Glen or Glenda: Ed or Edwina?

DATELINE:  Transvest or Transsex?

ed Glen, Ed, or Alan Young?

We never thought we’d tackle Ed Wood, figuring it was beyond anything we could tolerate.

You never know until you sample the wares. Perhaps the decades of derision about his schlock-master directing jobs, or worse, being portrayed in a movie by Johnny Depp, has left Edward Wood with a reputation in tatters. He has become synonymous with laughingstock. What a shame.

Glen or Glenda was one of his daring efforts of 1953, on the heels of Christine Jorgensen and the sex-change scandals of that socially calm time.

Looking like a version of Alan Young on steroids, Ed Wood made us think Mr. Ed will show up at any point. However, it was Mr. Ed Wood who played the outrageous Glenda in blonde wig and high heels.

Simplistic and well-intended, the film was way ahead of its time in terms of trying to present a subject that was laughable to society. He likely contributed to the snide attitudes with his masculine “woman” who dresses like his girlfriend.

Indeed, the high point of their relationship is when she understandingly gives him her beautiful angora sweater that he yearns to wear.

The notion that transvestites and transsexuals were similar is debunked here, as well as the notion that transvestites were homosexual. You have to give Wood credit. He was trying too hard to bring legitimacy to the subject matter.

On hand, inexplicably, is Bela Lugosi, sending in his performance from an armchair. You might ask why is he here? Well, box-office and a payday for him could be the answer. He talks a great deal of gibberish in his tacked-on loony scenes.

Mostly the story is a psychiatrist telling Lyle Talbot, as a sympathetic detective who has found a suicide victim (a man dressed as a woman) and he wants to understand. Talbot also added a presence to the film, as he was better known from being the neighbor friend to Ozzie and Harriet on TV!

The low-budget film is in its own way equal to anything Kenneth Anger was trying to do outside the Hollywood system. Wood works with bad actors, bad script, bad sets, and a wacky message, to present something presentable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Son of Frankenstein, Reel History

DATELINE:  Consenting Monsters?

consenting monsters Love after Death.

In the days before cable TV, let alone streaming movies, we last saw the Monster in Son of Frankenstein from 1939. So, we jumped at the chance to look at the star-studded horror classic.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes fits in well as Colin Clive’s son 25 years later, indignant that the small-town minds refer to the monster by his distinguished family name. He is bemused when Igor notes the Monster is his half-brother.

Bela Lugosi, as a Dracula clone, returns as the undead Igor. Yes, he was hanged, declared dead, and came back to life. It gives him a special aura, not to mention the hideous makeup that Jack Pierce laid on him.

Boris Karloff returned to play the Monster one last time. His wardrobe has changed enough that he now wears a sleeveless sheepskin pullover. Not to point out the obvious: he is a wolf monster in lambskin clothing.

One of the bigger surprises is Lionel Atwill as the inspector of the small town with his creaky fake arm that he postures in salute or to hold a cigarette. Our favorite scene is when he puts his darts on the forearm before throwing them. Mel Brooks, where are you? The best scenes in the picture are when master scene stealers Rathbone and Atwill lock wits.

The story has an insipid subplot featuring the good doctor’s toddler son, an American like his mother, and both are point killers.

We loved the moment when the son (Rathbone as Sherlock) deduces that Lugosi has a hypnotic effect on the monster. “Elemental, my dear Benson,” he notes.

If there is any shockeroo, it is that Igor and the Monster seem to be gayly consenting adults. Igor can’t keep his hands off the Karloff creature, and they are clearly soulmates.

 

 

Black Camel: Chuck Chan in 1931!

DATELINE: Lost Gem

actor legends

 Lugosi with Oland.

One of the first of the Warner Oland Charlie Chan movies is a beautifully restored print from 1931. It has other surprises too. It was filmed on location in Charlie Chan’s home base of Honolulu and uses the scenery to great effect. It is cryptically called The Black Camel.

Fresh off the horror of the year, Dracula, you have two cast members in fine fettle:  Dwight Frye and Bela Lugosi. They play a respective butler and a questionable psychic, all too willing to help Chan.

Lugosi and Frye were scheduled to make James Whale’s Frankenstein after this picture, but when Whale saw this, he thought Bela Lugosi would be too scary for the monster. The part went to Karloff instead.

The film does not hide some white tourist prejudice, compounded because the detective is both Chinese and a policeman. And, the cast of extras includes many Hawaiians.

The dark metaphor of the Black Camel has something to do with kneeling Death coming a-calling. It is one of many little aphorisms that Charlie Chan spouts dryly.

Instead of an irritating older son, this film features an inept young assistant to Chan. We do see Charlie’s family at a large dinner table in one scene, but the cheap sets and low budget formula would come in the next few films.

Warner Oland is masterful, as always, and it is quite a mangled English that we hear from both Oland and Lugosi in their conversations, that are quite witty and delightful.

There are a half-dozen quite credible suspects, and they are indeed all gathered in the drawing room (and dining room) for the big reveal.

This wonderful early mystery is a surprise and delight on every level.