Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 86: "For Love or Money" (1969)

Ed Wood did it all for love... and money. Mostly money.

An out-of-print Wood anthology.
Didn't I already review something called "For Love or Money"? Close. Back in 2013, I examined Don Davis' For Love & Money (1967), a feature film based on The Sexecutives, Ed Wood's novel of naughty corporate espionage. That film remains a real time capsule item, a garishly colorful snapshot of the swinging 1960s. Though Davis' movie is almost entirely forgotten today, more of Wood's fans should check it out, especially for its mindlessly catchy theme song and its cast of young lovelies like Michi Tani and Michelle Angelo.

But Eddie also wrote a short story called "For Love or Money" (note the change in conjunction) in 1969 for one of Bernie Bloom's many adult magazines, in this case a publication called Wild Couples. This particular erotic tale was one of Eddie's earlier short stories for Bernie. It predates most of what's in Angora Fever and Blood Splatters Quickly, but it's nevertheless highly indicative of Ed Wood's quirky style, even building up to one of the author's trademark twist endings. And I think it even offers some insight into Ed's mind and shows us how he saw the world.

The story: "For Love or Money," originally printed in Wild Couples (1969). Credited to "Charles Chadwick." Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

Synopsis: Meg, 26 and gorgeous, has two men in her lifeMarty and Artie. Handsome young Marty is an aspiring actor without a penny to his name. Meg has sex with him purely out of love and plans to marry him someday. Fat slob Artie has gotten wealthy through "dirty" means and lives in a luxurious apartment. Meg has sex with him strictly for the money he gives her. In fact, Artie is unwittingly subsidizing both Meg's lifestyle and Marty's acting career. One afternoon, while Marty is out on an audition, Meg has a rendezvous with Artie. The fat man's plan is to urinate on Meg while another man makes love to her. "A friggin' orgy," he calls it. But Meg is very surprised by the identity of Artie's hired stud!

Wood trademarks: Phase "for love or money" (cf. "Superfruit"); prostitution (cf. "Private Girl"); neologism "sex-voice" (compare to phrases like "sex dumb" from "Tears on Her Pillow," and "sex region" from "Pekka at the Circus"); post-coital conversation (cf. "The Hazards of the Game," "Never Look Back"); reference to hippies on the Sunset Strip (cf. Death of a Transvestite); ellipses (Ed's favorite punctuation); reference to classic movie actor (in this case Edward G. Robinson).

Excerpt: "How happy she felt, even as the door was being opened for her by the leering, gaudily-uniformed doorman in front of the obscenely luxurious apartment house above the strip where fat-fart Artie lived. She went up in the elevator, her thoughts of Marty blocking out the muzak and the image of Artie in his black silk dressing-robe. Imagine? A black silk dressing-robe in this day and age. When he smoked a big Havana, hands in robe pockets, talking out of the side of his mouth, he looked like a B-movie Edward G. Robinson."

Edward G. Robinson: An inspiration to Ed Wood.
Reflections: Why did I single out "For Love or Money" for an article in this series? After all, I've already written many times about Ed Wood's fixation on prostitutes and how he uses that profession as a metaphor for his own experiences making movies in Hollywood, constantly having to sell out his own ideals to please the moneymen. And that's true again here. I mean, our heroine literally goes from sleeping with a broke aspiring actor to sleeping with a disgusting, corpulent gangster. The story's very title makes a clear division between doing things for love and doing things for money, but it's a theme Ed Wood has explored in many other stories.

Our heroine is another classic Wood archetype. Meg (aka Maggie) is a woman who is aging in the sex trade and compares herself to younger women. This, too, is a theme Ed Wood revisited again and again as he himself grew older and saw a younger generation entering the business. Take "Private Girl," for example, or "Flowers for Flame LeMarr" or "Hooker by Choice." "For Love or Money" is just a slightly earlier variation on that theme.

In other words, this is all old territory.

So is there anything that makes "For Love or Money" special? Well, for one thing, it has some screwy stylistic quirks all its own, most notably the fact that it shifts without warning from third person perspective to first person at about the halfway point. Meg is always our viewpoint character, but at first she's not actually narrating the story herself. Here's a typical excerpt from that part of the story when Marty tells Meg his next audition will be successful:  "She believed him. She knew about acting from her own brief flirtation with it, knew how rough it was to break in. But Marty would do it. She was sure."

At some point in the writing process, Eddie must have gotten a little lost or disoriented, because he has Meg take over as narrator. Another excerpt from Meg's date with Artie: "I set down my half-finished drink and walked over to where he sat. I reached behind me and slowly zipped down my dress. That’s what he wanted. He wanted me to tantalize him, torture him with expectation. When I had the dress unzipped, I drew it gradually off over my head." Keep in mind, this POV switch occurs after Meg has already had a flashback to her teen years and her first sexual experience. So we already had backstage access to Meg's mind and thoughts.

