Glen or Glenda
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Synopsis for
Glen or Glenda (1953) More at IMDbPro »

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Glen or Glenda tells two stories. One is about Glen (Edward D. Wood Jr.), who secretly dresses as a woman but is afraid to tell his fiance. The other is about Alan ('Tommy' Haynes), a pseudohermaphrodite who undergoes a painful operation to become a woman.

Both stories are told by Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell). There's a second narrator, called the Scientist (Bela Lugosi), whose commentary on the action contains more philosophical pronouncements than facts. The movie will also have flashbacks-within-flashbacks and a strange dream sequence.

The introductory title card reads: "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....."

When the first scene opens, we see the Scientist 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 (his 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 (his 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 the Scientist. We see more of the room. On the Scientist'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.

The Scientist is reading a large book. He closes it and looks up at us. 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!"

A shot of the sky as lightning tears through it. We dissolve to the Scientist mixing chemicals in test tubes. He pours the results into a beaker and is happy with the result. "A life has begun!" he declares. He laughs.

A busy city street. Via a trick shot we the Scientist on the top half of the screen as he looks down. "People!" he spits. "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 looks ready to pounce, but then laughs and then sighs ironically.

"A new day is begun," he continues. We hear the sound of a baby. "A new life is begun." A shot of an ambulance and the wail of its siren cut him off; but he reappears, superimposed on the screen. "A life is ended."

We meet 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 case of suicide. A note left near the body confirms it.

This 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."

Later, Insp. Warren seeks to know more about transvestites and transsexuals. He goes to a psychiatrist, Dr. Alton, for the facts.

By this time the story has hit the papers. "Let us get our stories straight," says Dr. Alton. "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 brings up the case of a man's recent sex change, which Dr. Alton was involved in. "[Will an] operation do these people any good?"

"Some cases yes, some no. [...] 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 turning to us in 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. Presently we're looking down at the Scientist who squints at us and says, "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. [Presumably he means the story of Glen/Glenda.] Mistakes are made. But there is no mistaking the thoughts in a man's mind. The story is begun!"

Now we see Glen, dressed as Glenda, walking down the street. He's wearing a skirt and an angora sweater, while looking into a shop window. Dr. Alton (not the Scientist) says in a voice-over, "One might say, 'There but for the grace of God go I.'"

We see a newspaper with the headline, "WORLD SHOCKED BY SEX CHANGE." "Why," asks Dr. Alton, "is the world shocked by this headline?"

"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!"

We see Glen (as Glenda) at home. "Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt," Alton continues, "or even the lounging outfit he has on, 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 continues. "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."

Do transvestites want to change their bodies? "Many of them simply want to change the clothing they wear to that [which] is worn by the opposite sex."

We meet Barbara (Dolores Fuller), Glen's fiance. She and Glen seem happy together, but Glenda casts a shadow over his mind. Barbara is blissfully ignorant, but she does notice that Glen needs his nails trimmed. They're almost as long and as pretty as hers.

Dr. Alton continues his lecture: "Modern man is a hardworking human. Throughout the day his mind and his muscles are busy at building the modern world and its business administration. His clothing is rough, coarse, starched, according to the specifications of his accepted job.

"At home," he continues, "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."

Dr. Alton has an explanation for baldness: "Men wear hats, which cut off the blood flow to their heads." His statistic? "Seven out of ten men wear hats. ... Seven out of ten men are bald.

"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."

But if man dresses as woman? We ridicule him, says Dr. Alton. 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 (Conrad Brooks) 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."

Dr. Alton turns back to Glen. Young Glen wore his sister's dress to a Halloween party and won first prize. "Then one day," says Dr. Alton, as we see Glen lounging in his sister's clothes, "it wasn't Halloween any longer.

"Glen is a transvestite, but he is not a homosexual," he continues. "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."

Barbara starts to realize that something is wrong. She asks Glen, with more irony than she knows, if the trouble is ... another woman?

We abruptly cut to a shot of stampeding buffalo. Then we dissolve to the Scientist crying, "Pull the string! Pull the string! A mistake is made. The story must be told!" (The meaning of this brief scene is open to interpretation.)

Glen goes to his friend Johnny (Charles Crafts) for advice. Johnny is also a transvestite, whose wife divorced him when she found him wearing her clothes. Johnny advises Glen to tell Barbara about "Glenda."

Dr. Alton explains that Glen should have seen a competent psychiatrist. He notes that some transvestites take their secrets to the grave. We proceed to a flashback-within-a-flashback in which Dr. Alton rhetorically asks "Glenda" if she remembers the time, a year before, when Glen and Barbara had accepted each other. We see Glen and Barbara accepting each other.

We return from the flashback-within-a-flashback to the flashback. Glenda rushes into her house and then collapses as we hear a thunderclap. We dissolve into the Scientist delivering a cryptic warning: ""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!"

Next is a dream sequence.

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 the Scientist. "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 the Scientist. 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 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 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.

(Note: the sequence in italics is missing from some prints. Originally, the producer inserted this soft-core pornography into the film against the director's wishes. Ed Wood had nothing to do with it. Note also that in some prints the dream has a bit more footage than what is described here, and it runs in a slightly different order.)

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, giving the place an air of surreality. A sinister voice (not the Scientist'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. 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 frightened. The dream ends with Glenda falling down and upsetting the tipped-over love seat.

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 fiance 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 the Scientist, kneeling down with a silent plea. The Scientist, who has had no interaction with the other characters until now, makes a gesture of contempt that causes Glen to disappear.

Barbara makes a decision. She takes off her angora sweater and hands it to Glen.

Next we hear the story of Alan/Anne. Alan's parents always wanted a girl. Instead they got a pseudohermaphrodite, who was more boy than girl. Dr. Alton explains: "[A] hermaphrodite is one who has the organs of both the female and the male in plain sight. A pseudohermaphrodite is one who has one perfectly formed organ of either sex, and one imperfectly formed one that's difficult to detect."

Alan's main comfort during his stay in the army was a suitcase secretly filled with women's clothes. "Wherever Alan went," says Dr. Alton, "the suitcase was sure to go."

Eventually, Alan gets a sex change. "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.

The Scientist waves his hand over Alan and causes him to disappear. Then he waves his hand again and causes him to reappear as Anne.

Anne does become a woman and society accepts her. But what of Glen/Glenda? Glenda, Dr. Alton explains, is a fictitious character created by Glen to take the place of the love he never received from his mother or father. Barbara "kills off" this character by becoming everything to him that Glenda was: his mother, little sister and wife.

"But what of the hundreds of less fortunate Glens the world over?" asks Dr. Alton.

We return to the Scientist and hear the ominous rumbling of thunder. "Yes, but what of the others, the less fortunate Glens the world over?" he asks. "Snips and snails and puppy dog tails!"


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