Directed by Mark Robson, produced by David Weisbart and Helen Deutsch, with a screenplay by Dorothy Kingsley and Harlan Ellison. Cinematography by William H. Daniels (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF 1957, IN LIKE FLINT 1967).
Film editing by Dorothy Spencer (STAGECOACH 1939, TO BE OR NOT TO BE 1942, LIFEBOAT 1944 and CLEOPATRA 1963) Set Direction by Raphael Bretton (HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE 1964 and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE 1972) and Walter M Scott. (THE SOUND OF MUSIC 1965 and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID 1969) Art Design by Richard Day (ON THE WATERFRONT 1954, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE 1951 and THE GRAPES OF WRATH 1940) and Jack Martin Smith (BATMAN 1966 and PLANET OF THE APES 1968) and wardrobe by Travilla.
With all that creative talent on board, you can call the film trashy, but it sure has a lot of style!
Starring Barbara Parkins (THE MEPHISTO WALTZ 1971 never looking more beautiful in my opinion. One of my favorite horror films of the 70s, I plan on doing a long winded overview of it this Winter 2012.)
as Anne Welles, Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara, Sharon Tate as Jennifer North, Susan Hayward as Helen Lawson, Paul Burke as Lyon Burke, Toni Scotti as Tony Polar, Lee Grant as Miriam Polar, Martin Milner as Mel Anderson, Alexander Davion as Neely’s 2nd husband the bisexual Ted Casablanca, Naomi Stevens as Miss Steinberg and Robert H Harris as Henry Bellamy.
From the moment the utter fabulousness of this tawdry pulp icon of the 60s starts rolling on screen with Barbara Parkin’s heavenly visage gazing out the train window, and Dionne Warwick starts confessing the movie’s theme song with her soulful voice… I get verklempt.
Doll a euphemism for little colored pills of varying types of barbiturates… ‘uppers’ and ‘downers.’
Based on the best-selling explosively trashy novel by Jacqueline Susann and directed by of all people, Mark Robson. (THE SEVENTH VICTIM 1943, THE GHOST SHIP 1943, ISLE OF THE DEAD 1945, and well his telltale progression into melodrama land with PEYTON PLACE 1957 and eventually into darker territories with DADDY’S GONE A- HUNTING 1969)
Growing up as a little girl in the 60s there wasn’t a coffee table or bookshelf that I didn’t see a copy of Valley of the Dolls sitting atop next to a hardcover of best-selling self-help book by Dr. Thomas A. Harris’, I’m Okay You’re Okay which was first published in 1967, the year Valley of The Dolls was released.
There was certainly a copy of it in my own house and I remember seeing the film either during its theatrical release or later on the huge Magnavox cabinet tv with only 3 dials. At first, I was struck by the incredible score from composer John Williams and songs by Andre Previn and lyrics by Dory Previn. And then I fell under the spell of the badness and the beautifulness of it all…
Standing out is its vivid colors of the 60s film processing, the vogue style couture, flashy set design, and mod art direction. Populated by the campy over-the-top acting in all the right places of course, by the entire cast makes for one hell of a ride through the tunnel of tragic love in high dramaville. As cliche after libidinous, compulsive, and histrionic cliche prance across the screen as a story of meandering disassembled desire, by the needful women, and their male companions.
It’s campy and tawdry and melodramatic trash, and that’s a GOOD THING, for us junkies of melodramatic trashy & campy flicks from the 1940s -1960s.
Upon its release in 1967 Valley of The Dolls was well received internationally, but critics like Roger Ebert panned the film saying…
“What we have here is a dirty soap opera. It is dirty because it intends to be, but it is a soap opera only by default. It tries to raise itself to the level of sophisticated pornography but fails. And it is dirty, not because it has lots of sex in it, but because it firmly believes that sex is dirty.” By Roger Ebert –December 27, 1967
I tend to think that Ebert is underestimating Susann’s machinations, as I believe she is not portraying her female characters as sullied by their sexual encounters, or dirty or fallen women because they had sex outside of the marriage bed. I think he’s projecting a deprecating morality onto the film. The film doesn’t take all that sex and drug business seriously.