My guess is that Ed's writing underwent little to no copy editing. Bernie just printed whatever Ed wrote, verbatim. That's why I say these short stories give us the author in his most raw, unrefined, and pure state. Ed's creative process was famously chaotic; he was well known for typing at a furious pace while simultaneously eating, drinking, watching TV, and carrying on a conversation. I was reminded of "Exotic Loves of the Vampire," another of Ed's stories for Wild Couples. That one starts as a diary entry and ends up as a letter, as if Ed forgot what kind of story he'd been writing.

Content-wise, my favorite part of "For Love or Money" comes when Meg snootily evaluates Artie's way of talking and his use of slang.
     "C'mon in, Tootsie-Babes."  
     "Tootsie" from the forties; "Babes" was hippie talk. She walked in nonchalantly, oblivious to the fat little rich man, inured to his crudity from the many times she’d done it with him. 
     "A drink?" he offered predictably.  
     She took it. Inure her still further. He pinched her bare arm as he gave her the drink. What the fuck? That’s what he was shelling out for. He sipped his drink, watching her now from his favorite easy chair. She was sitting demurely on the couch across from him, watching him as he sat with his legs spread apart, the robe covering his hard-on. And she knew that he surely had a hard-on. It was what, besides the money, she would leave him without. 
     "Today I got something special for us."  
     Today I got. Edward G. Robinson talk. He had never been anything more than a front for the real mafiosos. They probably laughed at him behind his back. I got. In this day and age.
What's amusing here is that Ed Wood's own dialogue in his films, stories, and novels is famously stilted, and his grasp of slang was never exactly precise. So this is a real pot and kettle situation.

Regrettably, we must delve into the fact that this story includes some urine-play. (Yes, I know there are other terms for this activity. No, I don't want to use them.) Even after six years of writing these articles and nearly 30 years as a student of Ed Wood's work, I've still only read a small fraction of the man's writing. Maybe five percent, and that's being generous. I don't know if there's a lot of this fetish-y stuff lurking in his stories, novels, and loops. I was genuinely surprised to see it introduced here. And it's done so casually, too. Meg doesn't even bat an eye, to coin a phrase. But I did. Reading "For Love or Money," I felt that Ed Wood and I had crossed yet another threshold.

A controversial horror film.
Considering what Marty and Meg go through in this story, I was vaguely reminded of Srđan Spasojević's A Serbian Film (2010). In that highly controversial, often-censored horror movie, a retired porn actor (Srđan Todorović) agrees to participate in an experimental underground movie. He thinks he's providing financial security for himself and his family, but the project turns out to be an extreme snuff film involving unsimulated rape, murder, pedophilia, incest, and numerous other atrocities. Once the actor realizes what he's gotten himself into, he tries to escape, but it is to no avail. Not only does his initial decision—made purely for monetary reasons—utterly ruin his life, it has truly horrifying consequences for several members of his family. And all of this seems to be made possible by a vast, powerful criminal underground totally immune from the law.

Now, don't get me wrong. "For Love or Money" looks like Sesame Street compared to A Serbian Film. No one is murdered or raped in this story, and no children are harmed. I'm not equating these two works. But there are some similar themes between them. Marty is an actor who can't seem to land a job. He needs money. And so, like the unfortunate porn star from A Serbian Film, he agrees to do business with unsavory gangsters. This choice has longstanding consequences for himself and his future wife, Meg. "For Love or Money" ends on a truly depressing note, as Meg ponders how her future with Marty is now irrevocably stained by this experience.
Yes, we would get married and sit across a dining table from each other many evenings. We would live together and have sex together, and sit across the dining table from each other many times. Marty would go on struggling for success as an actor, and we would get the money we needed whatever way we could. But it wouldn’t be the same. We would do the best we could, and go on together because we were in love, deeply in love with each other, but it would never be the way it could have been.
Wow, Ed. That's not as bleak as the violent, perverse ending of A Serbian Film, but it's quietly sobering in its own way. "For Love or Money" becomes one of Ed Wood's most potent parables about the dangers of selling out.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 85: Thoughts on the 8mm version of 'Plan 9'

Grainy images from the 8mm version of Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Dracula figurines on Ed Wood's TV.
What is essential to you? Irreplaceable? If you're at home right now, look around you. In the event of an emergency, what (besides the people and pets) would you save?

When Ed Wood and his wife Kathy were evicted from their downtrodden apartment on Yucca St. in Los Angeles in December 1978, they had to abandon most of Eddie's meager possessions, including the book he'd been writing about actor Bela Lugosi. "They allowed us one suitcase," Kathy sadly told Rudolph Grey in an interview from his 1992 book Nightmare of Ecstasy. "It broke Eddie's heart to leave [Lugosi: Post Mortem] behind. Eddie's files, papers, scrapbooks, it was all lost." Among the few items that survived the eviction were Eddie's screenplay for I Woke Up Early the Day I Died and his manuscript for Hollywood Rat Race.

