Glen or Glenda is a 1953 American docudrama film about cross-dressing and transsexuality and is semi-autobiographical in nature.
Wood himself was a cross-dresser, and the film is his plea for tolerance. It is often considered one of the worst films ever made. However, it has become a cult film due to its low-budget production values and idiosyncratic style.
Written and directed by Ed D. Wood Jr. (Plan 9 from Outer Space; Night of the Ghouls; Bride of the Monster; et al) the movie features Bela Lugosi and Wood’s then-girlfriend Dolores Fuller.
Glen or Glenda was apparently shot in just four days and was loosely inspired by the gender reassignment surgery of Christine Jorgensen, which made national headlines in the U.S. in 1952. Posters for the film publicize the movie as being based on Jorgensen. George Weiss, a Hollywood producer of low-budget films, commissioned a movie to exploit it. Originally Weiss made Jorgensen several offers to appear in the film, but these were turned down. Wood convinced Weiss that his own transvestism made him the perfect director despite his modest resume. Wood was given the job, but instead made a movie about transvestism.
Wood persuaded Lugosi, who by this point in his career was almost penniless and addicted to morphine, to appear in the movie. Lugosi’s scenes were shot at the Jack Miles Studios in Los Angeles. He was reportedly paid $5000 for the role, although some stories state the actual amount was only $1000. Lugosi is credited as “Scientist”, a character whose purpose is unclear. He acts as a sort of narrator but gives no narration relevant to the plot; that job is reserved for the film’s primary narrator, Timothy Farrell.
The raunchy vignettes were reportedly added by producer George Weiss. He needed extra scenes to add to what he felt was an overly short film. While not organic parts of the narrative, they seem to tell their own tales of gender dynamics and so fit in the general themes of the film.
Domestically, the film was limited in release, having been pre-sold (under alternative titles such including I Led Two Lives; He or She? and I Changed My Sex). Internationally, the film was also limited, and in France and Belgium, the title was translated as Louis ou Louise and in Argentina as Yo Cambié Mi Sexo (“I changed my sex”); the film even had a brief screening in the Republic of China.[ It was re-released theatrically by Paramount to cash-in on the early ’80s vogue for ‘worst movies’.
Typically, in repressive Britain, it was denied classification by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) upon submission on 26th February 1958.
“Glen or Glenda is almost as hilariously inept as Wood’s “classic” Plan 9 from Outer Space, with most of the unintentional humor stemming from how piously earnest it is. This first glimpse into the cinematic style of Edward D. Wood, Jr. served as a foreshadowing of things to come, and whether or not you think that’s a good thing depends on your tolerance for low-grade schlock.” 2,500 Movies Challenge
“This is all so obviously from the heart that the reason for the film, a prurient look at the sex change operations that were in the headlines, is allocated a swift ten minutes at the end (and most of that is World War II stock footage). There has never been a film quite like Glen or Glenda, which may be a blessing, but it’s the most unfeeling of viewers who isn’t on Wood’s side by the end credits.” The Spinning Image
“Defying the mainstream heterosexual prejudices of its time, Glen or Glenda doesn’t whimper for its share of tolerance; it insists upon a live-and-let-live coexistence with conservative thinkers. The passage of time has not transformed Glen or Glenda into a good movie; it has, however, revealed it to be a braver film than anyone had ever imagined.” TV Guide
Cast and characters:
Bela Lugosi … Scientist
Lyle Talbot … Inspector Warren
Timothy Farrell … Doctor Alton / Narrator
Dolores Fuller … Barbara
‘Tommy’ Haynes … Alan / Anne
Edward D. Wood Jr. … Glen / Glenda (as Daniel Davis)
Charlie Crafts … Johnny (as Charles Crafts)
Conrad Brooks … Banker / Reporter / Pickup Artist / Bearded Drag (as Connie Brooks)
65 minutes | 74 minutes (1982 re-issue)
Black and White (and later converted to colour too)
Aspect ratio: 1.37: 1
Audio: Mono | Stereo (Dolby Digital 2.0)