What the film does do is show that life doesn’t always give you the trajectory that you’re aiming for and that there are certain consequences for the choices you make. With the exception of Neely who truly has an addiction problem, both Anne and Jennifer get out, on their own terms. Okay, suicide is not a pretty option, but it’s not an unrealistic response to the stockpile of unfortunate events that eventually weigh poor Jennifer down, finding herself trapped by the circumstances of her life and succumbing to it. But she did it quietly. No blame, no hysterics, no dramatic entrances or ugly scenes. She took the dolls and just went away.
The film was re-released in 1969 cashing in on the sensationalism of the tragic murder of Sharon Tate. At a July 1997 re-screening of the film at The Castro Theater in San Francisco, actress Barbara Parkins told a SRO crowd “I know why you like it…because it’s so bad!”
Deliciously operatic in the melodrama department, one can’t help but enjoy watching it with a drag queen’s zeal for sequins and a good Garlandesque Show Tune. Speaking of which, Judy Garland was supposed to have played the part of Helen Lawson, but due to many missed rehearsals, and bouts of intoxication on the set, Robson delayed her rehearsals so she’d show up late and drunk, and then removed her from the film and gave the part to Susan Hayward. According to Susann herself, the Helen Lawson character is supposedly based on Ethel Merman, who was Susann’s lover at the time. Also, the part about Jennifer was based on Betty Hutton.
Barbara Parkins plays ingenue Anne Welles, a fresh young college grad who leaves her quaintly provincial New England town and heads for New York City. Once there she lands a job as a secretary for a theatrical agency that represents, Broadway star and legend, Helen Lawson.
The film is a convergence of the lives of Anne, Jennifer, and Neely as they struggle to find themselves, down lots of dolls and booze, and try and make it in the world of show business, high fashion, and Hollywood, not to mention master the art of love, where they all seem to have lousy luck with the male animal.
Jennifer North, played by the Athena-like Sharon Tate, works in the chorus line of the play, but would love to be taken seriously and not just for her exquisite body, and in the immortal words of Neely O’Hara, not just her “boobies, boobies, boobies.” Because she is only perceived as a sex object, she winds up in European nudies, just to make enough money to send back to her nagging mother, who is played by a telephone.
Neely O’Hara is a very talented stage actress and singer, who by devious methods, gets under the skin of the aging starlet Helen Lawson played by Susan Hayward. There’s a nod to ‘All About Eve’ as Neely undermines Helen and ultimately steps over her in order to make it to the top. Of course, she is more overtly vile about her intentions than Ann Baxter was with Bette Davis, but that was class and this is camp.
Neely winds up getting fired from the show because Lawson sees her as a legitimate threat.
Helen Lawson: ‘The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that’s ME, baby, remember?’
Anne is the assistant to handsome attorney Lyon Burke, a womanizing man about town who woos Anne, although he has no intention of ever marrying any woman. Burke helps Neely land an appearance on a telethon and a few performances which launches Neely into an overnight sensation. So she moves to Hollywood, to start her film career. Ironically, once Neely has established herself as a ‘star’, she begins to personify the egomania and brash narcissism of Helen Lawson.
She also becomes enamored with said ‘dolls.’ As Neely descends into an ugly, combative hellion, she alienates her wonderfully devoted husband Mel (Martin Milner), ultimately getting herself committed to a sanitarium equipped with a special kind of ‘hot tub’, canvas cover, and disdainful nurses included.
Jennifer winds up in Hollywood as well, where she marries nightclub singer Tony Polar played by Tony Scotti. She becomes pregnant with Tony’s child, but tragically Tony carries the hereditary gene for Huntington’s disease. Lee Grant plays Tony’s half sister and manager Miriam who keeps this fact from Jennifer and dotes on Tony with an incestuous obsession that is suffocating. Once Jennifer learns of Tony’s condition, she has an abortion. Tony’s condition worsens and he winds up in the same sanitarium. In order to pay for the growing medical costs, Jennifer winds up taking a job in France doing ‘art films’… or tasteful soft-core pornography.
