Controversial subjects like cross-dressing and sex-change operations were still taboo in the early 1950's, but unfortunately, the man most likely to provide an accurate depiction of the transvestite male was also the man least competent to tell the story on film. Ed Wood's first feature as a director is, on one level, a shockingly honest and telling portrayal of the human condition. On yet another, it is one of the most incomprehensible and mind-boggling pieces of celluloid waste ever created in the history of cinema.
GLEN OR GLENDA is almost an exact transcription of Wood's struggle as a cross-dresser, and a daring exposure that ended up taking a huge toll on his personal life. In the main story, a conflicted 'Glen' is faced with the impossible decision of either revealing his alter-ego, the angora sweater wearing 'Glenda,' to his fiance at the risk of losing her, or living out the rest of his life hiding in the shadows of his true inner self. Meanwhile, the sadistic Scientist looks down from his hellish quarters to mock his human pawns as they quarrel with their own existences.
A withered old Bela Lugosi spouts out countless lines of nonsense as stock footage of bustling sidewalks and packs of buffalo (?) scroll below him. "Pull the strings! Pull the strings!" he shouts, but this cruel creator would rather watch as his subjects suffer than ever intervene. Wood, himself, stars as the troubled Glen and Glenda, whose rigid performance is infinitely more natural than his own torturous scripting. Most of Ed's characters speak to each other in long strings of monologue when they aren't pantomiming under a dictating narrator. Confused lines about how objected people once were to the airplane and automobile are used in correlation to modern society's exception of transgendered individuals. Wood then concludes his story with a sad and rather defeatist look at his own condition that is perhaps a secret wish that he knows will never come true.
For all of its lack of skill and production, GLEN OR GLENDA is, at its roots, a harrowing and heartfelt (if not completely misguided) film that has earned an irreplaceable spot in the annals of American cinema.
If you liked GLEN OR GLENDA, check out:
BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, PINK FLAMINGOS, DRESSED TO KILL, ED WOOD.