Friday 10 August 2018

Movie Review: Valley Of The Dolls (1967)

A show business drama, Valley Of The Dolls is a soap opera with overclocked emotions bursting forth at every turn.

The elegantly sophisticated Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) leaver her small New England town to seek her fortune in New York City. She finds a job at an agency specializing in show business contracts, and meets Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke), the understudy for stage megastar Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward). Helen spots Neely's talent and fearful of being upstaged, fires her. Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) is an admittedly talentless chorus girl surviving on her seductive physical attributes.

Neely works hard, achieves stardom as a singer and an actress, and marries Mel (Martin Milner). Jennifer marries singer Tony Polar (Tony Scotti), whose career is managed by his sister Miriam (Lee Grant). Anne embarks on a relationship with her boss Lyon (Paul Burke), although he never wants to settle. She then achieves some fame as a model for a cosmetics firm. Although Anne, Neely and Jennifer all appear to be on the fast-track to happiness, plenty of unexpected surprises await, including increasing dependencies on "dolls", the pills that boost energy or induce sleep.

Jacqueline Susann's salaciously trashy book, one of the biggest bestsellers of all time, is turned into a salaciously trashy movie. Directed by Mark Robson, Valley Of The Dolls is undercast with mediocre talent, and overburdened with melodrama. The claws are out, the daggers are drawn, the pills are gulped, and three women (four, counting Helen Lawson) have their careers clouded by negativity, addiction, and backstabbing.

Stuck somewhere in the twilight zone between a really warped take on All About Eve and an early model for the primetime television soap operas of the 1980s, the film is filled with naked ambition, hysterical ups and downs, some brief but at the time scandalous nudity, and an entrenched attitude that for one woman to succeed, another has to fail. Of course all the men are also either manipulative or susceptible to manipulation, or both.

As social commentary, the film has some value in marking the sexual revolution of the 1960s and feminism merging into the mainstream. Anne, Neely and Jennifer are sexually independent, free to pursue both careers and husbands, easily drop the men who disappoint them, and never question their strength as women. Unfortunately, in Valley Of The Dolls independence and meanness are often conjoined in both genders.

Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke and Sharon Tate were never more than middling talents, yet here they land as the three stars of a much-anticipated film adaptation. Parkins does little other than look chic, Duke devours most of the scenery with a wildly over-the-top performance, and Tate appears unfortunately perfectly cast as the expressionless and talentless actress surviving on her physical attributes.

Susan Hayward and Lee Grant add some class and bite, but are consigned to supporting roles. The men fare worse: television non-entities Martin Milner, Tony Scotti, Paul Burke and Alexander Davion as Ted Casablanca are all plastic, interchangeable and disposable.

Valley Of The Dolls scores some points as bad enough to be good and a guilty pleasure to suit the right mood, but otherwise just registers as annoyingly overwrought.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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