Glen or Glenda (1953) Poster

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  • Glen or Glenda tells two stories. One is about Glen, who secretly dresses as a woman but is afraid to tell his fiancée. The other is about Alan, a pseudohermaphrodite who undergoes a painful operation to become a woman. The two stories are garbled by the use of two narrators (one of whom is played by the legendary horror star Bela Lugosi, who is billed as The Scientist), flashbacks-within-flashbacks and an absurd dream sequence.

  • Some would say infamous. The writer-director Edward D. Wood Jr. has the reputation for being the worst filmmaker of all time, and this is his worst film after Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) (1959). More fame -- or infamy -- arrived with the release of Ed Wood (1994) (1994), Tim Burton's biopic starring Johnny Depp in the title role. Many scenes are devoted to the making of Glen or Glenda.

  • 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 [sic] 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.....

  • We see Bela Lugosi sitting in a large chair with some kind of netting over it. He is shot from the shoulders up as he looks down. The shadow of the camera falls on the right side (Lugosi's right) of the chair. Behind him, and above his head, we see three shelves. The top shelf has two skulls on either end and a lion's head in the middle. The second has a shrunken head on the left side (Lugosi's left). Sticking out from the back of the chair is a long, cylindrical, object with a round head. The camera pulls back. The shadow of the camera disappears from the chair (and from the wall behind Lugosi). We see more of the room. On Lugosi's left is a skeleton hanging from the ceiling. On his right is a figure, also hanging from the ceiling, that looks like a native African in a loin cloth. We hear the sound of a violent wind. Lugosi is reading a large book. He closes it and looks up at the camera. He speaks.

  • "Man's constant probing of things unknown, drawing from the endless reaches of time, brings to light many startling things. Startling? Because they seem new? Sudden! But most are not new. The signs of the ages!"

  • We see him mixing chemicals in test tubes and a beaker. The Scientist could represent God. He looks at his work proudly and declares, "A life has begun!"

  • "People!" he says contemptuously, as he sits in his chair, looking down at the bottom half of the screen, which is filled with people walking along a busy street. "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! Dance to that which one is created for!" He laughs and then sighs ironically.

  • With a corpse lying on a daybed. The corpse is of a man wearing women's clothing. Insp. Warren (Lyle Talbot), who is investigating this case, quickly sees this is a suicide. Later, he seeks to know more about transvestites and transsexuals, and goes to Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell) for the facts.

  • The note, read aloud in a voice-over, says, "The records will tell the story. I was put in jail recently. Why? Because I, a man, was caught on the street wearing women's clothing. This was my fourth arrest for the same act. In life, I must continue wearing them. Therefore, it would only be a matter of time until my next arrest. This is the only way. Let my body rest in death forever in the things I cannot wear in life."

  • It seems to be breathing.

  • We cut to a shot of the radiator--a shot that is held for several moments. The shot of the radiator is designed to suggest how the suicide victim killed himself, supposedly by natural gas. Notice the inlet connection has been removed. Of course, in typical Ed Wood, Jr., style, he shows a steam radiator instead of a gas stove, gas heater or some other natural gas delivery appliance, which would have made much more sense.

  • Patrick. Or Patricia.

  • He's the narrator for two stories. One is of a transvestite named Glen, or Glenda (Edward D. Wood Jr.). The other is of a pseudohermaphrodite named Alan, or Anne ('Tommy' Haynes).

  • He's narrating the story of Dr. Alton narrating the two stories of the film.

  • Not according to Dr. Alton. He says to Insp. Warren, "Let us get our stories straight. You're referring to the suicide of the transvestite?" Warren replies, "If that's the word you men of medical science use for a man who wears woman's clothing, yes." "Yes, in cold, technical language, that's the word, as unfriendly and as vicious as it may sound. However, in actuality it's not an unfriendly word. Nor is it vicious when you know the people to whom it pertains."

  • Insp. Warren says, "Was [sic] operation do these people any good? I understand you were quite prominent in a case that hit the headlines a few weeks ago." Dr. Alton replies, "Some cases, yes. Others, no." Huh? He's answering the question about whether or not operating would do patients any good. He's not referring to the case he was prominent in.

