Despite how Plan 9 from Outer Space is my favorite bad movie of all time, I’ve never seen another Ed Wood movie until now. Welcome to my review of Glen or Glenda, Ed Wood’s first full motion production and first acting job.
Glen or Glenda was originally supposed to be an exploitation film about Christine Jorgensen, the first person to ever undergo a sex-change operation. A Hollywood film producer named George Weiss wanted to make an exploitation film about this, but was turned down several times. Ed Wood eventually convinced Weiss that he was the man for the job because…Ed Wood liked to dress in women’s clothing. I’m not making this up; Ed Wood had a secret habit of wearing women’s clothing. His mother used to dress him up as a girl since she wanted a girl, and all throughout his life, Ed Wood found comfort in continuing this habit. Anyway, he ended up making a film about transvestites instead of Jorgensen’s sex change, as a plea for acceptance. What follows is probably the most bizarre movie I’ve talked about on this blog yet, and that includes Turkish Star Wars.
Glen or Glenda starts with "classy" music as the credits roll. The classy music sucks, but it’s a step up from the completely un-suspenseful horror music from Plan 9. In the middle of the credits, a disclaimer-ish line is given to us.
Just in case the image doesn't load, this is what it says - "In the making of this film, which deals with a strange and curious subject, no punches have been pulled - no easy way out has been taken. Many of the smaller parts are portrayed by persons who actually are, in real life, the character they portray on the screen. This is a picture of stark realism...taking no sides...but giving you the facts. All the facts...as they are today....You are society...JUDGE YE NOT..."
In other words, Ed Wood is making his secret habit public knowledge. Gotta give him credit, that’s very brave of him considering this movie released in the early 1950’s. Oh and by the way Eddie, I am not society and I never will be, and you think you used enough ellipses? There’s really nothing else notable about the opening credits as they go by quickly.
The first real shot of the movie shows Bela Lugosi sitting on a chair with suspenseful music as he reads a book. The mere presence of this stoned ex-Dracula actor is intimidating beyond description. He closes his book and stares at the camera with his glassy eyes. He's supposed to be a narrator or master puppeteer, but I have no idea what he's talking about – must be his drug-addicted brilliance talking. Lightning flashes, and now he's in some laboratory. Thunder continues to sound in the background as he's mixing chemicals. Thunder sounding in the background with a mad scientist isn’t the least bit cliché, is it? Ok, back then it still worked but now it’s cliché beyond belief. He holds up a mixing jar with smoking chemicals in it and says,
"A life has begun." He starts laughing, and the movie cuts to people on the street...wait, then the film cuts in half with Lugosi talking on top while people are walking on the bottom.
Still, no idea what he's talking about, but he says "pull the string" at one point. Then the movie cuts to...Lugosi again - everyone act surprised! He's sitting on his chair saying "A new day has begun, a new life is begun. A life is ended."
After…whatever that was, the movie cuts to some dead man lying on a bed in women's clothing and a bunch of inspectors walk in all at once. A note complains that he was arrested several times for cross-dressing, so he committed suicide in women's clothing. Wow...that's dark.
[this movie's a fairly disturbing look into Lugosi's drug-induced insanity so far]
A police man is talking to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist accuses the officer of being a hard hearted douche bag (fine, he didn’t use that exact language,) to which he replies that policemen are just hired to enforce the laws in place. Question, why was that little talk necessary? The two of them keep talking about how several cross dressers have committed suicide. Somehow this conversation moves onto sex changes, and how some people can do it and others can't. Why? Anyone can undergo a sex change. They won’t be able to bear children, but they can still change, um…the rest of it. The psychiatrist tells the cop that it's very hard to understand what's really going on here.
"Only the infinity of the depths of a man's mind can really tell the story." Stop trying to be deep movie you're just falling flat on your face. Thunder strikes in the sky as I wonder how that was supposed to be suspenseful. The camera fades to Lugosi again.
"The story is begun." What's with Lugosi's grammar here? Oh right he’s stoned out of his mind, forget I asked.
The movie cuts to a man dressed as a woman...actually its Ed Wood himself dressed as a woman. The psychiatrist, as a second narrator, asks why the world is shocked at the headline "World shocked by sex change."