Anne has become a very high-profile fashion model, but she too has been seduced by ‘dolls’, as a way to drown her sorrows, because Lyon Burke has gone off and started sleeping with her friend, Neely! Oh, that insatiable man-eater.
To make the situation for Jennifer even more tragic, she is then diagnosed with breast cancer and must have a mastectomy. Well, as you know the only commodity Jennifer ever seemed to be able to sell was her, ‘boobies, boobies, boobies’. And please, I am not making a joke about breast cancer, believe me. It just goes to the plot designating Jennifer as an object, reducing her worth to a pair of tits.
Anne Welles: “Neely, you know it’s bad to take liquor with those pills. ”
Neely O’Hara: “They work faster.”
[after catching her bisexual husband with a girl]
Neely O’Hara: “All right, faggot! Start explaining!”
Ted Casablanca: “You need glasses, Neely. She’s hardly built like a boy.”
Neely O’Hara: “I have to get up at five o’clock in the morning and SPARKLE, Neely, SPARKLE!”
Jennifer phones her invisible mother trying to get some comfort, but the woman is only concerned with appearances and the reaction from her friends to Jennifer’s “art films.” She also harps on Jennifer for financial aid.
Jennifer out of the three maiden wanderers seems to have the most harrowing ill-fated journey and sinks into a depression, ultimately taking an overdose of “dolls.”
Jennifer leaves Tony enough money to remain at the sanitarium. Neely, who is committed to the same institution to recover from her addictions, sees him there and in one of the more unaffected scenes of the film sings a duet, “Come Live With Me” as Tony becomes cognitive long enough to sing the lyrics weakly but then goes back into his fugue by songs end. Oy… I’m getting verklempt again.
Neely gets out of rehab and tries to reprise her stardom once again, but the monkey on her back won’t let go, and she winds up spiraling headfirst into an abysmal dive of self-pity, dolls, booze, and general orneriness.
Helen Lawson: ‘They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you come crawling back to Broadway. But Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope. Now get out of my way, I’ve got a man waiting for me.’
Neely O’Hara: “That’s a switch from the fags you’re usually stuck with!
Helen Lawson: At least I never had to MARRY one!
Neely O’Hara: YOU TAKE THAT BACK…
[pulls off Helen’s wig while scuffling]
Neely O’Hara: … oh my God, it’s a wig! HER HAIR’S AS PHONY AS SHE IS!”
Culminating in one ugly bout of sabotage and retaliation, Neely enters Helen’s dressing room, on the night of a show, and yanks off her red wig, revealing a head of white hair. Then flushing the wig down the john, in a final act of revolting scorn. Wildly deliciously memorable…!
Everything comes full circle as Anne shakes off her cheating, cad of a lover and heads back to the fresh air of the New England countryside where she was once happy. Lyons breaks it off with Neely, follows Anne there and finally asks her to marry him, but she has already found herself, re energized and independent. Her face has been framed behind that train window once again and from there, she then embraces the cold breath of the woods and the smell of freedom in the air (penises, penises, penises, who needs ’em)…..THE END
“Anne Welles: You’ve got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.”
Again from Roger Ebert’s scathing and skewed review:
“And so in “Valley of the Dolls” we are given a pantheon of fallen women. They fall because they drink too much and take too many pills, but their main offense seems to be their irregular private lives. The story is so confused that we can hardly keep straight just who has done what, but it doesn’t matter: They all do something.”-By Roger Ebert -December 27, 1967
“Some moments persist in the memory, however. The scene in which Sharon Tate does her bust exercises, and most particularly the dialog at the end of that scene, should be preserved in permanent form so future historians can see that Hollywood was not only capable of vulgarity but was also capable of the most offensive and appalling vulgarity ever thrown up by any civilization. I can’t believe that scene. I really can’t.” –By Roger Ebert -December 27, 1967
[on the phone with her mother]
Jennifer North: You told me Gramp’s been sick, Mother, and I know about the oil burner. Okay, I’ll pawn the mink. He’ll give me a couple hundred for it. Mother, I know I don’t have any talent, and I know all I have is a body, and I am doing my bust exercises. Goodbye, Mother. I’ll wire you the money first thing in the morning. Goodbye.
