30/09/2012

Le Plaisir (1952)

Jean Gabin and Danielle Darrieux in another portmanteau work, this time a trio of sublime Guy de Maupassant adaptations from Max Ophüls, the great poet of movement, symmetry and splendour. ‘Le Masque’ tells of a mysterious reveller who collapses from over exuberance one evening at Montmartre’s Palais de la Danse. Upon inspection by a physician, this strange dandy is revealed to be an elderly man sporting a rubber mask, endeavouring to defy the years by concealing his wrinkles and grey hair so that he can continue to pursue wine, women and song as he did in his youth. ‘Le Maison Tellier’ tells of a brothel madam (Madeleine Renaud) who closes her establishment for the weekend to attend her niece’s first communion in the countryside, attending the ceremony with her full complement of staff in tow, much to the delight of their host, her brother Joseph (Gabin). Finally, ‘Le Modèle’ is the tragic story of an artist (Daniel Gélin) and his model (Simone Simon) who fall in and out of love before her suicide attempt leads them to reconcile.

One is quick to run out of superlatives when it comes to Ophüls. The obvious thing to note is his virtuoso use of a camera, never more spectacular and inventive than in Le Plaisir, a film in which the director keeps finding ingenious new tricks with which to echo and enhance the themes and mood of his action. Ophüls sends us swirling deliriously around the Palais as the masked man throws himself into the can-can in insolent defiance of death, has us scale the walls of Madam Tellier’s cat house and peer through the windows before the shutters are discreetly closed and takes us hiking through the bushes to spy on two lovers as they quarrel by the river bank. But our man saves his most remarkable feat for last, the astonishing death plunge of Simon’s heartbroken model – racing up the stairs of Jean Servais’ studio before leaping and crashing through a glass conservatory roof below, all shot in the first-person.


The film takes pleasure as its theme and I can think of few more joyous sights than that of Gabin’s cheery farmer ferrying his bevy of prostitutes by horse-drawn cart through the yellow rape fields of Normandy, a broad grin beaming across his face. His chaste romance with one of their number, Rosa (Darrieux), feels like a very human moment of connection between two lonely souls and her tears in the chapel and his drunken toast at the subsequent banquet are unforgettable because of the truths they encapsulate.

28/09/2012

Dead Of Night (1945)

This was Ealing’s only horror film and, although it proved influential, it has to be said that Dead Of Night is a bit of a mixed bag. A portmanteau affair bringing together five tales of the uncanny and supernatural, the film united four of Michael Balcon’s finest directors - Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer – but ultimately suffers as a result of its inconsistency of tone.

Architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) arrives at a rural country manor where he is unnerved to find that he has encountered several of the strangers he meets there before in a dream. His alarm is dismissed by the resident rationalist psychiatrist (Frederick Valk) but the rest of the guests are intrigued and begin recounting their own experiences. The highlight of these stars Googie Withers as a bride-to-be who presents her fiancé Peter (Ralph Michael) with an antique mirror as a wedding gift, little realising that the looking glass is haunted and reflects only the bedroom of its previous owner, a nineteenth century aristocrat who murdered his wife and seems intent on possessing Peter from beyond the grave. Directed by Hamer, then an editor making his debut behind the camera, this is genuinely scary stuff that benefits enormously from Withers’ experience and conviction. The nuttiest tale in the bunch comes from Crichton and reunites professional Englishmen Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, better known as Charters and Caldicott from Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). This time the boys play Parratt and Potter, two best friends and rival golfers (rather than cricket buffs) who fall out over a girl and decide to play 18 holes for her hand. Parratt wins her by cheating, prompting Potter to drown himself in a lake, only to return from the hereafter to haunt his old chum on his wedding night. A great deal of silliness but apparently taken from an original story by H.G. Wells, if you can believe it. Dearden directs much of the workmanlike filler material while Cavalcanti brings in the most opulent scenes, a traditional Victorian Christmas ghost story of the don’t-be-ridiculous-he-died-years-ago variety and the concluding account of a ventriloquist driven to drink and insanity by a dummy with a life of its own. The killer doll plotline may be an old chestnut now thanks to Child’s Play (1988) and its ilk and was hardly fresh in 1945, but the episode is notable for a riveting central performance from Michael Redgrave, foreshadowing Norman Bates as a tormented and increasingly psychotic schizophrenic.