Florence Dolder, a neighbor of the Woods, agreed that Lugosi: Post Mortem was crucial to Eddie during his final years. She told Grey: "Eddie used to say that if there was a fire that was what he was going to grab—the Lugosi book and his typewriter. And we used to kid him, what are you going to do with Kathy? 'She can follow me.'"

Clearly, Ed Wood did not need Marie Kondo to help him declutter. Life did that for him, again and again. He and Kathy never could hold onto a place for too long. I believe Eddie would have been the pack rat type, had it not been for his peripatetic lifestyle. He was a devoted fan of Westerns and classic horror films, and people like that tend to be collectors, too. They want to be surrounded by trinkets of their devotion. We know that Eddie read Famous Monsters of Filmland and sent away for an album he saw advertised there. A 1959 photo of Ed's living room reprinted in Filmfax #9 (February/March 1988) shows little ceramic statues of Lugosi as Dracula perched on the TV set.

Bob Blackburn, a close friend of Kathy Wood in her later years, had this to say via Facebook:
I do think that Ed and Kathy were kind of pack rats, but as you said with their constant moving, and them having to place items in storage, they really couldn't save anything. Kathy showed me the suitcase a couple years after I befriended her, and it did have a few things, most importantly the manuscript for Hollywood Rat Race, and I was the first person outside of anyone I know of who read it, I don't think she loaned it to Rudy [Grey] nor the script for I Woke Up Early, which she also allowed me to read. And much of what was in the "trunk" which [Paul Marco's nephew] Jason Insalaco won at auction, was originally from their Bekins storage unit on Lankershim up in North Hollywood, and had/has Eddie's scrapbooks, which he showed to Kathy on the first night they met, as well as some cowboy memorabilia as you surmised.

This "collector/hoarder" instinct extended to Ed's own career, too. In the bibliography section of Nightmare of Ecstasy, Grey notes: "While nearly all of [Ed Wood's] possessions were lost or sold through the years, Wood carefully saved his novels, including the date of issue and [the handwritten inscription] 'from the personal collection of Edw. D. Wood, Jr.' in each book." His obsessively updated resumés are, in a sense, another form of collecting. Ed was proud of his films and his writing, and he wanted to make sure his career was properly documented.

The 8mm "home movie" edition of Plan 9.
All of this is my roundabout way of introducing the 8mm version of Ed's magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). That legendary film, previewed in 1957 but not released for two more years, recently marked its 60th anniversary, an occasion that merited a smattering of press coverage and even a tribute from James Rolfe's Cinemassacre channel on YouTube.

After decades as an offering on late night television and sporadic showings at drive-ins and grindhouses, Plan 9 was finally released on VHS in the 1980s. Many other releases followed, including DVD, laserdisc, Betamax, and Blu-ray editions. Today, the film is readily available for streaming online. Nearly four decades after The Golden Turkey Awards made Plan 9 famous to the general public, the movie has never been easier to track down for home viewing.

This was not true in the 1950s and 1960s. VHS and VCRs were still far in the future, and "home video" wasn't a market yet, let alone a revolution. Generally, if fans wanted to revisit a film they loved after it left theaters, their options were limited to tie-in items like soundtrack albums and paperback books. Or they could wait for it to be shown on television.

During those primitive pre-VHS years, however, there was a niche collector market for 8mm reels containing footage from feature films. People could show these reels in their own homes if they owned projectors and screens, which many did because that's how you watched your own home movies back in the day. Due to the bulkiness of these 8mm reels and their prohibitive cost, however, these early "home" releases had to be brief. Short subjects and cartoons could be kept intact, but full-length feature films were heavily condensed.

Such was the fate of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The complete feature is roughly 80 minutes long, but the single-reel 8mm edition from a UK company called Heritage Films clocks in at only about eight minutes. That means 90% of the movie is missing from this version. So if you had to condense Plan 9, a notoriously convoluted and dense story, down to just eight minutes of silent, unsubtitled screen time, what do you keep? Just like deciding what items to rescue in an emergency, it's a matter of determining what is essential. Let's watch the Heritage 8mm reel together and see how they handled it.  Along the way, we'll try to answer this question: What would a newcomer, someone totally unfamiliar with Ed Wood, glean from watching this iteration of Plan 9 from Outer Space?
NOTE BEFORE YOU COMPLAIN: The plot description I'm about to give is entirely inaccurate, as are the character names. I know that. I'm merely trying to illustrate what information can be gleaned solely from watching this 8mm film reel without any additional context.

