Glen or Glenda (1953)

Glen or Glenda (1953) movie poster

director Ed Wood, Jr.
viewed: 06/22/2018

Glen or Glenda is really Ed Wood, Jr.’s trash masterpiece.

Wood molds an Exploitation piece about the first well-known sex reassignment surgery into a very personal plea for tolerance for transvestism, and by proxy, other aspects of the non-cisgender spectrum. Coming in 1953, its message, while unbelievably clumsy and lodged in the limited language of the time, still seems an attempt at progressiveness. It’s entirely understandable to find it not just tin-eared but offensive.

Wood has a way with dialogue, uniquely Woodian, uniquely awful. And his staging of scenes is often so patently amateurish it seems like parody.

And yet, there are mesmerizing aspect of the film as well. And the discordance of elements, Bela Lugosi’s every moment for instance, breaks into accidental Surrealism, to boot.

It’s the personal angle that elevates the work above Wood’s typical genre work. A passion drives Glen or Glenda, even at its most ridiculous, imbuing it with an intensity not seen in Wood’s other films.

Jail Bait (1954)

Jail Bait (1954) movie poster

director Ed Wood, Jr.
viewed: 09/04/2015

This movie isn’t about what you probably think it’s about.  The Jail Bait of this Ed Wood, Jr. film noir is a gun and not an under-age child.  But it is Ed Wood, the real deal, though it’s not quite as hilariously bad as most of Wood’s pictures.  Some attribute this to the fact that he co-wrote it with Alex Gordon, tempering to some extent Wood’s flair with dialog.

A young man with a gun.  Even with an older sister (Dolores Fuller) and a well-respected doctor father (Herbert Rawlinson), he heads off down the wrong path.  He takes up with a real bad guy and goes on a heist where he winds up killing a watchman.  Oh, things look bleak.

I won’t try to detail the whole of the story, but the key twist in the film is one regarding plastic surgery and is hilariously campy as all those old early imaginings of plastic surgery in which people get brand new faces and look exactly like someone else!

Gotta hand it to Ed Wood.  He gets in a few awful turns of phrase and some wooden silliness, true to form.

Bride of the Monster (1955)

Bride of the Monster (1955) movie poster

director Ed D. Wood, Jr.
viewed: 09/08/2014

Gloriously recreated “making of” scenes of Bride of the Monster featured in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994) demonstrate the heartfelt affection that Burton and team had for Wood and this picture in particular.  Ed D. Wood, Jr. has gone down as the “worst director of all time” and fair enough.  At least his bad movies are incredibly fun and utterly enjoyable.

Bride of the Monster really might be his real masterpiece.  It’s a sight better than Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), though it features some classic silliness, almost non sequitur dialog, cardboard performances, and a weirdly intercut octopus, it does feature Bela Lugosi in his final speaking role, delivering a badly-written but impassioned performance that somehow sums up this whole strange affair.  The film is bad but it was made badly with love.

What’s the movie about?  There’s a mad doctor (Lugosi) with a monster in a swamp (the octopus) plus the ever-present Tor Johnson and the brutal henchman.  And something about a race of atomic supermen.

Oh, the 1950’s, they really did offer some great stuff.

I have to file this one under my growing list of movies that are indeed bad but that I’ve found myself enjoying more than hating, like Robot Monster (1953) and The Horror of Party Beach (1964).  And another truly great movie poster.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) movie poster

director Ed Wood
viewed: 1026/2013

I think that watching “the worst film ever made” is a legitimate rite of passage in developing one’s cinematic palate.  The night before, I introduced Felix and Clara to Night of the Living Dead (1968), definitely considered one of the great horror films of all time and I thought it an apt counterpoint to show Plan 9 from Outer Space the following night.  I’d actually tried to tempt the kids with the watching of this bad movie for fun before but initially couldn’t curry interest.  But as time went on, Felix started asking for it specifically.

There is a moderate amount of context that needs to be explained to fully appreciate the film.  For instance the appearance of Bela Lugosi in his final film.  And the appearance of the stand-in the Ed Wood, Jr. employed in scenes that were shot long after Lugosi’s death, in which the taller stand-in keeps his cape above his face to obscure the fact that he looks little if anything like Lugosi.  Clara got quite into this aspect of the film and started announcing “Bela Lugosi” and “not Bela Lugosi” in respective shots.

Laughing at the flying pie plates, the cardboard tombstones, actors reading scripts from their laps, disjointed dialogue is all part of the process.

Felix actually fell asleep and missed out on most of it.

There are definitely some seriously hilarious elements of the film.  It’s deservedly a legend, an archetype of bad movies.  But, as I explained to the kids, part of why it is such a great bad movie is because it was made in all earnestness.  The kids kept asking why Wood didn’t go back and fix things if he was really trying to make a good movie.  Well, I tried to explain it but decided that it might be more appropriate and efficient to show them Tim Burton’s movie Ed Wood (1994), so that is our plan for the next week’s movie night.

It wasn’t just Burton’s film but a lot of elements that came together in the 1990’s that brought Ed Wood, Jr. into a different kind of consideration, an appreciation for the passionate ineptitude, the true joys of the unintentional comedy, some aspects of Wood’s real life and Hollywood dreams all into a much more meta experience of his films.  It is in this way that I think we watched the film together.   Probably more so after watching Ed Wood.

Because in the 1980’s Michael and Harry Medved’s Golden Turkey Awards helped to establish the canon of the worst films ever made and Plan 9‘s and Ed Wood, Jr.’s place in the pantheon of bad.  Perhaps this is just a part of the development of movie-watching culture, cinema studies,  and pop culture.  The movie is pretty funny on its outside.  It’s inept, bad beyond bad in places, hard to fathom anyone not realizing this.  And trying to be objective about the worst B-movies of the all time, you might want to quantify if not qualify for it.

Whether it’s the worst movie ever made, well, I don’t really want to take that away from the film.  It gives it its notoriety.  But I don’t think I’ll file it in my Worst of page.  I think I like it too well for that to be my true attitude.