Boys In Dresses: The Phenomenon Of Drag Queen Movies

By Kaycee Nilson
May 7, 2005

In my life, I have watched many movies from all genres. I often like to watch comedies when I am feeling low because they say laughter is the best medicine. Some of the movies that always bring a smile to my face are the movies where men cross-dress for various reasons.

One of my favorites stars Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. "Some Like It Hot" is set in the prohibition era. Curtis and his partner are both musicians who witness a murder. They hear about an all-girl band that is headed to Florida, so they dress and act like girls to get jobs in the band and hide from the mobsters that are after them. Marilyn Monroe stars as the singer for the all-girl band. All sorts of funny antics befall the two men in dresses throughout the movie.

Of course, one of the most well known "drag" movies is "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", starring Tim Curry, Meatloaf, and Susan Sarandon. Of former friend of mine, who had not seen the movie, watched it at our house on DVD. When he first saw Tim Curry remove his cape to reveal the corset, stockings, and pumps beneath during the song "Sweet Transvestite," you couldn't describe the look of shock and confusion on his face. The look was priceless, and we still have the photo framed. The premise of "Rocky Horror" is that Tim Curry plays a mad scientist who creates a creature named "Rocky". During the movie, you discover that the scientist, the maid, and the butler are all aliens.

Recently, I saw a movie called "Last of the Blonde Bombshells". It was about a WWII era all girl band reuniting many years later. The drummer of the band was a man who dressed in drag to fit in with the all-girl theme. Each of the girls in the band had had "relations" with him at one time or another, and after each "relation", he would stencil a small rose on the head of his bass drum. The band broke up during World War II after the girls discovered the meaning of the roses, and found out what the drummer had been up to. He had even proposed marriage to almost every member of the band. There was one of the girls he had not had "relations" with, until he added a rose for her when the band reunited 30 years later.

One of the funniest movies is an American remake of "La Cage Au Folles" called "The Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Nathan Lane is the star in a drag club called "The Birdcage" which is owned by Robin Williams. The two live together in an apartment above the club. Twenty years earlier, Williams had had a one-night stand with a woman, which resulted in his son. Williams and Lane raised the boy in exchange for money paid to the boy's mother, who used the money to start a fitness club. When the now 20-year-old boy announces that he's getting married to the daughter of a strictly conservative senator, the gay couple have to redecorate their apartment to impress the girl's family, and convince the senator that they are "straight, conservative, and wholesome." Lane appears, dressed in drag, pretending to be the boy's mother, just before the boy's real mother arrives, resulting in chaos in the household. "Birdcage" and "La Cage Au Folles" mirror each other so closely (some lines were even copied word for word) that either one of them is good for a continuous laugh.

Another Robin Williams movie along the "Man in a Dress" theme is "Mrs. Doubtfire". Williams stars with Sally field as a divorced couple with three children. Williams is refused visitation rights, and decides to pose as a woman to get the job as nanny for his own children. Dressed as a woman, Williams has to endure watching his wife date another man, and tries to give "helpful" advice that eventually runs off the would-be suitor. When the true identity of the "nanny" is revealed, Fields freaks out and runs to court, seeing to it that Williams cannot see the children at all. Williams gets a job as a host of a TV program, based on the female character he created to become the nanny. Fields realizes she made a mistake, and arranges with the court for Williams to see the children every day after school.

Another good laugh from American movie makers stars Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo. To Wong Foo: Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar" is a laugh riot about three drag queens driving cross country from New York to Hollywood California for the "Drag Queen of the Year" beauty pageant. Along the way, Swayze and Snipes try to teach Leguizamo how to be a better Queen. Their car breaks down in a tiny southern town, and the trio learn more about each other and themselves while touching the lives of the citizens of the town.

From Australia, we get "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert". Another trio of drag queens is driving through the backlands of Australia in a lavender bus. Along their travels, they get a gig in a hotel, and their bus is temporarily broken down. They come to know each other, themselves and their pasts, and they come to accept the intensity of their pasts, which led them to become the Drag Queens that they are today.

Another American made comedy is "Ladybugs", starring Rodney Dangerfield as the coach of a girls' soccer team. They are a bad, losing team, but are sponsored by the company he works for. He is told that if they continue to lose, he will lose his job with the company. So he convinces his girlfriend's son to put on a dress and wig, and play on the team. With "Martha" on the team, they begin to win. But when the girls all want to go swimming, Dangerfield has to don a dress of his own and pose as "Martha's Mother" to save "Martha" from being discovered. I love this movie, and since it's "child friendly" I can even watch it with my kids.

But not all "Men in Dresses" movies are comedies. One drama is sad, and even creepy to many people. "The Crying Game" is a touching movie about a man that falls in love with a woman and gives her his heart and soul. He makes plans with her for the future, even though she puts off having sex with him for months. He respects her for her morals, assuming she wants to wait for "the right time". But when the time comes, the man discovers that the woman he is in love with is actually another man. In an instant, his world is crushed. His plans of family and children are gone, and he doesn't know what to do. One of the most poignant scenes for me is after the man discovers the "woman" is another man. He is in the shower crying while the love of his life continues calling on the phone. He begins banging his head on the door and screaming about how he is still the same person the young man is in love with.

So, what's the message of this column? Just like you can't judge a book by its cover, you also can't judge a movie by its "Men in Dresses". If you've avoided watching Drag Queen movies in the past, you should give them a try. You might be surprised and find that you actually like the movie.


About the author: Kaycee Nilson has completed her first novel, "Night Falls on Chicago." The first two chapters can be viewed at http://www.KayceeNilson.com.

Besides writing columns for Useless-Knowledge, Kaycee is currently working on two more novels, "From the Mind of a Vampire", and "I'll Love You Til You Die."

If you have enjoyed what you read, or would like to leave Kaycee a message, please visit her message board at http://www.KayceeNilson.com/Board

Email: Kaycee@kayceenilson.com

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