As well as the directors and stars on show, Balcon was able to deploy studio writers T.E.B. Clarke, John Baines and Angus MacPhail with composer Georges Auric to crank up the tension. There’s also a wealth of British character talent on show in supporting roles, from Miles Malleson as a gleeful hearse driver in an E.F. Benson-based short to Peter Jones as a clubhouse barman. Uneven overall but a suitably dark film to have made in wartime, there’s enough good stuff in Dead Of Night – not least the creepy ending that ties it all together - to make it a shame the studio didn’t return to the genre at a point when it was casting around for a new creative direction.

22/09/2012

Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

Just two years after completing The Ladykillers for Ealing, the great Alexander Mackendrick found himself in Hollywood directing this acidic noir as his old home studio was sold off to the BBC. Another masterpiece, Mackendrick’s film follows the slimy trail of Manhattan press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a shameless and desperate story hustler on the payroll of celebrated Globe columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). The self-styled “eyes of Broadway”, Hunsecker is an influential opinion former whose syndicated editorial is read by 60 million people, allowing him to make or break careers with a simple clack of his typewriter. A monstrous control freak as well as a mastermind with the city in his grasp, Hunsecker bullies Falco into breaking up a relationship between his meek, naive younger sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), a jazz guitarist with the Chico Hamilton Quartet whom Hunsecker disapproves of. But even a man as cheap and lowdown as Falco, unscrupulous enough to orchestrate smear campaigns, dupe prospective clients and whore out cigarette girls to rivals, balks at what’s expected of him on this particular job...


Sweet Smell Of Success is a coruscating tale of grubby ambition, cancerous cynicism and blackmail, a hellish vision of a world held to ransom by the satanic Hunsecker, who holds all the cards by ensuring he has the skinny on everyone. Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944) and Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950) also understood the power of the press as a means of dispersing poison for personal political gain but living under Hunsecker’s all-seeing gaze is something far worse. Much more than just a gossip commentator, he is Orwell’s Big Brother personified, always watching and able to bring down a senator with a single sentence gravely informing his readership of their elected representative’s infidelity. The city’s great and good are helpless to fight back against the Hunsecker by-line and live in fear of his network of crooked informers. “I love this dirty town”, he says, without smiling. New York wouldn't look this rotten again until Travis Bickle got behind the wheel of his famous death cab to cruise its seven circles with hate in his heart.



The film’s story was based on a “novelette” by future Hitchcock screenwriter Ernest Lehman entitled ‘Tell Me About It Tomorrow!’, which was published in Cosmopolitan in 1950 and took inspiration from the life and career of Walter Winchell, coloured by Lehman’s own experiences of working as a PR man picking up scoops for Irving Hoffman, a columnist at The Hollywood Reporter. Hoffman originally broke off relations with Lehman in disgust at its publication before endorsing him as the best candidate to adapt the piece when news spread of its being optioned for a potential movie. Lehman got the job and originally hoped to direct the script himself before falling ill and bowing out of the project altogether. United Artists brought in Mackendrick instead, who quickly handed Lehman’s draft over to outcast left-wing playwright Clifford Odets to turn into something more cinematic and less dialogue-driven. Odets did so but took much longer than expected, occasionally composing fresh lines or rewriting complex new scenes on set up to an hour before shooting was due to commence. This nerve-wracking approach paid off in the end, however, and Lancaster, the film’s star and co-producer, delivers an utterly magnificent performance, his eyes flicking about frantically behind his reflective glasses as he sips tea deep in thought. His tiny teeth spit forth cruel character dissections as casually as breath from his lair in the 21 Club while his hulking swimmer’s frame promises a physical threat where there should be none. Curtis too is splendidly oily playing against type as Falco and there’s a memorably unsettling turn from a sweaty Emile Meyer as Lt. Harry Kello, Hunsecker’s unofficial muscle. Mackendrick’s cinematographer, James Wong Howe, also excels, cloaking the city in an atmosphere of moody hipster cool borrowed from French gangster films like Rififi (1955) and anticipating their New Wave successors À Bout De Souffle (1960) and Le Samouraï (1967). Rarely has a film said so much in so little time. Here’s mud in your column.

20/09/2012

Richard III (1955)

Another prestige literary adaption centred around a deformed anti-hero with a monomaniacal longing for power. Archaeologists claimed to have found Richard Plantagenet's bones buried beneath a car park in Leicester last month so what better time to revisit Laurence Olivier’s seminal staging of the Immortal Bard's Richard III for Alexander Korda’s London Films?