  • Dr. Alton says, "You can only fully understand the sex change by taking two entirely different cases, two men with exactly the same background from childhood to manhood and onto their own decisions and destinations." Insp. Warren says, "I'd like to hear the story to the fullest." Dr. Alton rejoins, while staring into the camera for his close-up: "Only the infinity of the depths of a man's mind can really tell the story." The picture goes blurry. We cut to flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder. Then Bela Lugosi gives his opinion of Dr. Alton.

  • Lugosi tells us, as he squints into the camera above his head: "Dr. Alton, a young man though he is, speaks the words of the all-wise." He goes on to say, "No one can really tell the story. Mistakes are made. But there is no mistaking the thoughts in a man's mind. The story is begun!"

  • With a shot of Glen (Glenda) dressed as a woman. He walks along a street, in a skirt and an angora sweater, and looks into a shop window. Dr. Alton says in a voice-over, "One might say, 'There but for the grace of God go I.'"

    Why is this confusing? Glen is looking at a female mannequin in the store's display. Why would he, of all men, look at the representation of a woman and think, "There but for the grace of God ..."? Then we (or those of us still capable of paying attention) realize that we're hearing Alton's narration, not Glen's secret thought.

  • No. He merely interrupted his own story of Dr. Alton telling the story of Glen/Glenda. But Lugosi introduces the Glen/Glenda story by saying, "The story is begun!" Yes, but when the story actually begins, Alton narrates.

  • As Dr. Alton continues to narrate, he asks "Why is the world shocked by this headline?" The headline we read says, "WORLD SHOCKED BY SEX CHANGE." This suggests that the world is shocked that the world is shocked by sex change.

  • The headline, "Man Nabbed Dressed as Girl" seems to have been pasted onto the newspaper. Also, there seem to be four or five different news stories surrounding it.

    On the top left: "In the first place, he possesses two sets of credentials: one describes his mission as purely ecclesiastical, the other makes him persona grata at the Foreign Office, but without those diplomatic priveleges accorded."

    Top right: "About twenty minutes later he walked out, with the wound in his neck. He calmly approached the nearest guard on duty in the prison yard and pointed to the wound. He was taken to the hospital, where a first examination indi-..."

    Bottom left: "Mr. Connors also called for a close study of State and local taxes with a view to discovering possibilities of saving, and warned against 'hidden taxes.'

    "'We are suffering far more from the unseen taxes than from the seen,' he continued, 'for every article we purchase bears a tax in some form.' He mentioned 'unseen' taxes in manufactured goods purchased and in ..."

    Bottom right: "... may have hidden it in the warehouse.

    "Anna would spend five minutes with each of them, laying her hands on the afflicted parts of their bodies. Thousands of them left certificates declaring that they had been cured. The more she cured others, it seemed, the more her own health improved."

    And below that: "He probed and removed from his neck one inch of rusty knife blade. The ..."

  • By citing examples of other irrational opinions.

    "Airplanes!" we hear an old woman say in a voice-over, as we watch a plane dropping cargo. "Humph! Why, it's against the Creator's will. If the Creator wanted us to fly, he'd have given us wings."

    Dr. Alton says, "But we fly. Maybe some of you may still remember an even sillier remark."

    "Automobiles!" says an old man in a voice-over, as we see a field worker in a sombrero. "Bah! They scare the hosses [sic]! If the creator hadda meant for us to roam around the countryside, we'da been born with wheels!"

    "Silly?" Dr. Alton chides. "Certainly. We were not born with wings. We were not born with wheels. But in modern [sic] world of today, it's an accepted fact that we must have them. So we have corrected that which nature has not given us. Strangely enough, nature has given us all these things. We just had to learn how to put nature's elements together for our use, that's all. Yet the world is shocked by a sex change!"

    So has nature given us these things or not? Timothy Farrell, as Dr. Alton, probably should have emphasized the word "has" instead of "all" to indicate that he was deliberately reversing himself.

    So what exactly is Ed Wood's argument? People have opposed things that have since become accepted; therefore, it is silly to oppose anything new; therefore it is silly to oppose sex changes.

  • Dr. Alton explains. "Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even the lounging outfit he has on [this refers to Glen, seen during the voice-over], and he's the happiest individual in the world. He can work better, think better. He can play better. And he can be more of a credit to his community and his government because he is happy. These things are his comfort."