Well, the opening credits only tell us one bit of information: the movie's name. That's it. No actors, no crew members, and no mention whatsoever of Ed Wood. From there, we get a few seconds of a flying saucer dangling in front of a cloudy sky backdrop. It zips off the screen and is followed by two more identical saucers. Cut to footage of cars driving down the highway. Nearby, the three saucers are seeing hovering over some urban area. The occupants of one car point at the saucers in utter amazement. The Heritage 8mm reel is so grainy and blown out, by the way, that the UFOs are barely visible, if at all.

Okay, so this is a story about aliens coming to Earth in flying saucers and being spotted by humans. The film then cuts to stock footage of newspapers coming off a printing press. A man (reputedly Ed Wood himself) opens a folded newspaper to reveal the headline: "FLYING SAUCERS OVER HOLLYWOOD." Actually, due to the picture quality, it's more like "[something] [something] —ER HOLLYWOOD." But at least we know where the story is taking place. Our alien visitors must have showbiz aspirations.

Another wobbly flying saucer zooms past a building. A sign outside, scarcely readable, says CBS. A woman in a telephone booth watches all this, then makes a call. Cut to another newspaper, this one resting on the table at a diner. The banner headline declares: "SAUCERS SEEN OVER HOLLYWOOD." This alien invasion has been widely reported, and the saucers have been spotted by multiple witnesses. To illustrate this point, another saucer straggles across the screen.

A blurry Vampira makes her entrance.
The film now drastically changes course. We are in some unknown woman's bedroom, and she is being menaced by Dracula, who wears a black cape that he holds in front of his face. The woman, a brunette in a long, frilly nightgown, runs out of the room and out of sight of the camera. Dracula follows, but he goes at his own pace. From a lifetime of movie-watching, we know that Drac must have some connection to the saucers we saw earlier, but we don't as yet know what that could be.

Our damsel in distress runs through a cemetery in a total panic. Dracula follows, calmly walking out of the woman's house into the night. He no longer covers his face, so we can clearly see that it is Bela Lugosi himself. Meanwhile, in the graveyard, the brunette trips and falls. She is observed by a second vampire, this one a Morticia Addams type with long black hair and a low-cut black dress. The brunette in the nightgown manages to stand up again and then runs offscreen.

Dracula emerges from the woods into a cemetery. It seems to be daytime. Is it the next morning perhaps? No, it is still night, as seen in the next shot. We see an absurdly small grave marker that's sort of shaped like a PEZ candy. The dirt next to it pulses, as if whoever's in that grave wants out. Elsewhere, the Morticia type walks past the camera into the fog and glances coyly over her shoulder. And who's back there? Why, it's Dracula, now covering his face again. They must be in cahoots.

Another shot of the brunette in the nightgown running. Another shot of the ground pulsing by the grave marker. More running. More pulsing, though this time the ground also starts crumbling. Our Morticia Addams lookalike wanders slowly through the graveyard as if in a trance, her arms held out in front of her. Back at the tiny grave marker, the ground now completely caves in, leaving a smallish ditch. Our nightgown lady, no longer running, seems a little lost as she makes her way through the tombstones and gnarled branches.

Tor Johnson adds some drama.
We now arrive at the most dramatic shot so far, enhanced with theatrical lighting and fog. An enormous bald man in an ill-fitting suit emerges from a hole in the ground. There's a tombstone in the background. This must be the same grave marker we saw earlier, though the two monuments look nothing alike. The bald man reaches up to the surface and struggles to pull his hefty frame out of the ground. One edit later, and he is upright, fully emerged from the tomb. From his slackjawed expression and pale skin, we take him to be a zombie. That means we have flying saucers, vampires, and at least one zombie, all in the same film. How could these be connected?

Our poor brunette, the one in the froufrou nightgown, runs through yet another stretch of the cemetery. The large, bald man surveys his surroundings. Dracula approaches. Big Baldy looks around some more, then walks very slowly out of sight. The PEZ-shaped marker falls into the hole in the dirt. The Morticia lookalike observes from afar with an expression of studied indifference.  Nightgown Nancy runs through the cemetery again. The poor dear must be getting tired. Baldo the Great staggers around some more. Then Dracula slinks into frame, treading the same bit of ground we just saw a few seconds ago when the brunette ran past. He's hot on her heels.

We seem to have four characters in play here, but they're never shown in the same frame at the same time, so it's difficult to judge their spatial relationships. And now, even more characters are thrown into the mix: two uniformed patrolmen and a detective in a trench coat and fedora. They're wandering around the graveyard, looking for clues. Has a crime been committed here? It's possible the nightgown lady reported Dracula to the cops.

For the first time, two of the monsters are seen together. The bald zombie and the lady vampire are walking side by side in the darkness. It's another memorable shot, though it fades out too quickly.