This was to prove the final entry in Olivier's Shakespeare cycle after Henry V (1944) and Hamlet (1948) and it remains a definitive portrayal of the Machiavellian crookbacked pretender (although Ian McKellen’s interpretation of Richard as a 1930s fascist in Richard Loncraine’s 1995 version is also highly memorable). Olivier had first played the role on stage at the Old Vic in 1944 and truly inhabits Richard, fleshing out the man as a twisted, gleefully conniving, resentful grotesque, self-loathing enough to sport the image of a wild boar on his heraldry but vicious in battle when it comes to self-preservation and the pursuit of glory. The great stage actor apparently based his limping portrayal of Edward IV’s usurper on Jed Harris, a theatrical producer he once described as “the most loathsome man I’d ever met”. Olivier’s characterisation went on to inspire John Lydon’s Johnny Rotten punk persona at the formation of the Sex Pistols in 1976 and, indeed, the diminutive Lord Farquaad in DreamWorks’ insanely popular fairy tale animation Shrek (2001). Larry entices the audience into the Duke of Gloucester’s murderous intrigues by addressing his soliloquies directly to camera – a replication of an established theatrical technique that proves a novel innovation on film, breaking the fourth wall in engrossing style.



Orson Welles, Grigori Kozintsev, Akira Kurosawa, Franco Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh are among those directors to have brought Shakespeare to the screen on multiple occasions but few could have summoned as expert a cast as Olivier does here, with knights of the realm John Gielgud, Cedric Hardwicke and Ralph Richardson joined by a wealth of talented newcomers including Claire Bloom and Michael Gough. All are impressive and understated and look at home in the period settings, which the director strived to make as historically accurate to the War of the Roses as possible. Filmed at Shepperton Studios in garish Technicolor, Olivier’s wandering camera does occasionally feel a tad studio-bound and a number of painted backdrops are painfully obvious. Location shooting might have been a better option,  budget permitting, as this helped bring a real sense of place to other period costume dramas like Fred Zinnemann’s later A Man For All Seasons (1966). Having said that, the one time the players do venture outside, for the climactic Battle of Bosworth Field, the results are slightly ludicrous as the parched landscape clearly gives itself away as southern Spain, some distance from rural Leicestershire. Nevertheless, Olivier is as rousing in battle as he is lurking behind the throne or crowing orders to Buckingham (Richardson) and his death amidst a sea of armour, bringing the House of York crashing down around him, comes as something of a relief, for us and for England. 

18/09/2012

The Invisible Man (1933)

“Power, I said! Power to walk into the gold vaults of the nations, into the secrets of kings, into the holy of holies, power to make multitudes run squealing in terror at the touch of my little invisible finger. Even the moon's frightened of me, frightened to death!“

This famed Universal horror from producer Carl Laemmle and director James Whale features an aggressive and unhinged central performance from the criminally underrated Claude Rains that is as eerie as the film itself is disappointing. Rains, whose face we only see for the first time in death in the final shot, brings considerable physical and vocal menace to his role as Dr Jack Griffin, the renegade chemist and fugitive who pitches up at the Lion’s Head pub in Iping one dark and snowy night demanding room and board, his face mysteriously concealed behind a mask of bandages. It soon becomes clear that Griffin’s obsession with finding a cure for his self-inflicted condition is only the first step towards much more megalomaniacal ambitions. This tainted ghoul, his mind addled by the prospect of power, plans to achieve world domination by perfecting his formula and selling it to the highest bidding government so that they can weaponise it and conquer all comers with invisible armies. A nightmarish thought that ominously anticipated events in Europe at the end of the decade in which Whale’s film was made.
   
An uncredited Preston Sturges and Philip Wylie apparently helped R.C. Sherriff adapt H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel for the big screen but Whale’s film of their script largely falls flat because of its small scale, provincial trappings and uncertainty of tone. Rains’ performance, aided by an iconic costume and some ingenious special effects (especially when Griffin lights a cigarette unseen), makes for a truly great horror character but a grotesque landlady (Una O’Connor) and a squad of comic policemen puncture the tension with their respective shrieking and bumbling and undo much of the star’s good work. Griffin’s proposed terror campaign also never really seems likely given the obvious budgetary limitations and a love story subplot with Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), the daughter of a former colleague, helps shade Griffin’s madness with poignancy but isn’t given the time it needs to really matter. However, legendary genre director Whale does squeeze in a couple of stylish tracking shots and the liberating thrills of invisibility are tantalisingly conveyed. Among the supporting players, Henry Travers is the biggest surprise but there are also cameos for versatile veterans Dudley Digges, Walter Brennan, John Carradine and Dwight Frye. 

