Glen or Glenda (1953)

Also known as: Glen or Glenda: Confessions of Ed Wood
He or She
I Changed My Sex
I Led 2 Lives
The Transvestite

If you've scanned a few of my reviews on GGG you'll probably be aware by now that, although I enjoy a good "bad" movie with the rest of them, I refuse to take a thoroughly vicious take on a given film. I love a bit of poetic writing on a film's less adept moments but I still enjoy the films thoroughly, as long as I'm not bored - the cardinal sin. So, if you want to read about how bad Glen or Glenda is, you might want to look elsewhere ... "badness" is only a small part of this rather incredible film.

My namesake, Bela Lugosi, is probably technically the star of the film, but it's Ed's movie, really. Bela pops up now and again as "The Spirit", sort of a god-like figure watching over the proceedings of humanity. I'm not exactly sure what his role is, but his line delivery is great fun to listen to. You'll never think of "snips and snails", the old children's rhyme, in the same way again.

Amazingly for the time, the whole film centres on the experience of being a transvestite, or a transsexual, in the American society of 1953. We have scenes of adult men sitting down at tables together, discussing their problems due to their clothing habits. No punching to solve problems? Can you imagine the society of the time, and how many sections would have reacted? This is truly a brave effort.

The film is more-or-less in two parts. In the first section Ed, under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis", plays Glen, who is struggling with his conscience about whether to tell his soon-to-be-bride Barbara, played by Dolores Fuller, about his cross-dressing proclivities. We see him in his daily life, buying negligees - he likes them "very sheer" - window shopping in drag, and so on. He has numerous chats with friends about his dilemma, and even has nightmares and visions - the highlights of the film. Finally he tells her and though shocked, she accepts the situation and even gives him her coveted angora sweater!

The second section, much shorter, is about Alan/Ann, a "pseudo-hermaphrodite" who has a sex change and emerges as a fulfilled person. This section is fairly dull and clips of the first part seem to make their way in from time to time, so even Ed must have been less keen on it. Glen's story is definitely the soul of the film. And what a delirious soul it is! Glen's hallucinations are quite extraordinary. dragged-up "Glenda" can't remove a log trapping Barbara, but masculine Glen can. We watch as the scene shifts to ancient, light bondage clips. You have to see these to believe them - but no-one is particularly suffering, I can tell you that ... all the participants have a sort of stifled laughter on their faces.

Another character pops up called "The Devil" who is a little old man - see the image above - with super-long furry antenna eyebrows. He's part of a persecutory group who point the finger at Glen for being a fraud. Once you see him, you'll never forget him, that's a Lugosi guarantee. Finally, after being overwhelmed by all the finger-pointers, Glen rises up as Glenda. He has faced his fear, and comes clean with Barbara.

Along with Glen's hallucinations, we have the customary Woodian random images - buffalo stampedes, lightning, even Bela's presence is pretty randomly used - and the classic dialogue. If a psychiatrist asked me if my purpose for coming was "business or pleasure", I'd probably want to check his license, and try to remember if there was a red light on the door coming in! Listen to the dialogue yourself though, I don't want to rob you of the enjoyment by pre-empting it. Despite the humour derived by my generation-X everything-old-is-funny smartassedness, my overwhelming feeling about this film is the courage it took to make it. You just won't see a cinematic step into a personal abyss like this made nowadays. So for this film and all the others - thanks, Ed, wherever you are now ... you've mad our humdrum lives that little bit more enriched. I hope the angora still feels wonderful.


© Boris Lugosi 2002.


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Review written: 06/18/2002 12:28:33