Valley of the Dolls (1967) & Once is Not Enough (1975)
When you think of lurid melodrama you think of the gloriously gaudy, flashy & trashy Jacqueline Susann! I’ve been sort of in the mood to watch my guilty pleasure filled with flaming divas, drugs, tragic love, screaming in an alley and walking away with your head held high! Valley of the Dolls works as an exposé of three aspiring beauties who each in their own way are catapulted to stardom, but ultimately pay a price…
Considered a film to walk away from in shame, it was the Gay community who resurrected this showy gem and delivered it to cult status!
Valley of the Dolls (1967) directed by Mark Robson and stars the enigmatic raven beauty Barbara Parkins (who suggested Warwick to sing the tearjerker of a theme song), Patty Duke whose performance as Neely O’Hara is a tour de force, Sharon Tate whose tragic fate is eerily played out in her role as Jennifer North, Susan Hayward and the extraordinary Lee Grant. See my interview here: LEE GRANT INTERVIEW
I can’t help getting that exquisite punch in the gut feeling when Dionne Warwick sings the 1967 theme song by André and Dory Previn, composed for the film version of the Jacqueline Susann best-selling novel.
All I see when I hear the theme song is Anne Welles (who could only have been portrayed by Barbara Parkins who falls down the rabbit hole of ‘dolls’ and crawls back out, empowered!) her face gazing out the window of the train, envisioning a new sense of self and freedom, we’re also transported by the power and poignancy of Dionne Warwick’s immortal voice. “Gotta get off, Gonna get. Have to get off from this ride.”
Next, another guilty pleasure of mine, is Susann’s more obscure little potboiler Once is Not Enough (1975) directed by Guy Green and screenplay by Julius J. Epstein (Casablanca 1942, Arsenic and Old Lace 1942, The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942). This sensationalist slice of cake stars Kirk Douglas, Alexis Smith, David Janssen (that’s all I need to know) George Hamilton, Greek siren Melina Mercouri,Brenda Vaccaro and Deborah Raffin as January. Filled with incestuous overtones, clandestine lesbian trysts, a May/December romance and the ambiguity of love and ownership, Once is Not Enough is like a cheap wine that still tastes pretty good.
The theme song with a melody that hauls my heart over a melancholy mountain of emotion is written by prolific composer Henry Mancini. Hearing it now, still gives me that shiver of nostalgia for everything wonderful about 70s overwrought romantic fiction.
January (Raffin) returns home to New York from Europe. She indulges herself in the subculture of the city and winds up falling in love with writer Tom Colt (Janssen) a jaded older man who replaces the love she feels for her father, Kirk Douglas.
British Science Fiction/Thriller from writer/director Ken Hughes(Wicked as they Come 1956, The Trials of Oscar Wilde 1960, Cromwell 1970). From a story by Charles Eric Maine.
Stars actor/director Gene Nelson as Mike Delaney, Faith Domergue as Jill Rabowski, Peter Arne as Dr. Stephen Rayner/Jarvis, Joseph Tomelty as Detective Inspector Cleary, Donald Gray as Robert Maitland, Vic Perry as Emmanuel Vasquo, Paul Hardtmuth as Dr. Bressler, Martin Wyldek as Dr. Preston. The film is known as Timeslip in England, a mild British thriller using American stars to boost interest in the film, and was cut by almost seventeen minutes for it’s U.S. release!
A man (Peter Arne ) is fished out of the Thames, shot in the back, the x-rays show that he is radioactive and projects a glowing aura around his body. The man dies on the table and is clinically dead for over 7 seconds, when they perform surgery to remove the bullet. American reporter Mike Delaney (Gene Nelson) decides to interview the man who he bares a striking resemblance to Dr. Stephen Rayner is very cryptic about what happened to him. Dr. Rayner whose face is all bandaged up is however in his laboratory working on an artificial chemical element of atomic number 74, the hard steel-gray metal with a very high melting point. Delaney and photographer girlfriend Jill Rabowski (the intoxicatingley dark eyed Faith Domergue) are curious about what is going on and begin to investigate. While the strange man in the hospital continues to act mysterious Delaney’s investigation lead him to Emmanuel Vasquo (Vic Perry) who heads an organization in South America that produces Tungsten steel.
Delaney and Jilly learn that the man they found in the Thames is in fact the real Dr. Rayner, and since he was clinically dead for 7 1/2 seconds and is radioactive somehow he has fallen into a time shift where he is living that small percentage ahead of time. The reason his answers to questions are so quizzical is because he is responding 7 1/2 seconds before they are asked. Delaney with the help of the real Dr. Rayner try to stop the imposter in the lab who is a double hired by Vasquo to impersonate the scientist so they can blow up the lab and prevent any competition by Dr. Rayner to produce artificial steel and pose real competition from the South American suppliers.
