I despise the notion that Ed Wood was a horrible filmmaker. Sure, his movies aren’t technically proficient and are often pretty maudlin in moments, but he’s an actual auteur. For this movie, he didn’t just direct and write, he also starred as Daniel Davies. Who else could? After all, Wood convinced producer George Weiss that he was the perfect director for this movie as he was a real-life transvestite.
In this movie, Wood takes pains to emphasize that a male transvestite is not automatically a homosexual. He swore that he had never had a single homosexual relationship in his life and was considered a womanizer. He also was given to directing his adult work in full drag and claimed that his greatest fantasy was to come back as a gorgeous blonde. Yet he still would say that he was comforted by the feel of angora.
So while the Golden Turkey Awards may give Wood the title of Worst Director of All Time and Leonard Maltin may say that this is “possibly the worst movie ever made,” it has heart. An inept heart, but heart.
A transvestite who has been to prison four times for cross-dressing has killed themselves, saying “Let my body rest in death forever, in the things I cannot wear in life.”
This leads Dr. Alton (Wood player Timothy Farrell) to seek out Glen, another man who loves to dress as the other sex, often stealing the clothing of his fiancee Barbara (Dolores Fuller, Wood’s girlfriend at the time). Glen is struggling between being honest with Barbara before their wedding or telling her afterward. Through extended dream sequences, he finally comes to terms with who he is and his other side, revealing it to her. As she hands him an angora sweater, she accepts every side of him.
The doctor then learns of another person, Alan/Anne. Anne was born a boy, but her mother wanted a girl and raised her that way, which left her abused throughout school. Despite hiding her true self during the war, she has since had an operation to become “a lovely young lady.”
Let me tell you, this kind of movie is incendiary in 2022. This was made in 1953.
A movie with these words, which we should live by: “Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, 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.”
So yes, Ed Wood isn’t someone with a cinematic eye. But he put himself — all of himself — on the screen. That’s worthy of celebration.
The inclusion of Bela Lugosi is as well. That’s what takes this movie from message movie to true oddity, as Bela plays The Scientist, a character unconnected to any narrative that begins the film and is not even the narrator, much like how Encounter with the Unknown decides to have a second uncredited voice take the role because just having Rod Serling is not enough.
“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.
Wood would bring back Glen/Glenda again in two of his novels. Killer in Drag has Glen/Glenda becoming a serial killer while Death of a Transvestite has Glen/Glenda being executed.
You can watch this on Tubi.
“…it has heart. An inept heart, but heart.”
This is why I consider this movie the best example of his biggest shortcoming: he was REALLY freakin’ bad at conveying his thoughts to the audience, so everything from him feels like it was made by an alien. His dialogues just don’t feel natural.
Here, the theme is obviously very personal and important to him, and yet, what we get is a movie where one half is trying to introduce and explain an issue in a way which is simple and basic to a degree that it’s powerless, and one half is complete, disjointed nonsense.
Sure, granted, the time wasn’t right for anything more nuanced (to say the least), but I still felt like his effort was, well, yeah, “inept”.
Although… Just yesterday, I’ve watched “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. It was way less interesting, yet I’ve still rated it 2 points higher because it was clearly more well made.
Maybe I am doing this wrong…