A Behind the Scenes Bromance for Wood and Lugosi…
This charming biopic about Ed Wood and this quirky director’s relationship with actor Bela Lugosi.
Ed Wood (1994) – Official trailer, trailer dwelling
Once upon a time, before blogathons were discovered, this wee Scottish blogger had writer’s block stumped for ideas for her latest post. Her Darlin’ Husband offered ideas. He suggested Bill Murray along with Realweegiemidget faves, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Christopher Plummer. “But I’ve written about Bill in Tootsie (1982)!” the wee one cried – obviously not mentioning the date because that would be weird – “And my blog is full of films with the other three”. So, we watched this.
Fastforward about a year later, and the Greatest Director Blogathon came round. Leading to a dilemma.. review
even more of my beloved DiCaprio in The Aviator (2004) or this delightful Tim Burton movie, Ed Wood (1994). So I went for Ed Wood, so if you were hoping for some DiCaprio hit the search tag.
Ed Wood is easily the best of Tim Burton’s movies. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) is a close second, due to a bit of a crush on Alan Rickman and his voice. Please don’t dismiss this film as yet another Johnny Depp and Burton collaboration. Or think of that awful remake of the great original that is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and read on.
The film stars Johnny Depp – in one of his best roles – as Ed Wood. Bela Lugosi is played fantastically by Oscar Winner Martin Landau. Landau won the Best Supporting Actor for this role. It’s filmed in black and white – so don’t adjust your sets – and the opening credits and music could easily have come from any of Dracula‘s movies. There’s an old house seen through the thunder and lightning.
On entering this house via a window another familiar caped character is seen at the window, and a man emerges from a coffin. It is Criswell (Jeffrey Jones) who introduces us to this biographical tale, set in the 1950s of his colleague and friend, Ed Wood. This is followed by the credits on gravestones panning to many of the more famously surreal props used by Wood. including an octopus and a flying saucer and the reasons for these explained in this tale.
As the movie starts Ed Wood is panicking over his latest play production. Its plot is a bit crazy too with a war scene intercut with a fairy on ropes played by girlfriend, Delores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker). After Delores, Wood and his friends await the reviews in the press we meet his band of actors and crew, including Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray).
Murray plays his character as camp as Val Kilmer does when you watch Top Gun (1986) again after hearing Tarantino’s theory. The reviews are shit, and all but Wood are crestfallen. Wood finds the positives in the negative criticisms and jollies his collaborators on. Delores is particularly upset with a write up saying she looks like a horse. But moving swiftly on, we find the pair at home and he’s upset. However after she encourages him, she becomes concerned about her missing pink Angora sweater.. with a wide-eyed look to the fourth wall from Wood.
The next day on a visit to Hollywood studios, Wood is given some footage that ended up on the cutting room floor – an explosion, a military procession and an octopus. With Depp looking like a crazier Doc Brown – from Back to the Future (1985) – talking about his time machine car, he enthusiastically improvises a story around these objects.
Wood then meets with producer George Weiss about getting involved with his new film. As this isn’t happening, he pitches for a directing gig with him for a film titled I Changed My Sex (later released as Glen or Glenda (1953)). Wood stresses that he emphasises strongly with the leading role in a conversation during which Wood’s cross-dressing is revealed. He is unsuccessful.
On the way home, Wood spots his favourite actor, Bela Lugosi – eyes closed – in a funeral parlour, in a coffin. Lugosi opens his eyes and Wood is jubilant in meeting him. Wood excitedly offers his hero a lift home, to a darkened house which is almost a homage to his greatest role – Dracula. Lugosi says he hasn’t worked for years.
After offering Lugosi a part – which he accepts – in the Glen or Glenda / I Changed My Sex, Wood is offered the directing job. Lugosi and Wood get on famously even watching Lugosi’s films together at Halloween with some great comic scenes and dialogue. Lugosi confesses to thinking Vampira (Lisa Marie) – a Morticia Adams lookalike who introduced his Horror movies in between films on the telly – is”a bit of a honey”.
