Alan (Tommy Haynes), a veteran of World War II who recently underwent a successful sex change operation.

Glen or Glenda is one strange movie. Even the opening titles are weird; seeing Bela Lugosi’s name in the credits while hearing what sounded like a love theme just felt…. wrong! In fact, Lugosi’s entire role in this film had me scratching my head. Playing either a mad scientist or God (I was a little unclear as to which it was), he waxes poetic about the human condition while spewing lines so incredibly confusing that I couldn’t make heads or tails of them (with stock footage of a busy city street superimposed below him, Lugosi says “People! All going… somewhere. All with their own thoughts… their own ideas. All with their own… personalities. One is wrong because he does right. One is right because he does wrong! Pull the string!”  If anyone out there can shed some light on what this means, I’d be eternally grateful).

Aside from featuring his first collaboration with star Bela Lugosi, who would also appear in Wood’s Bride of the Monster and (posthumously) Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda introduces several other “Wood trademarks”, which usually made their way into all of his films. They include:

 - His penchant for writing crisp dialogue: While sitting in Dr. Alton’s office, Inspector Warren, who’s an old friend of the Dr.’s, says “This type of case comes to me… as well as yourself… many times over the course of one month”. Yep, just a couple of buddies, shooting the breeze!

 – High-Quality props: a newspaper headline, obviously glued onto an actual paper, screams “Man Nabbed Dressed as Girl”, though the text immediately underneath it is a story about local taxes.

Wood’s love affair with stock footage: When Barbara asks a confused Glen if everything is OK, we cut to a scene of water buffalo stampeding, over which Lugosi once again bellows “Pull the string!”.

Then, of course, we’re treated to Ed Wood, the actor, in the title role(s). A well-known transvestite in real life, it was a part Wood clearly felt he needed to play, but as far as his performance goes, he’s not quite as good an actor as he is a director!

Glen or Glenda is almost as hilariously inept as Wood’s “classic” Plan 9 from Outer Space, with most of the unintentional humor stemming from how piously earnest it is. This first glimpse into the cinematic style of Edward D. Wood, Jr. served as a foreshadowing of things to come, and whether or not you think that’s a good thing depends on your tolerance for low-grade schlock.

As for me, I’m glad Glen or Glenda came along!

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