Glen or Glenda (1953) Review
“World Shocked by Sex Change”
Synopsis: A psychiatrist tells two stories: one of a transvestite (Glen or Glenda), the other of a pseudohermaphrodite (Alan or Anne).
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While Glen or Glenda is more technically drama or faux educational film than horror, it is often mentioned in the same breath as movies of that genre. Part of that is due to it being a product of actor/director/producer Ed Wood (his first direction, in fact). The other part of it is that to audiences of the time, it was meant to evoke horror. The whole movie is coded as such.
Horror has long played “the other” as wicked, a foil to normalcy. In this case, the other is transvestites. Though Ed Wood’s treatment is mostly sympathetic (after all, the movie is semi autobiographical for him), it’s impossible to ignore the choice of Bela Lugosi as God, the frequent and ominous lightning, or the bizarre ten minute orgy with a literal demon. Though the message of “love conquers all” certainly flies in the face of such horror-coded images, it’s hard to walk away from Glen or Glenda with a sense of comfort and surety that the message might otherwise evoke. (While on the surface accepting, the movie still feels the need to emphasize multiple times that transvestites aren’t homosexual.)
Outside of its role as part of cinematic and gay history, Glen or Glenda isn’t worth the watch. It’s been lovingly lampooned by MST3K alums The Mads for a reason – it’s a hot mess of story within story within story, with poorly connected framing by Bela Lugosi and more stock footage than anyone should have to sit through. (To say nothing of the aforementioned devil orgy). The acting is wooden and unconvincing, the story is shaky. What’s most worthy of note for the modern audience is the frank and tender desire of a shaken policeman wanting to understand a tragedy so he can better prevent it happening in the future. Let that (and the message that love conquers all) be what you take away from Glen or Glenda… and then never feel the need to watch it again.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: C-
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