Prepare for a close encounter of the terrifying kind! An unspeakable horror… Destroying… Terrifying!
After his debut with Monster From the Ocean Floor in 1954, The Beast with 1.000.000 Eyes was a great foray into the new market of teenage drive-in movie goes that Roger Corman’sproduction team tapped into. First through the company called American Releasing Corp. which eventually became American International Pictures a year later.
James Nicholson, who was the maestro of promotion, changed the name of the film from The Unseen to The Beast with a Million Eyes, because it just had better shock value for selling more tickets. Nicholson was famous for coming up with the title first, telling the marketing department to design an eye-popping nifty poster, and then actually working a script around that vision. Though there was already a working script Nicholson had a poster made up of a beast with a million… well about 7 eyes tormenting a scantily clad beauty.
Directed by David Kramarsky and Corman with a script by Tom Filer. This cult B classic stars Paul Birch as Allan Kelley, Lorna Thayer as Carol Kelley, Dona Cole as Sandra Kelley, Dick Sargent as Deputy Larry Brewster, Leonard Tarver as Him/Carl, Chester Conklin the silent film comedian plays Ben and Bruce Whitmore is The metaphorically million eyed Beast. A million eyes refer to all the animals in ‘nature’ that would run amok and destroy mankind!
The beastly slave of the alien is a hand puppet created by the cheesy greatness that was Paul Blaisdell. (link to my tribute The Tacky Magnetism of Paul Blaisdell)
Interesting side note: Corman needed someone to design the alien who originally was supposed to be an invisible force marauding through the galaxy hitching rides on various life forms and taking over their consciousness, like the animals in this film. In Bill Warren’s informative book Keep Watching the Skies, Corman contacted friend collector/historian Forrest Ackerman suggesting stop animation genius Ray Harryhausen (who obviously was way out of Corman’s league and price range) Warren-“Corman recoiled in economic in shock.” Then Forrest recommended Jacques Fresco a futuristic eco-conscious architect and designer who had created the space station and rockets for Project Moon Base (1953)
But Fresco wanted too much money for his work, so Ackerman came up with another idea. There was an illustrator who drew covers and did illustrations for his magazines, named Paul Blaisdell. It wasn’t like Blaisdell had the experience building movie models but the young guy did build model kits (the Aurora kind I used to spend the days gluing and painting) and did some sculpting. Blaisdell said he would try it for $200 for the job and another $200 for materials. Still more than Corman wanted to invest, it seemed the last resort if he wanted a creature in his film. Corman sent the poster to Blaisdell as a composite and informed him that it didn’t have to do much more than show itself on screen for a few moments, then collapse. Blaisdell could then make it on a small scale, using only the upper torso since the rest would be hidden by the ship’s hatch. And so he made a hand puppet which was a dragon-like creature with wings he molded from clay and placed a simple latex mold over it. Paul’s wife Jackie modeled its hands. The Blaisdell’s nicknamed him “Little Hercules”
Blaisdell made him a leather jacket, a custom-made eight-starred medallion, and a toy gun and finally added manacles and chains to its arms to point out his slave status. According to Randy Palmer’s book, Paul Blaisdell: Monster Maker he was happy with his work, and so were the crew.
Corman and American Releasing Corp must have been satisfied enough with Blaisdell’s skill and his price, he went on to become the go-to monster-maker for the studio during the 1950s. Including The busty She-Creature (1956), the cucumber alien in It Conquered the World (1956), The fanged umbrella bat in Not of This Earth (1957), The alcoholic google eyed brain invaders in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), my personal favorite Tobanga the walking tree spirit in From Hell it Came 1957 and the alien stow away in It! The Terror from Beyond Space 1957inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).
He also acted inside the suits he designed, created special effects and did his own dangerous stunts in Corman’s movies. However, the 60s were not kind to Blaisdell and he decided to retire. He did co-publish a monster movie magazine with fellow collector and friend Bob Burns, but walked away from the industry entirely. Blaisdell passed away in 1983 suffering from stomach cancer at the age of 55.
Roger Corman has a singular touch all his own and it’s not just that he can create cult classics with a shoestring budget. Though filmed on the cheap, his work and so many American International Pictures releases will always be beloved because they possess a dynamism that is pure muddled non-logical magic. Beast with a Million Eyes is no exception. It takes place in the Southwestern desert where Allan Kelley (Paul Birch), his wife Carol (Lorna Thayer), and their daughter Sandy (Dona Cole) live on a dude ranch struggling to keep the weary family together. Carol feels isolated from the world and takes out her dissatisfaction with her marriage on her teenage daughter Sandy and resents the presence of the mute farmhand ‘Him’ who lives in a shack reading porn magazines and stalking Sandy quietly as she takes her daily dips in the lake. Trying to live a normal wholesome life on a desolate farm isn’t easy for Carol, as she burns Sandy’s birthday cake and is unnerved by the jet flying overhead that has shattered her good china. Life in the desert certainly isn’t the good life in suburbia.
