Flipping through the TV channels tonight, I stumbled into a Robert Altman movie I had never seen titled, Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Originally released in 1982, in Chicago, it was based on a screenplay by Ed Graczyk and features a group of women in a small town in Texas who were part of a James Dean fan club in the mid-50’s and who reunited in the mid-70’s for a 20-year reunion after Dean’s death.
Typically thought-provoking like all of the Altman films, it has a cast of stars, including Karen Black who plays Joanne who is a transsexual woman and was once Joe before her sexual reassignment surgery thirteen years earlier. A young Cher before her plastic surgery, Sandy Dennis and Kathy Bates are also in this fascinating movie.
Come Back to the Five & Dime is filled with secrets from the past where events that occurred defined these ladies lives. Joanne/Joe (Karen Black) who was beat up when she/he went to his prom in drag wanted Sissy (Sandy Dennis) to leave town as Joe could not survive there dressed as a woman. Sissy would not leave her beloved small Texan town.
There is an insinuation that Joe was gay and didn’t know how to live as a gay in the mid-fifties, so he became a woman. Yet, as with all of Altman’s characters, there are many ways to read these people. In today’s terms, Joe may have been a suppressed cross-dresser who just surmised he must be gay if he liked woman’s clothing.
There is much more to this film and it an interesting study on sexuality and gender issues. I highly recommend it and would suggest you look for it. I originally viewed it on TCM.