The Invisible Man has of course been resurrected a thousand times for remakes, crossovers and TV series since, most notably for a 1940 sequel to this film starring Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke and Cecil Kellaway and most recently by Alan Moore for his ingenious graphic novel serial The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999-). Another interesting spin on Wells’ story is Paul Verhoeven’s pervy mad scientist thriller Hollow Man (2000), which makes the most of the conceit’s lewder possibilities as a voyeur’s fantasy. Griffin, after all, is one of fiction’s foremost naturists, spending much of his time cackling mischievously in the buff.

12/09/2012

Journey To Italy (1953)

Roberto Rossellini’s bleak relationship drama stars Ingrid Bergman (his wife at that time) and the redoubtable George Sanders as Katherine and Alex Joyce, an English couple married for eight years who travel to Italy to sell off a Neapolitan villa they have recently inherited from a deceased uncle. Plucked from the reassuring superficiality of their London social circle, the pair quickly realise how rarely they have been left alone together since their honeymoon and how little they understand one another. He unwisely declares himself “bored” early on and insists that the trip is purely for business purposes while she fantasies about a young poet she once knew who lived in the area and spends her time visiting local museums and tourist attractions, surveying the ruins of antiquity where she imagines her old flame once sat and penned his odes with a wistful sigh. In the evenings Alex and Katherine reunite to exchange passive-aggressive barbs and casual cruelties, with both parties subtly seeking to arouse the other’s jealousy. This brittle, embittered husband and wife finally begin to discuss the practicalities of divorce before unexpectedly rediscovering their love just as it threatens to be swept away.


Bergman’s affair with Rossellini on the set of Stromboli (1950) had scandalised the hypocrites of Tinseltown when the story broke and effectively led to her exile from Hollywood. By the time the pair came to shoot Journey To Italy, however, their marriage was beginning to fall apart at the seams. The resulting film inevitably contains traces of unhappy autobiography then and can be a difficult watch at times, but ultimately remains immensely rewarding. Rossellini tosses the guidebook out of the window, forgoing the conventional narrative structure of romance melodramas and instead allowing his simple, emotional story the luxury of unfolding naturally, realistically and at its own pace. This gave audiences time to breathe and reflect in a way they had rarely, if ever, been allowed before, hence the film’s well deserved retrospective acclaim and the bemused reaction of contemporary popcorn grazers. You believe in Sanders and Bergman as a couple (they had previously appeared together in Rage In Heaven, 1942) and both are superb at conveying the sort of bile that often lies beneath the surface of good old fashioned British reserve, distilled from years of unspoken resentment, blame and disappointment. Hidden behind a protective mask of detached cynicism, their respective anger occasionally erupts in snide asides and cutting critiques that are utterly credible and all the more painful for it. However, Journey To Italy ultimately concludes with an optimistic flourish, showing us just how easily love can be rediscovered and regained when all the shouting's over.

11/09/2012

The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

What a crying shame it is that this haunting exercise in Southern Gothic expressionism turned out to be the only feature Charles Laughton would ever make as director, for it is truly a masterpiece. Disappointed by the negative critical response and indifferent box office, the great actor never again stepped behind the camera and a huge talent was lost to filmmaking.

Knowingly theatrical and almost Biblical in tone, The Night Of The Hunter is a simple fable about two children pursued down the Ohio River during the Depression by Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), a villainous ex-con posing as a reverend. Powell knows that the kids know the whereabouts of the loot their late father Ben Harper (Peter Graves) stole during a desperate bank robbery and is keen to claim it for himself. John (Billy Chapin), the elder of the two, is horrified as Ben's old cellmate wheedles his way into the affections of their grieving mother Willa (Shelley Winters) and eventually marries her, all the while needling John and his little sister Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) about the location of Ben's bounty (it's stashed inside Pearl's doll, Miss Jenny). When Powell eventually slays Willa, leaving her body parked at the bottom of the river behind the wheel of a sunken Model T Ford, her hair billowing in the current like “meadow grass under floodwater”, John and Pearl flee downriver by raft. The orphans are lucky to find salvation in the arms of saintly foster parent Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), but Powell won't give up that easily. Motherless children sure have a hard time.


