|Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marca McBroom, John LaZar, Michael Blodgett, David Gurian, Edy Williams
Director: Russ Meyer
Trying to explain “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” to someone who’s never seen it is, in a word, impossible.
Directed by Russ Meyer and written by Roger Ebert…yes, that Roger Ebert (like there’s more than one)…the film has regularly been described by its screenwriter as “the first exploitation-horror-camp-musical.” If that doesn’t completely confuse you before you’ve even started the film, then try this: despite its title, it’s in no way a sequel to “Valley of the Dolls.” In fact, it even begins with a written caveat to that effect appearing onscreen:
“The film you are about to see is not a sequel to ‘Valley of the Dolls.’ It is wholly original and bears no relationship to real persons, living or dead. It does, like ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ deal with the oft-times nightmare world of show business but in a different time and context.”
The deal, you see, was that 20th Century Fox owned the rights to produce a film by the title of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” whether it was a sequel or not; when attempts to have Jacqueline Susann compose an acceptable follow-up came to nothing, the gauntlet was hurled in Ebert’s direction. What he came up with can only be described as a mélange of every plot cliché that he’d go on to rail about in years to come…though, of course, when you’re utilizing them intentionally, it’s okay. Right, Roger?
An all-girl band called the Kelly Affair – Kelly McNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) – decide to go for the big time by heading for Hollywood, bringing their manager (and Kelly’s boyfriend), Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), with them. The band arrives in Tinseltown and heads straight for Kelly’s aunt’s place…because, as it happens, her aunt is fashion designer Susan Lake! Susan informs Kelly that she’s entitled to a percentage of a family inheritance that she’d been heretofore unaware of, then invites her and her pals to a party being thrown by music impresario Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell. (Z-Man was inspired by Phil Spector…but, then, Ebert has admitted that he didn’t know much of anything about Spector, so the similarities are far from precise.) Before long, Z-Man has kicked Harris to the curb and taken control; he renames the band the Carrie Nations, gets them a record deal, and makes them into superstars…and, voila, the growing pains experienced by the members of the band quickly tear them apart. Kelly gets a new boyfriend in the form of actor/gigolo Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett), while Harris manages to score a relationship with adult film star Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams) – her pick-up line to him: “You're a groovy boy; I'd like to strap you on sometime.” – but when it falls apart, he gets depressed and tries to commit suicide on live television. As for the other girls, Casey flirts with lesbianism with very sexy results, while Petronella starts off dating a law student (Harrison Page) before moving on to world heavyweight champion boxer Randy Black (Jim Inglehart). (No surprise here, Randy Black was inspired by Muhammad Ali.)
So you’ve got your sex, you’ve definitely got your rock and roll, and since the film hasn’t been rolling for more than five minutes before someone says, “Don’t bogart the joint,” clearly, you’ve got drugs as well. There’s no end of tits and ass, the music’s fantastic (with a few kick-ass songs by the Strawberry Alarm Clock that will make you wonder why their lone hit was “Incense and Peppermints”), and the dialogue is imminently quotable, if only for its ludicrousness. The legendary Austin Powers line, “This is my happening and it freaks me out,” is borrowed straight from Z-Man’s mouth, and, honest to God, it’s one of the sanest lines he utters during the film; John LaZar deserved some sort of recognition from the Motion Picture Academy for managing to get through the picture without blowing a gasket from laughing at his own ridiculous dialogue. The finale is downright bizarre; even given everything that precedes it, you still won’t believe it as it unfolds. Ritualistic slayings, transvestitism, and Nazis…? Oh, my!
Have we really explained why “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is worthy of five stars? Probably not. Your best bet is to see it for yourself. Either you’ll agree with our appraisal and join the cult with us, or you’ll stare blankly at the screen and wonder what we were on when we wrote this; if it’s the latter…well, clearly, baby, you’re a freak. You’re a stone freak. This film is awesome.DVD Revew:
God bless 20th Century Fox for understanding that the fanbase for this film would eat up a two-disc set filled to the brim with bonus stuff, starting with two audio commentaries on Disc 1. The first is from Ebert; it’s certainly the more informative of the pair…but, then, it ought to be, since he sounds like he’s reading straight from a script rather than simply offering off-the-cuff reminiscences; there are occasional lapses into silence, but Ebert has many great anecdotes, including a brief discussion of his aborted collaboration with Meyer on “Who Killed Bambi,” the Sex Pistols movie that never was. The second commentary is with five of the film’s cast members – Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, John LaZar, and Eric Gavin – and while it’s almost as confusing as the film itself sometimes (they talk over each other a lot, and half the time it’s for one person to ask a question while the other admit to not knowing the answer), it’s still a fun listen, with the group clearly enjoying the chance to hang out and watch the flick together. Disc 2 provides original screen tests, several photo galleries (with over 300 pictures included), and multiple documentaries which feature new interviews with just about everyone who was involved in the film that’s still among the living, as well as observations from various film critics about the lasting impact of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” Hey, at least it proves we’re not alone.