The film drastically shifts gears yet again. Now we are in what looks like a science lab or a radio station. There's certainly a lot of technical-looking equipment arranged on various tables. The room is occupied by two adults, a Caucasian man and woman. Their outfits are sort of queer—loose-fitting blouses made of shiny fabric, worn with oversized belts and black leggings. These must be our aliens, though there's nothing to indicate they are inside a ship or vehicle of any kind.

As the scene begins, these two are looking through little square-shaped windows on one side of the room. We don't know what they see. The man says something to the woman, so she walks across the room and turns a dial on the wall, which opens the door. And guess who walks in? It's Chromedome and Morticia, still walking forward as if in a trance. The lady alien seems upset, so she turns to her male coworker. He gives her some instruction, and she walks over to a table and turns a dial on a machine. That stops the two monsters. They just stand stock-still in the middle of the room now, expressionless and inert.

Now it's Dracula's turn. He walks up to a square-shaped shed or workshop in the woods. The foliage looks similar to what we saw at the cemetery, so we assume it's nearby. It's hard to tell what this place is. There's a ladder stuck to the wall outside, maybe so you can climb to the roof if you need to. The door has rounded corners, just like the door we saw in the science lab, so it must be the same place. We're just seeing it from the outside now. The door slides open, and Dracula walks inside. The door closes, and the two uniformed cops now walk into the frame and examine the shed. Their guns are drawn. So the monsters and aliens were all in cahoots, and now the cops are closing in on their headquarters. Okay.

But the situation inside has changed considerably. Somehow, there are now two additional human characters in the ship. One is the trench coat-wearing detective from earlier. His trenchcoat is gone, but he still has the fedora. Another is a tall man in a sport jacket. We've never seen him before. Who is he? How'd he get here? Anyway, the detective seems to be arresting the male alien as the female alien and Mr. Sport Jacket look on. One of the uniformed cops outside knocks on the door. No dice.

Inside, all hell is breaking loose. Johnny Sportcoat takes a swing at Mr. Alien while Ms. Alien tackles Fedora Guy. And there's yet another human character in the room, some kind of high-ranking military official. He's not doing anything. Ms. Alien manages to push Detective Fedora across the room, and she starts frantically tinkering with some machine on a desk. Our military friend, let's call him General Halftrack, throws himself across the desk to stop her from whatever she's doing.

A barroom brawl on a UFO.
Meanwhile, there's a barroom-style brawl going on between Sportcoat Guy and Mr. Alien. A table gets knocked over, and the male alien does manage to land one good punch, sending his opponent to the ground. But the tall man gets up pretty quickly, and he and the alien start grappling. On the other side of the room, General Halftrack has apparently subdued Ms. Alien, so now he walks to the other side of the room and turns some big dial on the wall. Detective Fedora is still in the mix, too, standing back with his gun drawn.

The barroom brawl continues, with both combatants getting in their licks. Ms. Alien, apparently not as subdued as we thought, is still tinkering with the machines. She's talking a lot, but to whom? The fight now seems to be going Mr. Sport Jacket's way, though Mr. Alien counters by picking up a piece of equipment and trying to use it as a blunt instrument. At this same time, another piece of equipment on that same table explodes and starts belching smoke all over the place.

General Halftrack is still fiddling with the big dial on the wall as the room starts to cloud up. The alien and the tall man are still grappling. Ms. Alien is still tinkering. Fedora Guy is still just standing there with his gun drawn. The room is really getting smoky now, so General Halftrack gives up on one dial and tries his luck with another one. That does the trick. The door slides open. Detective Fedora immediately exits, seemingly abandoning General Halftrack and Sportcoat Guy, the latter of whom is still in the thick of it with Mr. Alien. General Halftrack then also decides to skedaddle, yelling something to his tall companion before dashing out into the night.

After quite a struggle, Johnny Sportcoat finally manages to defeat Mr. Alien, socking him in the gut and then punching him in the back while the alien is doubled over in pain. This coincides with another major explosion in the room. Outside the shed, Fedora Man and General Halftrack are just now emerging. It looked before like the door led immediately outside, but apparently it doesn't. Sportcoat Guy looks around the room. It's a mess. Everything's either exploding or on fire, and Mr. Alien is passed out cold. The tall man bravely dashes out the door. Ms. Alien has finally, finally finished whatever she was doing at that table, and she goes to help Mr Alien. He is not to be revived, so she looks out the window.

Outside the shed, Mr. Sport Jacket emerges into the open air. Inside, Ms. Alien makes another attempt at rousing her companion, then fiddles with the few machines that aren't currently on fire. Things are getting even more smoky in there, and Ms. Alien is clearly starting to panic.

The film now cuts to a group shot. General Halftrack, Fedora Guy, the brunette, Johnny Sportcoat, and one of the uniformed cops are all standing around, looking at something in the sky. A flying saucer, completely engulfed in flames, emerges from the cemetery. This is the first clue that the square-shaped shed was actually the interior of one of the flying saucers we'd seen at the beginning of the movie, before the Dracula part started. As the five humans continue to gawk, the burning UFO flies over Hollywood at night. Inside the craft, Ms. Alien is still trying to wake up Mr. Alien, but the room is getting so smoky, you can hardly see your hand in front of your face.