[hangs up the phone and starts performing calisthenics]
Jennifer North: Oh, to hell with them! Let ’em droop!
Ebert goes on to say:
“There is also a lot of fairly mild vulgar language, shoveled into the script so ineptly that we can tell the scriptwriters (two women) must not swear much. Mark Twain once explained why women were such poor cussers: They know the words, but not the music.”
First I think he’s misinterpreting Twain’s quote and secondly, I think Ebert has issues with women expressing anything other than ‘Well how do you do’ or perhaps Susann should have written a cookbook instead. Hey Rog, Valley of the Dolls is not a De Maurier novel…ya know!
And in 1967 he must have been living an insulated life if this was one of his film critiques, and couldn’t conceive of a woman using vulgarity in any way as an art form, perhaps he hadn’t seen Mae West, Ann Sothern, Shelley Winters, Tallulah Bankhead, or Sophie Tucker ...being irreverent and sassy and more potent when flinging a few curses around, than any profanity uttered by a person with a penis. Those gals not only understood the music but made a symphony of it…
Women can get smashed, down some dolls, open up an immortal storm of obscenities pouring forth their lustful lips, sleep with whomever she pleases, and not have to be vulgar, fallen women…from what pantheon Mr. Ebert? Since when did the gods ever treat goddesses or mortal women any better on Mt.Olympus?
And if I’m not mistaken, within the context of a tawdry story of lives gone awry, Sharon Tate was playing a legitimate role as someone who has been objectified and therefore inhabits the being as an ‘object’. So she said “Let ’em droop”, it was her way of taking back some power in the moment. Why isn’t that believable in the scene?
I can’t say for sure, but his review smacks more of inadvertent misogyny by pointing out traits that are distasteful to him, thereby demoralizing women himself, not the author Susann who has merely written a sensationalist novel, based on true events, I might add.
To be so presumptive to say that she isn’t comfortable nor eloquent enough with a curse word. Wow, I think his protracted ridicule of a very fun movie, exposes more about his view of women, their lack of primacy, yes, their objectified anatomy, and what he thinks they should or shouldn’t do with it.
And why bring Raquel Welch into the conversation perpetuating the objectification he mocks by calling her a mere sex symbol too?
From Wikipedia -Some Interesting Production Notes:
- The ending of the film was changed dramatically from the novel. In the film, Anne and Lyon never marry and do not have a child together. Rather, she leaves Lyon and returns to Lawrenceville, which is described as the one place she found real happiness. Lyon later visits her to propose but she refuses. These last-minute changes in the script, so out of keeping with Anne’s established character (well known to millions of readers), prompted original screenwriter Harlan Ellison, who wanted to keep the original downbeat ending, to remove his name and credit from the film.
- Margaret Whiting recorded “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” for the film, overdubbing Susan Hayward’s singing parts, but she was under contract with another label, so Eileen Wilson had to come in and overdub the song for that official soundtrack album. “It’s Impossible” and “Give a Little More” are both dubbed by Gail Heideman for Patty Duke. Heideman and Wilson are uncredited on the soundtrack label.
- Judy Garland was originally cast as Helen Lawson, but was fired when she came to work drunk; Susan Hayward replaced her in the role after production had already begun. On July 20, 2009, Patty Duke appeared at the Castro Theater in San Francisco with a benefit screening of the film and said that director Mark Robson made Garland wait from 8 am to 4 pm before filming her scenes for the day, knowing that Garland would be upset and drunk by that time.
You’re all dolls, and I mean that in the nicest way! -MonsterGirl