Valley of the Dolls (1967)

“I’m not nutty; I’m just hooked on dolls!”

Valley of the Dolls Poster

Synopsis:
A young woman (Barbara Parkins) seeking adventure in New York City falls for a marriage-phobic man (Paul Burke) while navigating her new career as a famous model; meanwhile, her sexy friend Jennifer (Sharon Tate) marries a singer (Tony Scotti) with a strangely possessive sister (Lee Grant), and a talented ingenue named Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) becomes increasingly hooked on drugs and alcohol as her star rises.

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Review:
Mark Robson’s infamously trashy adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling novel features howl-worthy performances, dialogue, and scenarios — a guaranteed field day for those who enjoy such cinematic “treats”. The story, about a trio of young women experiencing the harsh realities of love, fame, and drugs in the Big City, is loosely based upon the real-life travails of Judy Garland (who was originally cast in Susan Hayward’s supporting role as aging diva Helen Lawson). As young Garland’s fictional doppelganger, Patty Duke’s “Neely O’Hara” emerges as the true focus of the film — and it’s her egregiously over-the-top performance that’s often cited as the pièce de résistance of this venture. She’s given (and runs with) countless unintentionally hilarious lines:

“Boobies, boobies, boobies. Nothing but boobies! Who needs ’em? I made it fine without ’em.”
“Ted Casablanca is NOT a fag… and I’m the dame who can prove it!”

But other scenes and interactions are worthy of chuckles as well — including Tate watching her “art film”, Lee Grant muttering about heating up a lasagna after arguing with her brother (Scotti), and Hayward channeling Judy Garland as she sings “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” while a colorful, Calder-esque mobile spins around her, periodically shading her face. Ultimately, your enjoyment of this one will be predicated entirely upon how much you appreciate such campy fare — but all film fanatics should check it out once, for its infamy.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Occasional creative cinematography
    Valley of the Dolls Cinematography
  • Many unintentionally hilarious scenes and sequences
    Valley of the Dolls Cinematography2
    Valley of the Dolls French Movie

Must See?
Yes, as a campy cult favorite. (How could this NOT be labeled a CC — or Camp Classic — in the back of Peary’s book?!)

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One Response to “Valley of the Dolls (1967)”

  1. Yes, all film fanatics should see this one, no matter what. It’s certainly a, um…unique film experience.

    I’ve seen it way too many times, probably – and have now just seen it in blu-ray. It looks better than it has any right to look. It now looks frighteningly great…the way a good film should look. It’s not a shoddy film, in terms of production value. And there is evidence – here and there…occasionally – of a real intelligence on-board.

    But it’s still a mess. ~which is probably why a whole ton of people – straight or gay – simply dismiss the film or aren’t even interested in seeing it. Well…their loss.

    It’s not an out-and-out camp howler, a la ‘Mommie Dearest’ (which more or less announces itself as camp from frame one and continues along those lines). The camp in ‘VOTD’ more or less weaves in and out: there will be scenes that play kind of ok as drama (i.e., the genuinely heartbreaking sequence in which Sharon Tate’s Jennifer announces that she has breast cancer). But probably more than half of the movie is comprised of scenes of such unthinkably awful dialogue – played with utmost sincerity…and the only response possible is laughter (from being served something so deliciously wrong-headed).

    I read Susann’s book some time back. I was curious. To my surprise, it was a more interesting read than anticipated. Of course it’s not great literature but it sure is compelling and a hell of a read – there’s a whole (what I call) ‘spin cycle’ effect as the book nears its end (none of which is in the film).

    The most fascinating aspect of the film, though, is that, yes, it’s terrible – but it’s not boring. Anytime I see it, the time seems to fly by. Of course, the story has a lot of ground to cover so we’re always quickly moving on to some new ‘chapter’…so there’s not a whole lot of time to be indulgent. Still, just about everybody here is allowed to indulge painfully from time to time simply by accompanying the inane things that are coming out of their mouths.

    Of course, there are also THE SONGS. Those mindless songs! Those impossibly wretched songs! (~though we can give Dionne Warwick a break because her song, the film’s theme, at least has an inviting melody.)

    I probably watch ‘VOTD’ once a year – and am quite glad that my annual screening now will be a marvelous-looking upgrade. It’s a classic ‘trainwreck’ film and…as such…is worthy of our respect.

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