My second review by Ed Wood, and one of his movies I had not seen before, believe it or not. (Do believe it). What can I say, I always lean towards "less known of" when I watch bad movies. I know that everyone watches the Ed Wood films, and so I stay away from them. You can read countless reviews of them everywhere. Yeah, I reviewed the most popular one, Plan 9 From Outer Space, of course. And I'm not saying I won't ever review more. I'm just saying don't go expecting write-ups on each and every Wood film.
Glen or Glenda was Ed Wood's first movie, and was based loosely on himself. Wood, a crossdresser, decided to take on the idea of crossdressing and transgender issues in a drama with a science fiction twist. True to his nature that he would establish more in films after this one, he crosscut several different stories, most of them relating very little to each other, and then made it all somehow one "complete" film.
We open with Bela Lugosi, typically sitting in some bizarre room, introducing himself. He plays a character that has nothing to do with the movie, he is credited in Glen or Glenda as "The Scientist" and to me he came off like perhaps he was a God of Sexuality (maybe). We then go to Lyle Talbot and another man discussing crossdressing and sexual reassignment surgery. Lyle tells the story of a man, named Glen, who felt more comfortable dressing in women's clothing. Glen hasn't told this to his fiancee, Barbara. This is all presented very loosely, and there are other stories thrown in, along with other people who crossdress.
The movie doesn't feel altogether disjointed, but has no natural flow to it. The Bela Lugosi segments are indiscernible and make very little sense. It feels like Ed Wood didn't actually film Lugosi with this role in mind, just sort of had him say things and then edited into this movie later where it made the most sense. The Lyle Talbot / other guy interaction are the real tying piece of the story, not Lugosi. And then there's the weird Satan appearance and sexual "wtf" thing that happens about fifteen minutes away from the end.
Since this was a drama film, there is no "climax" of the dramatic story, so to serve as a climax for the movie, there is this series of ultra-bizarre sexual imagery which was apparently added in after the film was shot to make the interest factor go up a bit. It feels like it to. There's scenes of women undressing, being touched and raped, and some kinky f-ed up shit. This was actually a pretty cool sequence, it was disturbing and strange, and made the movie feel a lot more like a bad drug trip than anything else.
The rest of the movie is hit and miss. I can't say that I know of any other movie from 1953 or before that touch on some really relevant issues, including controversial ones like crossdressing and sexual reassignment surgery. I would have to concede in all seriousness that in those ways this was way ahead of it's time. I've seen a lot of 50's movies, and this one walks the line between an educational film and a silly fun flick. In another world, I think especially if this had not been made into a feature length film but rather an educational short, I think this would be seen as quite ahead of it's time.
But instead, it got Lugosi thrown into it, it had not one, not two, but three stories within stories, and the end part about sexual reassignment feels as tacked on and abrupt as it possibly could. Say what you will though, the sexual scenes, and the grace which it offers to it's subject are actually quite well done. I do have to say one thing though: I am really surprised Ed Wood ended the talk about crossdressing in the manner he did. He seems to say that men who crossdress do it because they need something from their wives. In the story once Glen and his wife work through the issue, Glen stops crossdressing. I don't know, but isn't that untrue? I would think they can't just "talk about it" with their wives and then stop? I would think that's what they do, it's who they are, and I would think Ed Wood as a crossdresser himself would have said that in this movie.
I apologize if this review wasn't as legible as some others. This movie was mind-boggling to put it lightly. What it feels like is if you took some 50's educational flick about crossdressing, and intercut scenes from a Lugosi film about monsters, then you took yet another movie with Lyle Talbot and edited that in, then lots of stock footage and other educational shorts, and edited parts of those in....it doesn't flow at all. Well, Ed Wood is known as the worst director ever and so it's not surprising the movie would feel this way. But, when you take the individual parts for what they are, some of them are quite good. So therefore, I would give this film 2.5 stars. As a B movie and as a real movie, it deserves some attention.