  • "But why the wig and makeup?" Alton asks. "He dares to enter the street dressed in the clothes he so much desires to wear, but only if he really appears female: the long hair, the makeup, the clothing, the actual contours of a girl."

  • Dr. Alton: "Many of them simply want to change the clothing they wear to that [which] is worn by the opposite sex."

  • Barbara (Dolores Fuller) notices Glen's nails are almost as long--and as pretty--as hers.

  • "Modern man is a hardworking human," explains Dr. Alton. "Throughout the day his mind and his muscles are busy at building the modern world and its business administration."

  • Dr. Alton: "His clothing is rough, coarse, starched, according to the specifications of his accepted job. At home, what does modern man have to look forward to for his body comfort? The things provided for his home, a wool or flannel robe, his feet encased in the same thick, tight-fitting leather that his shoes are made of. These are the things provided for his home comfort."

  • Men wear hats, which cut off the blood flow to their heads.

  • Alton: "Just for comparison, let's go native. Back to the animal instinct." We see African natives, beating drums and dancing. Surrounding them are skulls affixed to posts. The men have fancy masks. The women are unadorned. "There in the lesser civilized part of the world, it's the male who adorns himself with the fancy objects, such as paints, frills and masks. The true instinct. The animal instinct. Bird and animal life. Is it not so that it's the male who is the fancy one? Could it be that the male was meant to attract the attention of the female? What's so wrong about that?" he asks as a male carries off a female. "Where is the animal instinct in modern civilization? Female has the fluff and the finery, as specified by those who design and sell."

  • "Little Miss Female," says Dr. Alton, "you should feel quite proud of the situation. You of course realize that it's predominantly men who design your clothes, your jewelry, your makeup, your hair styling, your perfume. But life, even though its changes are slow, moves on. There's no law against wearing such apparel on the street, as long as it can be distinguished that man is man and woman is woman."

  • We see a woman reading the newspaper with the ubiquitous headline, "WORLD SHOCKED BY SEX CHANGE." The paper is covering her face. When she sets it down, it turns out "she" is a man wearing a dress, earrings and a long, thick beard. "You're doing it now," he says. "Laughing. Yet, it's not a situation to be laughed at."

  • He seems to be speaking directly to us, the audience. Then again, when he refers to things we're watching on the screen, it's possible that he's showing pictures of similar things to Insp. Warren. And it's possible he's a brilliant voice mimic, that the people deriding airplanes and automobiles are really him. And it's possible his statement to "Little Miss Female" is just a rhetorical device. Or perhaps the nurse walked back into the room and he said it to her.

  • His sister's dress.

  • Dr. Alton: "Glen is a transvestite, but he is not a homosexual. Transvestism is the term given by medical science to those persons who desperately wish to wear the clothing of the opposite sex, yet whose sex life in all instances remains quite normal."

  • Dr. Alton: "He is."

  • When Barbara asks Glen if his secret trouble is ... another woman. We cut to stock footage of stampeding buffalo. Then we dissolve to Bela Lugosi crying, "Pull the string! Pull the string!" He continues, "A mistake is made. The story must be told!"

  • Johnny (Charles Crafts) shares Dr. Alton's habit of referring to things that only we the audience can see. He says, "[My] marriage ended here." And we see printed on a wall, "SUPERIOR COURT Division 7." But he says this to Glen, who must assume that by "here," Johnny means the kitchen they're both sitting in.

  • Dr. Alton. But Johnny seems to finish the narration himself at the end of his story. This would make him a third narrator; and it would mean that at this point, Bela Lugosi is narrating the story of Dr. Alton narrating the story of Johnny narrating the story of his (Johnny's) wife catching him in women's clothes.

  • Dr. Alton tells us (or Insp. Warren, or someone) that Glen should have seen a competent psychiatrist. We then see Dr. Alton at his desk as his nurse files papers next to him. This means he's narrating footage of himself. Then he says that some cross-dressers take their secrets to their graves. We see Insp. Warren with the corpse at the beginning of the story. This means he's narrating a flashback of Insp. Warren, when he is supposedly telling this story to Insp. Warren, who was prompted to ask for this story by the event depicted in the flashback--which we, the audience, had already seen.