The five humans are still gathered around, watching this spectacle unfold, but the patrolman is distracted by something on the ground. It's a skeleton, hidden inside some crumpled-up clothes. The humans talk among themselves about this, and General Halftrack points at something or other. There's another shot of the skeleton.

The UFO is still on fire from the outside, and it's oppressively smoky on the inside, so much so that we can't see Mr. or Ms. Alien anymore. In the final seconds of action, we get to see the flying saucer explode spectacularly. But now, the smoke dissipates almost instantly, leaving only the sight of Los Angeles at night. We cut to a title card reading "THE END. Filmed in Hollywood U.S.A." We can barely discern the silhouette of a man in the background, but there's no indication of who this might be.

And that, my friends, is the 8mm version of Plan 9 from Outer Space. What could you get from watching this version of the film? Well, you'd know that the story involves UFOs, aliens, a graveyard, some monsters (possibly vampires, possibly zombies), and a group of humans including police and military officials.

Some flying saucers hover over Hollywood, attracting ample press attention along the way, and then one of them lands in a cemetery somewhere in the L.A. area. There are two aliens on board, one female and one male. They never leave their ship. Instead, they seem to remotely control three monsters: Dracula, a sexy vampire lady, and a large bald zombie. Dracula harasses but does not catch or harm a brunette lady who lives near the graveyard. This attracts the attention of the cops, who close in on the alien ship. While two uniformed cops stay outside, a detective enters the ship, along with two other men. A fight breaks out between the humans and the aliens, and the equipment on the ship catches fire in the process. The three human men rapidly leave the ship, which tries to take off but only explodes in midair. The alien threat has been quelled, and one of the monsters has been reduced to a harmless skeleton.

What gets sacrificed here? Criswell, for one. There's no sound on the version I watched, so his narration is absent. His opening and closing monologues have also been removed. The only hint of his participation in the film is his silhouette at the end. Lyle Talbot and Bunny Breckinridge are entirely absent as well, as are Norma McCarty and David De Mering. Most of the other main characters do appear in this shortened version, though there is no apparent connection between Gregory Walcott and Mona McKinnon here. She's just some woman being harassed by a monster, and he's just some guy who punches an alien in the stomach.

We get no indication of the aliens' motivation or strategy, so we just assume they're here to conquer humanity and use their power over the monsters to terrorize us. The monsters, disappointingly, just vanish from the 8mm film without explanation. The closest thing we get to a wrap-up on them is the shot of the skeleton near the end, though you'd have to be quite the detective to figure out that these are the remains of the bald zombie. And even though the film's cover art seems to promise planes firing on the spaceships, the military aspect of Plan 9 has been almost entirely removed from this version of the film, save for the appearance of Tom Keene as Col. Edwards.

Despite these narrative shortcomings, the Heritage 8mm Plan 9 from Outer Space does have a mysterious mojo to it. Without the dialogue, we can concentrate on the visuals, and there's a lot to appreciate here. The shots of Vampira and Tor Johnson are genuinely eerie and compelling, and the fact that the footage is grainy and blurry actually covers up the shoddiness of the graveyard set. And we even get a few fleeting glimpses of Bela Lugosi along the way, even though his character's tragic backstory is jettisoned.

Some versions of the Heritage Plan 9 cover feature a sticker that says "SOUND," and Ed Wood archivist Philip R. Frey says, "I have received reports that some versions have subtitles." But, really, all this 8mm film needs is some appropriate mood music. That can be easily located. Have fun!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 13 by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood hoped to clean up in the adult film business.

Over the last few years, Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s involvement in the porn industry has been increasingly well documented, and more of his adults-only material has come to light. Outside of his pornographic features, such as Necromania (1971) and The Young Marrieds (1972), Ed is most closely associated with the original Swedish Erotica loops that were first released circa 1973. But even Ed's dedicated fans may not know that he continued to work on silent X-rated loops throughout the 1970s, well after that first wave of Swedish Erotica titles.

These short erotic films still intrigue me. They were produced by Noel Bloom, son of Bernie Bloom, Ed Wood's boss at Pendulum Publishing. Eddie wrote a wide array of magazine texts for Pendulum during the '60s and '70s, and this led directly to him working on Noel's X-rated films.

It's likely that, by the mid-1970s, the erratic, hard-drinking Ed was no longer working on set. However, as I've surmised over and over in previous articles, he continued writing box cover summaries and subtitles for Noel Bloom's loops right up until his passing in 1978. These summaries and subtitles contain textual elements that are highly consistent with Ed's overall writing style. I'm constantly experiencing déjà vu while watching these loops. (And writing these articles, for that matter.)