Does this movie really need two narrators? I’m having enough trouble understanding one of them. It’s like having two different father figures trying to explain the facts of life while you’re trying to watch cartoons.
[This headline was definitely the original one.
In no way was this headline glued on or something.
Honestly though, the paragraph above the pasted on
headline to the right is exactly the same as the first
paragraph in the article to the right of the pasted on headline.
I'm not making this up, look closely.]
The PSYCH! narrator goes on about how society has always doubted in things such as airplanes and cars when they were first invented. We hear people chant stuff like “If God had meant us to fly, he would have given us wings,” over and over. It’s like Eddie boy’s trying to drill into our heads that transvestites are perfectly normal. Sure, maybe society was a bit too hard on them in the 50’s, and maybe it’s often because of problems while growing up, but there’s still nothing normal about it. Anyway, the psychiatrist talks about how Ed Wood's character can work better, think better and play better if he's wearing women's clothing.
The transvestite is then shown in men's clothing with the woman he's engaged to, Barbara, complete with an unnatural conversation that serves us nothing but exposition. This movie has plenty of those conversations.
The narrator then talks about natives and how they have animal instincts...what does this have to do with Glen/Glenda?
[These natives are definitely making me think that I should accept transvestites]
"Where is the animal instinct in modern civilization?" Ask your producer Weiss about animal instincts, I’m sure he’s shown plenty of it in his exploitation films.
Glen is then shown looking at dresses while wearing a business suit. The camera then shows a dress as we hear a young Glen asking his dad if he can borrow his sister's dress at a Halloween contest at school. His mother says yes, and he even wins a prize for it. Are you really saying that none of his teachers would have a problem with a boy wearing a girl’s dress for Halloween in the 30’s or 40’s? That’s very hard to believe.
Weeks later, Glen’s at home wearing his sister's clothing while reading a newspaper. How is it that in the Halloween scene Glen had the voice of a kid, yet a few weeks later he looks all grown up? His sister catches him and...the movie cuts away before we can see her full reaction, STOP TEASING US! Anyway, it cuts to Glen's sister talking to a friend at a drinking machine about how hard it would be to explain his brother's problem to her boyfriend and…know what, I don’t care. The psychiatrist then talks about how it's normal for a man to wear women's clothing. Again, no it isn’t. In my high school it was a form of initiation for the senior football players – they had to wear a dress to school for a day.
The movie then explains that Barbara wouldn't like the idea of Glen wearing women's clothing, Uh Oh. Glen starts talking to Barbara about how there's something he's afraid to tell her. She asks if it's another woman, but the movie cuts to a bunch of bulls running in stock footage. Lugosi fades overtop of the bulls and shouts,
"Pull the string, PULL THE STRING!" What is going on here? Was Ed Wood stoned while he was directing this too?
Of course, we get another scene with two people talking about the guy that had a sex change, which ends with another shot of the thunder. This movie has more pointless talking scenes than Hour of Victory has pointless cut scenes.
Glen then talks to a transvestite friend of his about his dilemma. Should he tell Barbara about his women's clothing-wearing self before or after marriage? His friend then tells him a story. He married a woman without telling her about his transvestitism. His wife caught him after arriving at home early, and they divorced.
Next up - a love montage that shows Glen getting engaged, intercut with Glen walking down the street in his fancy dress. As bad as this movie is, it does have a certain artistic quality to it. Glen then walks into his house and falls to the floor as thunder sounds again. What's with this movie's use of thunder?
Lugosi again fades into the shot saying,
"Beware, beware, beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys, puppy duck tails and big fat snails." What is he talking about? What does a green dragon have to do with anything going on in this piece of crap? And a dragon eating little boys? That's very dark for a movie that's trying to make society accept transvestites.
The movie cuts to a strange, artsy scene with Barbara acting upset and panicked while Glen stands with his arms out in women's clothing. Then Barbara is stuck under something that looks like a tree beside a fireplace, not sure how that happened.
Glen helps her out from under the…whatever it is, while wearing business suit after he failed while wearing a dress. I am so confused. Then it shows the couple in the cheapest looking wedding ever while someone dressed as the devil stands to the side grinning.