  • Dr. Alton rhetorically asks Glenda, Glen's alter ego, if she remembers the time, a year before, when Glen and Barbara had accepted each other. This leads us into yet another flashback-within-a-flashback. When that's finished, Glenda rushes into her house and then collapses as we hear a thunderclap, which sounds like gunfire, which makes us wonder if she's been shot. We dissolve into Bela Lugosi delivering a cryptic warning to "Bevare! Take care!" Next is a muddled dream sequence.

  • "Bevare! Bevare! Bevare of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys! Puppy dog tails and big, fat snails! Bevare! Take care! Bevare!"

  • That depends on what print you're watching.

    In the version available on Image Entertainment's DVD:

    We see shots of Glen (dressed as Glenda) alternating with those of Barbara. Glenda's hand gestures indicate that she wants Barbara to draw nearer. Barbara is in mental agony, which she indicates by holding her head in her hands and then dropping to the floor and slapping it with her palms. Glenda leaves the frame and the picture goes black.

    An effect, that's partly an iris out and partly a wipe, reveals Barbara struggling underneath something that looks like a tree. Glenda tries to pull it off her, but then she disappears, leaving Barbara to struggle alone. Glen appears and manages to pull off the tree and save her.

    We dissolve to a preacher. Barbara and Glen enter from behind the camera, facing the preacher and away from us, the audience. The preacher opens his book and then looks to his left. Satan appears. The preacher reaches toward Satan who gives him a ring. (Presumably, that is. Glen is obscuring the view.) The ceremony continues as Satan nods approvingly. Glen and Barbara kiss and walk toward the camera.

    We dissolve to Bela Lugosi. "Tell me, tell me, dragon! Do you eat little boys? Puppy dog tails and big, fat snails?"

    We dissolve to a close-up of Glen, lit from underneath, as smoke rises from behind him. He looks up at us, shaking violently. A child's voice says, "Puppy dog tails! Puppy dog tails! Puppy dog tails! Everything nice. Everything nice. Ha, ha, ha! Puppy dog tails!"

    We abruptly cut to Bela Lugosi, and the quality of the print is suddenly much worse. We alternate between shots of him, looking disgusted and outraged, shots of Glen looking frightened, and shots of women employed in various sado-masochistic activities. Both Glen and Bela seem to be reacting to the women.

    The vignettes: A half-dressed woman is whipped by a shirtless man. A woman stands at a pole, inviting some unseen person to come closer, as her dress nearly falls off. A woman in a flower-print dress seems bothered by it, so naturally she rips it off. A woman performs a semi-dance routine as she slowly lifts up her dress to reveal her underwear. A woman with her mouth gagged frees another gagged woman whose hands are tied to a bamboo pole that's set across her shoulders. A woman writhes on her couch, inexplicably in ecstasy. A second woman sneaks up and ties her hands together and then gags her. A brunette sits at her vanity combing her hair. Later, she's nearly nude on her couch as she writhes around on it. A man with a pointed beard appears and rapes her. The vignettes end with a shot of Lugosi giving an expression of amused resignation.

    Then we're back to the dream sequence. We see Glen in his house, only the furniture has been turned upside down and the fireplace is tilted, to give the place an air of surreality. A sinister voice (not Bela Lugosi's) says, "Big green dragons and big fat snails. Beware! Take care!"

    "I'm a girl!" says the smug little child's voice. Then, "I'm not! You're a boy! A puppy dog tail! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

    A man with a pitying expression appears out of thin air. (Note the door he stands in front of. There's a tilted picture frame hung on it. Surreal, eh?) Glen reacts with fright. Then he sees the ghostly image of a woman looking angry. "Everything nice!" says the disembodied girl-voice. "Puppy dog tails, puppy dog tails, puppy dog tails!"

    A man and a woman, both looking censorious, fade into the scene, as they stand in front of a chalk board. An older woman, equally disapproving, pops in behind them.