As an example of what I've been discussing, I transcribed the subtitles from Swedish Erotica loop #92, "Bubble Bath." Did Ed Wood write these lines? I say yes, but draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: Genesis—An Ed Wood Odyssey by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi costarred in Glen or Glenda (1953).

Columnist Scott Rivers wrote about Ed.
In the decade following Edward D Wood Jr's untimely passing on December 10, 1978, his status changed dramatically. The late writer-director morphed from a forgotten footnote in Hollywood history to an emblem of the cult movie movement. The view of Wood that took root during that decade still dominates his pop culture reputation today, for good or ill.

The publication of Michael and Harry Medved's snide Golden Turkey Awards in 1980 fueled it all, dubbing Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) the worst movie ever made and Ed Wood himself the worst director of all time. The book's success inspired numerous screenings of Ed's films, often at revival houses and college campuses. Soon after, Paramount's zany compilation movie It Came From Hollywood (1982) featured an entire segment about Wood hosted by famed comedians John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. While not a critical or box office hit, It Came aired ubiquitously on cable TV throughout the '80s. But it was the arrival of Ed's movies on VHS that made it all real, finally affording the general public a glimpse into Ed's work beyond Plan 9.

Throughout these crucial years, newspaper staffers regularly overviewed Ed Wood, trotting out a version of events that reads like deja vu regardless of authorship. The same basic tropes—Eddie's Grade-Z ineptitude, his "strange" cast of regulars, the "camp" fun of watching his films—appear again and again in these articles. The same notions and even verbiage are repeated ad nauseam, along with the same biographical details. The effect was twofold, painting Eddie as a character of derision, a naive fool at best and cynical hack at worst, and cementing a highly limited and oft-inaccurate version of his biography.

Here's a representative example I found while combing through old newspapers. It appeared in the February 9, 1988 edition of Salt Lake City's Daily Utah Chronicle. This particular article was written by Scott Rivers as part of his "Artwatch" column, but there are dozens more just like this from newspapers across the country.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 17 by Greg Dziawer

The demonic Captain DeZita shows up in 1954's Bagdad After Midnite.


A poster for Bagdad After Midnite.
A few months back, I finally caught up with Bagdad After Midnite, a 1954 burlesque feature occasionally rumoured to have some connection to Edward D. Wood, Jr.  I endeavored to watch it carefully with patient, searching eyes. It turned out to be breezy and watchable, with tolerable burlesque "comedy," lots of pretty girls, and juggling. Losing myself in the film's thin story, I was soon transported to the far-off, fictional land of Pomonia and happily jettisoned my solipsistic academic mindset.

Released decades ago on VHS by Something Weird Video, Bagdad After Midnite survives solely in that incarnation today, though this transfer has since been digitized and is available as a DVD-R or as a streaming video. The colorful blurb for the film on SWV's website, credited to Rev. Susie the Floozie, provides a synopsis of the plot:
Hubba hubba! PHIL TUCKER, the demented visionary behind the 1953 classic Robot Monster and who exposed Lenny Bruce’s Dance Hall Racket (also 1953), lensed this equally insane short feature the following year. 
Bagdad After Midnight’s delightfully flimsy premise is one long gag featuring comics DICK KIMBALL and WALLY BLAIR, in which Blair is sent by a travel agency to visit the Passionate Pasha of Pomonia and his accommodating harem. 
The first sequence treats us to five (count ’em!) modestly veiled harem-girl hoochie cooch numbers. Well... maybe Girl #1 and Girl #5 are the same, but she dances with a look of exquisite madonna-like suffering which more than makes up for the repetition. 
Then, for some stupid reason, Blair returns to the travel agency and begs to be sent back to the land of exotic Oriental delights. Come to think of it, maybe he returned hoping the agency secretary, played by the stunning young-Marilyn-Monroe-look-alike ARLENE HUNTER (The Art of Burlesque), will drop her duds too but, alas, Arlene stays dressed. Blair’s eager display of juggling on a tiny bicycle (oh, did I forget to mention that part of their act?) wins over the travel agent, and Wally is sent back to Pomonia (what ever happened to Bagdad?), where, this time, there’s some real pasties-and-net-panties strippin’ action! With GENII YOUNG, MAE BLONDELL, DIMPLES MORGAN, MITZI DOEREE, BRANDY JONES, and VALDA. 
Part of producer GEORGE WEISS’ “After Midnight” burlesque series. Collect ’em all! From a 35mm print that’s “Hot As the Sahara Sun!"
As hoped, Bagdad has numerous connections to Ed Wood. The entire film, for instance, was shot at W. Merle Connell's fabled Quality Studios on Santa Monica Blvd, a locale familiar to any serious Wood obsessive. It's the same soundstage where Eddie shot scenes for Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). And director Connell himself was a close associate of Glen or Glenda producer George Weiss. Reputedly, Connell shot the gratuitous "hot" scenes that were spliced into certain prints of Glenda when that film played in more permissive markets. Seeing Bagdad for the first time, I noted that I'd seen some of the dance numbers—and even some of the juggling—in short burlesque films that Weiss distributed through his company Screen Classics at around the same time.

