Friday 23 September 2016

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Soap, Sex, Sin and Susann on CRITERION

In the Valley of the Dolls, there are BABES, BOOZE, BEDS
and CATFIGHTS - Oh, the Catfights! The glorious catfights!

Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Dir. Mark Robson
Scr. Helen Deutsch, Dorothy Kingsley
Starring: Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, Susan Hayward,
Paul Burke, Martin, Milner, Toni Scotti, Lee Grant, Alexander Davion

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Oh, glorious melodrama! Glorious, glorious, glorious melodrama! How Do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways! Or rather, forget that! I'd be sitting here counting all goddamn day! Why? Because I love melodrama - a perfectly legitimate storytelling form that too often gets the bad rap of knee-jerk dismissal, like it's a dirty word or something. Screw THAT! In my books, there is only good melodrama and bad melodrama. Sometimes, there's even GREAT melodrama, and Mark Robson's gorgeous film adaptation of the pot boiling Jacqueline Susann bestseller is nothing if not great melodrama.

I will admit, as would any red-blooded lad growing up in the late-60s-early-70s, to reading the book upon which this film was based. What self-respecting suburban mother didn't have a copy of this novel in her library of fine literature? What self-respecting 10-year-old boy wouldn't secret the paperback away to peruse its contents late at night under a blanket with a flashlight? It's a dirty book, eh.

Mark Robson's movie is one lollapalooza of sudsy filth!
Susan Hayward replaced Judy Garland. PERFECT!!!
Susann's book was a compulsive piece of trash that had made-for-the-movies written all over it. Her swill was done proud by screenwriters Helen (National Velvet, I'll Cry Tomorrow) Deutsch, Dorothy (Pal Joey) Kingsley and - I kid you not - Harlan (A Boy and His Dog) Ellison. He's uncredited for a reason. He had his name removed from the credits due to the studio-imposed "happy" (though plenty melancholy) ending.

The whole affair, as it were, was clearly under the watchful gaze of the stylish Canadian-born-raised-educated Robson who not only served up some of the finest Golden Age Cinema in the form of a clutch o' terrific Val Lewton horror items, most notably the super-creepy-super-scary The Seventh Victim, then the great film noir boxing pictures Champion and The Harder They Fall, and eventually delivered first-rate slam-bang commercial entertainments like the mega-soap Peyton Place and the two-fisted Sinatra WWII adventure of Von Ryan's Express. (Years later Robson would give us the pinnacle of disaster movies, Earthquake, which amongst its ridiculously huge all-star cast, featured Lorne Greene as Ava Gardner's father.)

Robson directs Valley of the Dolls with a perverse blend of poppy 60s psychedelia and an old fashioned studio-style stodginess. It works perfectly for this sex and soap saga.

In a nutshell, we follow the lives of three "dolls" (mega-babes) through the "valley" (all the highs and lows of life) of the "dolls" (pills of every mind-altering stripe and colour).

Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) shows up in New York from her sleepy hometown in New England, immediately lands a job as a secretary in a show business agency, has a torrid affair with Lyon Burke (Paul Burke), the agency's chief lawyer and perennial bachelor and eventually succumbs to booze and "dolls" to ease the pain of emptiness.

Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke) is about to break out in a supporting role in a big Broadway musical, but is fired by the jealous wrath wreaked by the boozy old star of the show Helen Lawson (a great Susan Hayward in a role Judy Garland was supposed to until she was fired for succumbing to booze and drugs in real life). Neely's agent/boyfriend Mel Anderson (Martin Milner) works his butt off and she becomes a huge nightclub sensation and movie star. Mel's career eventually dissipates in the shadow of Neely and she not only has a torrid open affair with the swings-both-ways Ted Casablanca (Alexander Davion), but succumbs to booze and "dolls" to ease the pain of emptiness.
We didn't see THIS on "The Patty Duke Show".
Jennifer North (the late Sharon Tate, victim of the Manson Clan and Roman Polanski's beloved) has only one talent - her body. She eventually falls in love with nightclub crooner Tony Polar (Tony Scotti) and for the first time in her life, she knows true happiness (in spite of Tony's domineering sister/manager played with bile-spitting aplomb by Lee Grant). Unfortunately, Tony is stricken with Huntington's Disease and poor Jennifer is reduced to "acting" in French "art films" (pornography) to support her beloved. Naturally, she succumbs to booze and "dolls" to ease her deep, deep pain. She turns out to be the purest and least "empty" of the trio.

Oh, how they all suffer.

And oh, how gloriously.


Valley of the Dollars has been released on a sumptuous, extras-laden Criterion Collection Blu-Ray (and, if you must, DVD). The whole package includes a new 2K digital restoration, with 3.0 LCR DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, a 2006 audio commentary featuring actor Barbara Parkins and journalist Ted Casablanca, new interviews with writer Amy Fine Collins about author Jacqueline Susann and the costumes in the film, footage from "Sparkle Patty Sparkle", a 2009 gala tribute to actor Patty Duke at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, two promotional films from 1967, a 2001 episode on the film from the television program "Hollywood Backstories", screen tests, trailers, a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Glenn Kenny, gorgeous new cover art by Phil Noto and BEST OF ALL, a superb, passionate, informative and deliciously over-the-top video essay by film critic Kim Morgan. Morgan's appreciation is so heartfelt it's deeply moving.

My review of Russ Meyer's insane "sequel" Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is HERE.