Derek Winnert

Ed Wood ***** (1994, Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray) – Classic Movie Review 98


‘Ed, this isn’t the real world. You’ve surrounded yourself with a bunch of weirdoes!’ – Ed Wood’s girlfriend Dolores Fuller.

In this sensationally good 1994 film, Johnny Depp is at his most winning as the man hailed as the world’s worst film-maker, Ed Wood, the director of a strong candidate for the world’s worst film, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Wood, also the maker and star of the sad transvestite film Glen or Glenda (1959) and Bride of the Monster (1955), directs his films as he lived his life – in women’s angora sweaters (‘I love women, wearing their clothes makes me feel closer to them’).


With a haunting screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, based on Richard Grey’s book Nightmare of Ecstasy, this is a lovely, caring, painstaking movie. It is also darned entertaining, and a great credit to director Tim Burton and star Depp.

The marvellous, spot-on re-creations of the Wood movies, the lovely black and white cinematography and accurate Oscar-winning makeup (Rick Baker, Ve Neill, Yolanda Toussieng) help vividly to conjure up what life must have been like at the sad lower end of the Hollywood jungle of the Forties and Fifties.


After two previous nominations, Martin Landau justly won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of Plan 9‘s dying, morphine-addicted star Bela Lugosi (‘This is the most uncomfortable coffin I’ve ever been in’). In a warm, touching portrait, Landau just nails Lugosi. His son Bela Lugosi Jr wasn’t keen on the film, but came round to approve of Landau’s portrayal, apart from the bad language, as apparently his father never swore.

It was the first time in Oscar history anyone won playing a movie star. Landau wanted to thank everyone in his long career, leading his speech to go on for ever, the orchestra to play and try to drown his words, and hosts to come on stage to escort him off. He still finished! The 1995 Academy Award show was a special night in every way, with 007s Sean Connery and Roger Moore and Michael Cane presenters.


Also outstanding are Jeffrey Jones as smooth film presenter Criswell, Vincent D’Onofrio as director Orson Welles, Lisa Marie as sexy actress Vampira, George ‘The Animal’ Steele as hulking actor Tor Johnson and Bill Murray as the outrageously camp actor Bunny Breckinridge (‘What about glitter? When I was a headliner in Paris, audiences always liked it when I sparkled’).

Sarah Jessica Parker (who plays Dolores Fuller, the actress Wood is living with), Patricia Arquette (Kathy O’Hara) and G D Spradlin (the Reverend Lemmon) are also essential members of the cast, though in less showy roles.


Depp’s Hollywood home was once owned by Lugosi. It overlooks Depp’s Viper Club, where River Phoenix died in 1993. One of Wood’s repertoire of players, Conrad Brooks, is a character and actor in the film. He’s played Brent Hickley and he plays the barman in the bar where Welles meets Wood. Gregory Walcott, who appears in Plan 9 from Outer Space, plays a backer who introduces Wood to Vampira.

Burton’s other best movies include Sleepy Hollow, Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands and Mars Attacks!

RIP Martin Landau (1928–2017). He richly deserved his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ed Wood in a most competitive year, winning over Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction and Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump. Landau said he researched the role of Lugosi by watching 25 of his old movies and perfecting his Hungarian accent: ‘I began to respect this guy and pity him. I saw the humour in him. This, for me, became a love letter to him, because he never got a chance to get out of that. I got a chance to make a comeback in my career. And I’m giving him one. I’m giving him the last role he never got.’

© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Movie Review 98

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