|Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Starring: Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, Paul Burke, Martin Milner, Charles Drake, Alex Davion, Lee Grant, Susan Hayward, Joey Bishop, George Jessel
Director: Mark Robson
Man, it’s some kind of good month for fans of camp films. As if seeing the special edition of “Mommie Dearest” come out with audio commentary by John Waters, now both “Valley of the Dolls” and “Beyond The Valley of the Dolls” are hitting stores, each as a two-disc special edition as part of 20th Century Fox’s “Cinema Classics Collection.” The latter film is so totally bizarre that it deserves – and will receive – its own individual review, but, trust me, the original flick deserves one, too.
As a novel, Jacqueline Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls” was a trashy novel about the exploits of three young women in the entertainment business that became the secret shame of every housewife in America. It was full of sex, drugs, and…well, not rock ‘n’ roll, but there are definitely a few show tunes in there. The critics hated the book, but the sales went through the roof (to date, it’s sold over 20 million copies), so transforming it into a movie was a given. Perhaps it was equally inevitable that critics would hate the film as well…though, of course, that didn’t stop it from being 20th Century Fox’s top-grossing film of the year.
If you’ve never seen “Valley of the Dolls,” it’s definitely an experience. Barbara Parkins is Anne Welles, who moves to New York and finds herself working for a big-time agent while befriending rising singing star Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) and struggling actress Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). All three reach various degrees of success, but they also deal with the repercussions of that success. It’s one big soap opera, with subplots including homosexuality, drug addiction, alcoholism, terminal illness, and constant backstabbing, and, of course, it’s nothing compared to what you’d see on any given weeknight on network TV nowadays, but, man, at the time, it was more sordid than anything that had been seen in mainstream movie houses up to that point. Dig some of these lines, and think in terms of 1967 morality:
• “You know how bitchy fags can be!” (Jennifer North)
• “All right, faggot! Start explaining!” (Neely O’Hara)
• “Boobies, boobies, boobies. Nothin' but boobies. Who needs ‘em?” (Neely O’Hara)
• “Ted Casablanca is NOT a fag... and I'm the dame who can prove it.” (Neely O’Hara)
• “That little whore makes me feel nine feet tall!” (Ted Casablanca)
If you notice a preponderance of lines from Neely O’Hara, well, that’s because she has some of the most ridiculous dialogue in the film…and, truth be told, much of Patty Duke’s performance is laughably awful and insanely over the top. And I can say that, because she’s admitted as much over the years. Parkins, however, plays her role in a very understated fashion (inasmuch as anything in this film can be said to be understated). Tragically, the best performance in “Valley of the Dolls” comes from the gorgeous Sharon Tate, who, as history records, would be killed at the hands of the Manson family not so long after the film was made; her role as an actress who’s aware that her body is what makes her a star is one that no doubt hit rather close to home while making the film.
Long story short, “Valley of the Dolls” is not a great film by any means. Hollywood tried to make a film about the ‘60s, but they approached it with sensibilities that were at least a decade out of date; Susann hated it so much that she stood up during the premiere, howled at how they’d ruined her book, and immediately left the premises. But it’s totally worth watching. For one thing, it looks phenomenal...and, once you get past that, it ranks incredibly high on the whole so-bad-it’s-good scale as a quotable classic for the ages.
Knowing full well the appeal of this film (it’s been transformed into a hit stage play that’s shown in both New York and Los Angeles), Fox has done a phenomenal job of appealing to the diehard fans with this set. Disc 1 contains audio commentary from Parkins and E!’s Ted Casablanca (who borrowed his moniker from a character in the film, if you noticed the name above) and allows you to have pop-up trivia appear on the screen; there’s also a very nice documentary – “Gotta Get Off This Merry-Go-Round: Sex, Dolls and Showtunes” – about the film and its legacy, plus a collection of still photographs.
Disc 2 has two featurettes – one about Jacqueline Susann, the other about the various cameos in the film (Richard Dreyfuss plays a stage manager in one of his first movie roles) – and two more documentaries that provide further insight into the history of the film, such as the fact that the role of Neely O’Hara’s nemesis, Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), was originally slated to be played by Judy Garland. (Garland was hired, then fired after locking herself in her dressing room and refusing to come out; she would be dead within two years.) Plus, there are original screen tests, as well as a karaoke feature for three songs from the movie. Fans have been waiting for the film to get this kind of loving treatment for years, and this should live up to any expectation they may have had.