Wood sets about writing, directing and starring this movie, loyally involving Dolores, friends and Lugosi as the star of the show as he is given the go-ahead. He stars in the leading role as Glen/ Glenda, often filming without a permit. On Lugosi’s appearance on set, the makeup artist notes some injection marks and tracking on Lugosi’s arm.
Observing a conversation between Lugosi a star-struck crew member, Lugosi is shown as having more than a mild annoyance of fellow film Horror peer Boris Karloff. Weiss is not happy with Wood’s final production. At the premiere, his girlfriend finds out about his cross-dressing in dramatic fashion as he announces it to the cast and crew in her missing sweater and heels.
Wood enthusiastically aims to direct more Horror movies featuring his buddies. The Bride of Atom – later released as Bride of the Monster (1955) – is decided as the next project. Delores taking the lead. But where to get his own funding? Wood meets an aspiring actress wannabe Loretta King in the bar with some cash. Loretta talks him into taking the leading role for said cash, with Wood pained on this decision. Delores is really annoyed, to say the least.
Wood enrols more “actors” including a boxing champ and he uses the previously procured footage. It’s filmed for the duration of the funding, which only equates to 10 minutes of footage. With the full funding offer misunderstood by both parties. However, funding is secured with a meaty bribe.
He gets advice from Criswell, a television psychic who mysteriously tells of future events (allegedly). Once the movie is completed, Wood is dumped by Dolores. After an incident where Lugosi is found to have collapsed, Lugosi agrees to get hospital treatment for his addiction to morphine and methadone. Wood meets a pretty girl, Kathy O’Hara (Patricia Arquette) – with a kind heart – in the waiting room.. and the rest of the plot can be found in the usual ways.
This film is a wonderful introduction to the film director’s role and shows early behind the scenes film techniques. Wood is wonderfully portrayed by Depp in this touching bromance. He shows Wood as an animated wide-eyed motivator, writer, publicist and loyal friend. In scenes, he inspires the actors with almost childlike enthusiasm about how their role should be played giving encouragement as required both on and off set. Watching the scenes showing how Wood executed scenes are a delight, especially one when he prompts Lugosi to have a mock fight with an octopus prop.
The demonstration of use in these films of hand-made models of cities in day and night time was also of interest. These props of almost yesteryear, are lovingly reconstructed by Burton showing us watching it from Wood’s perceptive as a director leading to some lovely montages.
These scenes felt so refreshingly honest when you think of the now almost over-reliance on CGI and its green screens by some directors. As actors “act” without seeing the computer enhancements starring with them, it is only with the right set up, true acting and credible CGI if they can pull this off believably.
Wood comes over as a wonderful, encouraging director who had a vision. It was a nice touch that when he temporarily loses his vision in this movie, he meets his director idol. This man indirectly encourages him and it’s a nice wee written cameo for director Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio).
But despite this being a film on a director, for me, Landau stole this movie as Lugosi. This film is as much a tribute to Lugosi as it is to Wood. Landau captures Lugosi’s then Hungarian accent and his facial expressions to perfection making made him a lovable eccentric character. Be it through Lugosi’s love of dressing up as Dracula for a Halloween to his upsets regarding his perceived arch-rival Karloff.
However, on reading more on Lugosi it appears he would have had the last laugh. Karloff was born in London. Lugosi was born in Lugos then found in the Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary which after World War I became Lugoj, Romania. And Darlin’ Husband informs me this town had Transylvanian connections. Which no doubt would have pleased Lugosi immensely, as this the country of birth of his much-loved Dracula.
This review was submitted to Midnite Drive in and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies Favourite Director Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Bill Murray in Tootsie, Film Cameos and Lost in Translation. Jeffrey Jones stars in Ferris Buellers Day Off and The Devils Advocate. Martin Landau is tributed HERE. Sarah Jessica Parker stars in Mars Attacks and Girls Just want to Have Fun. Johnny Depp stars in From Hell and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.