It is a de rigueur practice of SWV to add some related content to each of the films it distributes. This tradition likely dates back to the VHS era, when tapes typically ran two hours. To my delight, Bagdad After Midnite is no exception. The hour-long feature is followed by a 27-minute featurette, Cairo After Midnight, assembled from the same shoot as Bagdad. Same girls, same "comics," more juggling. The tape is rounded out with over 20 minutes of stripper shorts.

The VHS version of Bagdad After Midnite from Something Weird Video.

Tame as it may seem today, Bagdad After Midnight was pretty hot stuff in 1954. Exhibiting high-haired ladies in high heels and pasties or see-thru bras was a dangerous business at the time. Below, at left, you'll find an article from the December 3, 1955 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, describing how Bagdad was seized during a police raid.

Defying time and the censors, George Weiss managed to keep Bagdad alive in the theatrical market well past the point at which it had become a laughable anachronism. Below right is a clipping from the December 19, 1968 edition of the Oregonian, a Portland newspaper, showing that Bagdad After Midnite was playing on a triple bill with Stranger in My House and Smoke of Evil almost a decade and a half after its initial release.

Two clippings related to Bagdad After Midnite.

"Kneel, boy! Kneel!": DeZita (right) in Bagdad After Midnite.
"Kneel, boy! Kneel!"

The voice is thin, though the line is meant to be authoritative, even threatening. A miserable-looking bodyguard barks this order at a clueless American tourist who has stumbled into a throne room where dancing girls are gathered at the feet of a grinning potentate whose outfit includes sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt.

I knew I'd seen this actor before. Despite having become rapt in the simple charms of Bagdad After Midnite, I spotted him again, just over 13 minutes into the feature. Standing at the right edge of the frame in a medium shot was Captain DeZita, the vaguely sinister, bald-pated man who had made brief and silent but indelible appearances as both the Devil and Glen's father in Glen or Glenda. In Bagdad, he's originally seen observing the action from the sidelines, his arms folded across his chest.

A minute or so later, DeZita walks through the frame and collects a suitcase belonging to juggler Wally Blair, the film's goofy protagonist. The Pasha of Pomonia (Dick Kimball) remarks that DeZita's grim-looking character is unhappy since he "buried three wives last week." DeZita had by then blazed a trail of petty crime and flim-flam cons across the United States for four full decades, charged and jailed for voluminous crimes against women along the way.

27 minutes into Bagdad, the Pasha finally identifies this dour man in the fez as Sahib, as Captain DeZita walks across the frame and makes a sour face at the camera.

After more "funny" banter from Dick Kimball and Wally Blair and more exotic dancing, the Captain makes yet another appearance in Bagdad After Midnite roughly an hour into the film. At this point, the movie's action switches from Pomonia to the "good old U.S.A." We cut from the throne room to the stateside travel office where the movie began. Dick Kimball strides in, holding a rope and declaring himself "the ex-Pasha of Pomonia." (He advises the woman behind the counter never to trust a crystal ball.) But it's not a total loss. He tugs on the rope, and we see that he has a string of half-clad imported beauties on a long leash, arranged from shortest to tallest. Holding the other end of the line is Captain DeZita as Sahib, apparently still acting as Kimball's servant.

(left) DeZita at the end of Bagdad; (right) a 1937 article from Brownsville, TX detailing one of his arrests.

DeZita was by then a (discredited) theatrical agent specializing in female "burlesque talent," i.e. strippers. The shot of the Captain with the tied-up women is barely (har har) metaphoric. Some or all of these performers must have truly been in his control. Bagdad After Midnite ends with the Captain eyeing the ladies up and down before the end card. His character doesn't appear in Cairo After Midnight.

In the final decade of his whirlwind, oft-unsavory life, Captain DeZita partnered with Vance Pease, running the Premier Theatrical Agency out of an office above a Warner Bros./Pantages movie theater. The building still exists today, at-current the heart of the diamond district in LA.

William Michael Achilles De Orgler DeZita succumbed to cancer in 1955, just as Bagdad After Midnite hit screens. We'll cross paths with him in myriad ways in future installments of this series, and I'm sure I'll spot him again in other movies, his image forever frozen on celluloid. In the meantime, you can watch a trailer for Bagdad After Midnite here and, if that piques your interest, download the complete film at Something Weird's website.

I'll leave you with some comedy juggling of a higher order from late night TV mainstay Michael Davis, well known for his appearances on Saturday Night Live and Late Night With David Letterman. Wally Blair was never this good.