Big Bad Bob Mitchum is at his absolute best here as the falsest of false prophets, a fire-and-brimstone preacher turned serial widow murderer prone to twisting the Old Testament to his convenience. "There's plenty of killings in your book, Lord..." he observes, cocking an eye skyward. Mitchum’s later turn as Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962), another psychotic in pursuit, would serve as an encore but really it’s a pale imitation of the power he exerts here. Looming through doorways, casting a shadow over the horizon, loping by the riverside on a stolen white horse or hollering for the children unseen in the darkness, Powell is a demon from deep down in the blackest recesses of the pit.

Here's a nice example of his crooked charisma in action, a piece of evangelical showmanship that Spike Lee would have Radio Raheem imitate in Do The Right Thing in 1989.
 

I can think of few scenes more spine-tingling in cinema than the moment in which this Satanic serpent is sat coiled outside Rachel’s house crooning the ancient hymn ‘Leaning On The Everlasting Arms’ as the old Mother Goose keeps watch inside, eventually drowning him out with the voice of True Faith, a shotgun cradled on her lap. "It's a hard world for little things", she declares sadly.



Laughton’s film, based on a sprawling 293-page treatment of Davis Grubb’s voguish source novel by an unhappy and alcoholic James Agee, benefits enormously from its formal invention. It's exquisitely shot and lit by Stanley Cortez, who also worked with Orson Welles on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and owes a debt to both D.W. Griffith and F.W. Murnau. Night Of The Hunter's other major strengths are its thumping score from Walter Schumann, leaving us in little doubt that Mitchum is bad news by underlining his first appearance with a menacing orchestral theme that will prove as relentless as its subject. Young Chapin anchors the film as John, the young boy burdened by his father’s secret and the failure of the adults all around him to see the danger posed by Powell and provide the protection he and Pearl have every right to expect. Evelyn Varden is also memorable as the strangely named Icey Spoon, the children's grandmother and the strident voice of complacent double-standards. Former silent star Gish is wonderful too but it's Mitchum and Laughton's show and boy do they deliver.

08/09/2012

Jail Bait (1954)

A little more Ed Wood for your delectation (the last, I promise). Wood’s second directorial effort, following the cockeyed muddle that was Glen Or Glenda (1953), was this really rather engrossing noir about aspiring stick-up man Don Gregor (Clancy Malone) who shoots a night-watchman during a bungled payroll heist at a vaudeville theatre and goes on the lam. The naive Don is then murdered himself by his nogoodnik partner Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell) when he considers turning himself in. Brady hides the body and blackmails the boy’s plastic surgeon father (Herbert Rawlinson) into altering his appearance in exchange for information about his son’s whereabouts. When Dr Gregor discovers Don’s corpse stashed in a closet at the Brady home, he exacts a horrific revenge on the killer.

Jail Bait is naturally filled with hesitant, inexpressive acting - cop Steve Reeves and moll Theodora Thurman are particularly culpable - dreadful lines (“Messy things these shootings...”) and repeated use of the same living room sets. Wood regulars Dolores Fuller and Lyle Talbot do their best and there’s a surprising classical Spanish guitar score from Hoyt Curtin, who rarely varies its pace and thereby inadvertently robs certain key scenes of their drama, notably a car chase that must be the most pedestrian and dull police pursuit I’ve ever seen, a million miles away from the heady thrills of Bullitt (1968) or The French Connection (1971). The old fugitive-gets-plastic surgery plotline dates back at least to 1935’s Let ’Em Have It and was used more famously in David Goodis’s pacy pulp novel Dark Passage (1946) and its subsequent Delmer Davies adaptation as a vehicle for Bogart and Bacall in 1947. More recently, the idea was employed by Hong Kong action director John Woo to outrageous effect in Face/Off (1997). Ed Wood enthusiast Tim Burton would also pay homage to Brady’s unveiling here in a memorable sequence involving Jack Nicholson’s Joker in his 1989 Batman. Sadly, perhaps the most astonishing footage in Jail Bait is actually borrowed from elsewhere, a blackface routine featuring Cotton Watts and Chick from 1951’s Yes Sir, Mr Bones that has almost nothing to do with the plot.
   

Yes it’s appallingly racist and alarming that this sort of entertainment was ever considered acceptable anywhere at any point in human existence. But, it has to be said, this is a particularly fine example of this lamentable footnote to cultural history if you can get past the mortification and regard it objectively as a piece of straight clowning.