They believe it is a plane that flies overhead but it turns out to be an alien ship landed in the hot sun-seared desert landscape. First Sandy’s dog Duke discovers the blinking lights of the spaceship, and when he returns home, he becomes violent and attacks Carol so viciously that she must shoot the poor animal.
Then black birds attack Allan, a docile old milking cow that tramples their neighbor Ben (Chester Conklin) then wanders onto Allan’s ranch and must be shot before it stomps Allan to death. And yes even chickens become menacing when they assail Carol in fury of clucking madness! Some force is causing the animals to go berserk… Later birds fly into the electrical box and cut off the ranch’s source of power.
Oddly enough what ever is effecting God’s simple creatures has also taken control of Allan’s mute handyman Carl (Leonard Tarver) who was Allan’s commanding officer during WWII, wounded during the war because of a mistake he made, Allan feels responsible for what Carl/Him losing a portion of his brain. He is what his nasty wife calls the poor mute. Carl is lured by what ever has piloted the spaceship, most likely because he is most impressionable due to his brain injury. Dick Sargent(yes! the second Darrin Stephens) who plays Sandy’s boyfriend is attacked by Carl who then lumbers off into the desert.
Larry-“That Loony of yours has gone mad!”
Later Carl kidnaps Sandy and delivers her to the craft in an effort to put her under its psychic control. Allan and Carol follow them to the ship and Allan tries to persuade him to let Carol go. Allan discovers that the evil alien is frightened by love, it is the creature’s weakness. The million-eyed alien imparts to us earthlings in voice-over that it has no material form but inhabits the minds of other living creatures, feeding off of them and controlling them. “Hate and malice are the keys to power in my world.” When the family confronts the intruder in its spaceship for a brief moment it materializes and then dies, the spaceship takes off leaving the bodiless creature behind in the form of a rat. The cycle of normal life resumes as an eagle (the representation of American strength and democracy) swoops down and carries the rat off with it. Allan philosophizes in his lugubrious manner “Why do men have souls? If I could answer that I’d be more than human.”
Carol Kelley: out there… all that wasteland and mountains. We might as well be on another planet. Oh, Alan without Sandy I don’t know what would happen to me. It’d be just you and me and… Him
[she sees Him looking at them]
Carol Kelley: . Always watching. Why doesn’t he ever go away on his day off? Always watching us. Heaven knows thinking what thoughts.
Allan Kelley: We’ve been over this before. You must know by now, he’s harmless.
According to American International Pictures head Samuel Z. Arkoff, Roger Corman‘s contract called for four films at a budget of $100,000 each. By the time it came to “The Beast with a Million Eyes,” the fourth film in the series, there was only $29,000 to $30,000 left, so Arkoff signed off on shooting the picture non-union in Palm Springs.
Producer Roger Corman was unsatisfied with the way the film was progressing and took over from director David Kramarsky, without credit.
When Samuel Z. Arkoff of ARC received The Beast with a Million Eyes he was unhappy that it did not even feature “the beast” that was implicit in the title. Paul Blaisdell, responsible for the film’s special effects, was hired to create a three-foot-tall spaceship (with “beast” alien) for a meager $200. Notably, the Art Director was Albert S. Ruddy, who would later win two “Best Picture” Academy Awards for The Godfather (1972) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).
The tiny budget meant music, credited to “John Bickford”, is actually a collection of public-domain record library cues by classical composers Richard Wagner, Dimitri Shostakovich, Giuseppe Verdi, Sergei Prokofiev, and others, used to defray the cost of an original score or copyrighted cues.
Lee Remick plays bank teller Kelly Sherwood who is being terrorized by ‘Red’ Lynch (Ross Martin) a psychopath with an asthmatic voice like sandpaper who schemes to use her in a plot to steal $100,000 from the bank where she works. Lynch kidnaps Sherwood’s younger sister Toby played by Stephanie Powers, and then threatens to kill her, if she tells the police. Enter Glenn Ford as F.B.I. agent Ripley who is now on the case… setting off a feverish game of cat & mouse between Remick, Martin and Ford.
Directed by Blake Edwards, this is one hell of a gripping Film Noir/ Thriller, with a screenplay by The Gordons, based on Mildred and Gordon Gordon’s 1961 novel Operation Terror.