    The girl repeats her nursery rhyme phrases as others, including Glen's sister, appear. They all point to him and surround him, lead on by Satan. When they disburse, we see that Glen is now Glenda again. He, as she, is now happy. The music is sweepingly romantic. Barbara walks in and gestures for Glenda to come near. She does, but then changes to Satan. Barbara reappears on a tipped-over love seat, and her outfits change supernaturally. She beckons Glenda again, and then laughs in Glenda's face. A sad Glenda's mental state is represented by the superimposed image of several hands with wiggling fingers. The various people reappear and laugh as they wiggle their fingers menacingly.

    Satan is pleased by all this. Then the male voice says, "Beware! Beware! Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys. Puppy dog tails and big fat snails. Beware, take care! Beware." The delighted expression leaves Satan's face. The Prince of Darkness looks inexplicably frightened.

    The dream ends with Glenda falling down and upsetting the tipped-over love seat. After the dream, we see Glenda, reflected in a vanity mirror, entering a room.

  • Dr. Alton: "Glenda/Glenda has made the decision. Glen has decided to tell Barbara of his dual personality. To tell her of the nighties and negligees, the sweaters and skirts, the robes and dresses, the stockings and the high-heeled shoes, the wig and the makeup. All that goes to make Glen into Glenda. He tells Barbara he cannot cheat her of the knowledge that she as his fiancée should possess. All the facts. He tells her softly, hurriedly at first, then slowly as he becomes more technical. His hands move to caress the smooth material of her angora sweater, which he has so long, so desperately wanted to put on his own body. He tells of this to her, and she looks to the sweater and to his hands. Then, when it is all over, and that much of the story he knows is told, Barbara is not sure of her own thoughts."

  • Glen appears to Lugosi, kneeling down with a silent plea. Lugosi makes a gesture of contempt that causes Glen to disappear. In other words, Glen and the meta-narrator interact. Does that mean Lugosi is a character, not a narrator? Is he both? Is this part of the dream sequence? If so, whose dream is it? Glen's? Lugosi's? Ours? Some argue that this kind of thing puts Ed Wood into the company of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.

  • She takes off her angora sweater and hands it to Glen.

  • "Glen's case," says Alton, "is really the lesser advanced type cases [sic]."

  • No, says Alton. "No more than he's a pseudohermaphrodite."

  • Alton: "Oh yes, many, many of them. Once the source of supply is found it can be stopped, unless the patient refuses to cut off that source of supply."

  • With a shot of Alan/Anne's mother, who always wanted a girl, but got Alan instead.

  • The subject of Dr. Alton's second story, Alan or Anne, receives much less screen time than Glen or Glenda.

  • A suitcase full of women's clothes.

  • "[W]herever Alan went," says Dr. Alton, "the suitcase was sure to go."

  • "Never was there a whimper from [Alan]," says Dr. Alton of Alan's surgery and hormone shots, "because he knew that at the end of it all, he would at least be that what he had always dreamed"--a woman.

  • More warmly, it seems, than he feels about Glen. He waves his hand over Alan and causes him to disappear. But then he waves his hand again and causes him to reappear as Anne.

  • To make people appear and disappear, seemingly in and out of thin air, is a simple effect. You stop the camera in the middle of the action, have the actor who is to appear (or disappear) walk into (or out of) the shot, and then restart the camera. Ed Wood screws up this effect. For the illusion to work, everything in the shot, besides the appearing/disappearing actor must remain perfectly stationary. When Lugosi makes Anne appear, the props and lighting change very noticeably.

  • No. One, it includes the shot of the newspaper with the obviously pasted-on headline. Two, it has a shot of Glen turning to the camera and saying (sans soundtrack), "Cut!" Three, a title card says, "MOST DARING FILM OF YEAR [sic]."

  • Two different prints of this film are in circulation--one censored and one uncensored. The censored one removes: a scene showing a homosexual making a pass at another man; Alton's narration explaining that transvestites do not wear women's clothing to attract other men; Alton's later admission that some transvestites do have homosexual tendencies; the punchline to the steel mill workers' conversation; a shot from the dream sequence showing Glen ripping off Barbara's blouse; and the brief sequence showing Ann learning her new duties as a woman. The uncensored print has these scenes--but it does not have the soft-core sadomasochistic pornography that the producer inserted into the dream sequence against Ed Wood's wishes. The censored version does have these scenes. This distribution gob-smacker is perfectly in keeping with Glen or Glenda--an oddity beyond other oddities.


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