“Some argue that this kind of thing puts Ed Wood into the company of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.
Should we buy this argument? Pull the string!”–IMDB Glen or Glenda FAQ
DIRECTED BY: Ed Wood, Jr.
FEATURING: Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood, Jr. (as Daniel Davis), Dolores Fuller, Timothy Farrell,
PLOT: A transvestite is found dead, a suicide. Seeking to understand more about this phenomenon, a police inspector visits a psychiatrist who explains transvestism to him using the example of Glen, a heterosexual man who is tormented by the question of whether he should reveal his passion for cross-dressing to his fiancée. Meanwhile, a sinister, omniscient “scientist” (played by Bela Lugosi) occasionally appears to cryptically comment on the action (“pull the string!”)
- Producer George Weiss wanted to make a film to exploit the then-current case of Christine Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen), one of the first men to have successful sex-reassignment surgery. According to legend, Ed Wood convinced Weiss that he was the right man to direct the picture because he was a transvestite in his private life and understood gender confusion. The resulting film, shot in just four days, ended up being more about transvestism than sex-change surgery.
- Against Wood’s wishes, Weiss inserted bondage-themed imagery into the dream sequence to give the film a dash more sex.
- Wood himself plays the transvestite Glen (and Glenda) under the pseudonym Daniel Davis.
- In his own life, Wood did not take the advice he gave his character in Glen or Glenda to honestly discuss his desire to wear women’s clothes with his betrothed. Wood’s first wife had their marriage annulled in 1955, after Ed surprised her by wearing ladies’ undergarments to their honeymoon.
- This is the first of three collaborations between Wood and then down-on-his-luck and opiate-addicted Bela Lugosi. Three of Lugosi’s final four credits were Wood films.
- Some reviews of Glen or Glenda refer to Lugosi’s character as “the Spirit” rather than “the Scientist”; were there two separate sets of credits, each with a different name for the character?
- Wood’s 1963 novel “Killer in Drag” features a transvestite character named Glen whose alter-ego is named Glenda.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Such a wealth of possibilities! What about the hairy Satan who inexplicably shows up at Glen and Barbara’s dream wedding? And who can forget Bela Lugosi, yelling nonsense at the viewer while his angry face is superimposed over a herd of stampeding buffalo? The iconic image, however, is Wood’s intended emotional climax: in a ridiculously touching gesture of unconditional acceptance, Glen’s girlfriend Barbara strips off her angora sweater and hands it to the wide-eyed transvestite.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A narratively-knotted 1950s pro-transvestite pseudo-documentary, told in naively earnest rhetoric via a wandering structure that includes flashbacks inside of flashbacks, would have made for a worthwhile oddity in itself. But throw in Bela Lugosi as a one-man Greek chorus reciting fractured fairy tales, and include a fourteen-minute dream sequence mixing Freudian symbolism, bargain-basement Expressionism, bondage, and a guest appearance by the Devil and you achieve incomparable weirdness, the way only Ed Wood could serve it up—on a bed of angora.
Clip from Glen or Glenda
COMMENTS: Ed Wood had a secret, and it’s not just that he liked the feel of silk panties under his rough trousers. Transvestism, in a way, was the Continue reading 170. GLEN OR GLENDA (1953)