There are traces of real ability from Wood in Jail Bait – the quick cutting between the faces of assembled policemen and interested parties as they react to Brady’s bandages being removed really ratchets up the tension (at least, as far as Curtin's guitar allows). This may be a second rate B-movie with a half-arsed "don't take your guns to town" moral but it might just be Wood’s finest hour, proof that he could play ball and concentrate when he wanted to. I’d recommend it to all fans of the noir genre, even if only as a reminder of just how good the likes of Double Indemnity (1944) and Murder, My Sweet (1946) really are.

06/09/2012

Glen Or Glenda (1953)

Wow. This baby was a passion project for schlock movie chancer Ed Wood, a semi-autobiographical, social issue pseudo-documentary that was wildly ahead of its time in sympathetically presenting transvestism to the masses and demanding its acceptance. A plea for social tolerance and understanding, the film carefully frames its subject as a serious psychological condition but is really a soapbox for the director’s views. Wood painstakingly anatomises his troubled everyman protagonist and his schizophrenic double-life and argues that men compelled to wear women’s clothing should be free to do so without fear of ridicule. A noble cause then, which makes it even more of a shame that the end result is such rubbish.


As we know from Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic, Wood himself loved to borrow his girlfriend Dolores Fuller’s underwear and angora sweaters and claimed to only truly feel at ease when dressed as a woman. He plays the title character(s) here himself under the pseudonym “Daniel Davis” and Fuller herself appears as Barbara, Glen’s loving fiancée. Both are fine, Fuller in fact is quite lovely, and the overall quality of the acting isn’t as, er, “wooden” as might have been expected – Lyle Talbot and Timothy Farrell can't be blamed for failing to overcome the writer-director’s preachy, stagy dialogue in their bookending scenes – but what on earth is Bela Lugosi up to? The washed-up horror icon was an impoverished morphine addict by this point and clearly glad of the work – game and amused as the film’s godlike narrator, The Scientist. Reclining in a laboratory lair filled with plastic skeletons, foaming beakers and African tribal masks, Lugosi waxes philosophical in a vague, portentous sort of way about cosmic matters and green dragons that has little or nothing to do with poor Glen’s identity crisis. “Pull the string! Pull the string!” Bela bellows as stock footage of stampeding buffalo charges across the screen. Lunacy. The old ghoul summons up all of his experience to bring conviction to the part but it’s nakedly apparent that Wood owed him a favour and hoped that having Lugosi’s name above the title might still mean something to someone somewhere.


Other problems with Wood’s haphazard, impatient, collage-assembly approach to filmmaking become obvious in Glen Or Glenda’s meandering middle section, in which Glen is tormented by Freudian nightmares of Satan, social disapproval and bizarro bondage scenarios. These episodes, presumably intended by Wood to be variously arty, symbolic and titillating, are as weird as anything in David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) and confusing at best. Some of Farrell’s lines as the psychiatrist sound suspiciously like they’ve been lifted wholesale from a psychology textbook to give the film some much-needed academic credibility while poor old Ed squanders his good work in pointing out the elusive nature of sexuality by having a stentorian voiceover insist in ludicrous, po-faced fashion that almost all men wear pink panties beneath their overalls and suits. His gripe about how uncomfortable and itchy men’s leisurewear is compared to women’s is also highly unconvincing and unintentionally hilarious while the concluding passage, about a G.I. named Alan who undergoes a sex change operation, feels tacked on. And so it was, to placate Z-list producer George Weiss, who had been expecting a topical picture about transsexuals to capitalise on the furore that had surrounded the previous year’s Christine Jorgensen affair.

For all that, perhaps we shouldn't be laughing at a tortured soul pouring his heart out and imploring our pity, even if the result is as strange an egg as this. Glen Or Glenda does once again contain some crisp black-and-white cinematography from long-suffering Wood regular William C. Thompson and deserves praise for its intentions in dealing with a subject almost always played for laughs by Hollywood (of which there’s no finer example than Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, 1959). Transgender issues wouldn’t be examined this earnestly again until Hilary Swank braved white trash abuse as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry (1999).

 P.S. This wasn’t the end for Glen Or Glenda. The film naturally lives on as an oddball, exploitation curiosity while Wood himself would resurrect his protagonists for a brace of sleazy pulp novels a decade after the film wrapped, The Killer In Drag (1963) and Death Of A Transvestite (1967), neither of which won the Pulitzer.