[A stupid looking devil I might add.
Ed's too cheap to give him real horns,
so they just gelled up his hair or something.]
The movie cuts back to Lugosi again, where he says,
"Tell me, tell me dragon, do you eat little boys? Puppy duck tails and big fat snails?” That’s it, the movie just gave up. This isn’t a movie anymore; it’s a look into pure insanity. Next up, the most bizarre moment I've ever seen in any movie. It's a long montage with Lugosi intercut with all sorts of insane stuff including a shirtless man whipping his some girl lying on a couch.
There’s another shot with some girl seducing some random schmuck, another girl trying to look distressed and…I can’t keep track of this anymore. Even the music here is on crack, as random instruments pop in and out whenever they please, playing wildly as they go along. There’s a shot of a woman tying up another woman that lasts for a full two minutes, then it cuts to another women combing her hair in front of a mirror, and then a women resting on a couch. Every now and then the devil shows up again.
Meanwhile, a piano and a trumpet are playing their music so fast that it feels like a big chase scene should be playing. What the frick is going on here? Heck, it even shows a potential rape scene with happy music. After that, incredibly uncomfortable scene, it cuts back to Ed Wood looking freaked out of his mind while some kid's voice echoes in the background talking about green dragons again. Hey kid, you are a stupid mime. Stupid! STUPID!
Out of nowhere, people start chasing Glen around the room as the devil shows up grinning. All the people balk off, and suddenly Glen is in women's clothing. Everyone disappears and Barbara shows up. They're about to embrace when Barbara jump-cut transforms into the devil. Next up, people waving their hands with silly expressions on their faces intercut with people laughing in front of a chalkboard.
Is Ed Wood trying to make me go insane? He's certainly doing a good job at it. If this goes on much longer my mind will be reduced to chocolate pudding.
The devil shows up and stares at the screen as the narrator says "Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys." Shut up about the green dragon! There is no green dragon in this stupid movie. Someone tell me what's going on, I'm beyond lost now.
I'm loosing it...I'm really loosing it.
After...whatever the frick I just watched, Glen decides to tell Barbara about his secret habit. She shakes her head the whole time, and then Glen shows up at Lugosi's room. Bella swats Glen and makes him disappear. Barbara says that she doesn't fully understand this, but that maybe they can work it out. You'd think that would be the end but the movie still has 15 minutes left. The camera cuts to the psychiatrist talking to the police officer again. He talks about how Glen is one of two cases he's dealt with. He then talks about a more advanced case - a man named Alan.
Alan had a mother who always wanted a daughter, and Alan learned to enjoy women's chores. Alan was then drafted into the war, which really just gives Ed Wood an excuse to show that stock footage from WWII that he loves so much. The narrator says,
"As quickly as the war had begun, it was over." Right, because everyone knew that WWII was one of the shortest wars in history! Alan then discovers that he has some complete organs of both sexes. Alan decides to become a woman, and the narrator talks about how the sex-change took place over a year or two.
The movie abruptly switches back to Glen, which begs the question why Dr. Psychiatrist didn’t finish his story first but whatever. The psychiatrist/narrator tells us that he’s the doctor that helped Glen and Barbara. Apparently, Glen wasn't loved by either of his parents, but his mother loved his sister. He slowly started acting like a woman and...you know, that kind of makes sense. I’ve never seen a character motivation explained that well in a movie this bad before, props to Ed Wood for actually putting effort into this one. Barbara decides to do everything she can to make him happy, they get married, and Glenda slowly disappears. Glen has a happy ending, and the movie ends with Lugosi and his finishing narration.
"Yes, but what of the others? Less fortunate Glens." Sounds like Lugosi learned grammar from a walrus.
So how was the movie overall? It was terrible, but signs of honest effort sneak through the movie’s sludge. The weird montage in the middle of the film comes out of no-where and doesn’t even attempt to match the mood of the rest. It’s better than Plan 9 was in terms of quality, but by the end I was waiting for it to end. It’s hard to recommend such a strangely bad movie, but it’s still an interesting experience - especially the artsy montage near the end of Glen's tale. One thing’s for sure, Plan 9 from Outer Space is far more entertaining than this stupid thing.
Two word review – bizarrely bad