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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Camp > Valley Of The Dolls + Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (Fox DVDs)

Valley Of The Dolls + Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (DVD-Video)



Valley of the Dolls

Video: B-     Audio: B-     Extras: A     Program: C


Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Video: B     Audio: B-     Extras: A     Program: A



20th Century Fox’s decision to finally release the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls and it’s 1970 non-sequel Beyond the Valley of the Dolls on DVD under its Cinema Classics imprint seems, at first, strange.  Valley of the Dolls is a camp classic, certainly, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a cult classic, but calling them “Cinema Classics” might be pushing it.  But if ever a case were to be made these movies were, indeed, classics of cinema, the loaded, two-disc packages bestowed on them by Fox makes it.


Both movies have been hotly anticipated by their legions of fans.  Valley of the Dolls, based on Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 sensational best-selling novel and directed by Mark Robson, has a devoted following thanks to is unintentionally campy acting, hammy script and preposterous cautionary moralizing about the dangers of poppin’ pills and makin’ it with guys.  Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, an original story meant to follow-up the events of Valley of the Dolls commissioned by Fox and written by Russ Meyer (who also directed) and Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert), is so out of left-field, ostensibly a send-up of how ridiculous the original movie was, that many flock to it as a cult curio in the vein of The Rocky Horry Picture Show.


Like the book, Dolls centers on three women — Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins), Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) and Jennifer North Polar (Sharon Tate) — as they gallivant through the New York theater scene, then move to Hollywood, then to rehab and leave far-too-devoted men left in their wake. It’s all very proto-after-school-special, except flashier and in widescreen thanks to Fox throwing a lot of money into the production based on the wildly popular book.


But while the book was scandalous in its frank depiction of sex and drugs (by mainstream 1966 standards), the film feels hygienic in its sanitized portrayals of those topics. One early sex scene, between Anne and her boss-lover Lyon (Paul Burke), is done all in shadow and close-up, so only silhouettes are visible.  The only clue we get that they are actually engaging in sex is that we see a below-the-calves shot of Anne dropping her towel and turning off the light in the bedroom.  Similarly, the first time we find out that Neely has become a pill fiend, it’s through a bit of angry poolside exposition between Neely’s husband, Mel (Martin Milner), and Jennifer.  Neely, who prior to this moment is a wholesome singer with a golden voice making it big in Hollywood, apparently takes sleeping pills, wakes up groggy and so takes an upper, then takes sleeping pills to come down off her high at night.  What makes these moments aggravating is that Robson is so devoted to the montage in “Dolls,” but he never uses them effectively.  We routinely see “training” montages, such as Neely preparing for her New York stage revue and Anne preparing to be a hair products model, poorly imitating musical montages — a genre “Dolls” likes to pass itself off as a member of.  Except these are less about numbers (because there are none) and more about simply passing time.  The montage would be better used in the movie to show these girls getting deeper into their sexual and drug-addled addictions.


“Dolls” is a lazy studio production, but what redeems it, at least to its followers, is its high camp in the grand soap opera tradition.  This is Aaron Spelling before there was an Aaron Spelling.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the B story, a kind of trashy homage to All About Eve.  Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) is the aging Broadway star, desperately clinging to her fading star as Neely comes onto the scene threatening to steal the limelight.  It’s all very Margo Channing-versus-Eve Harrington, except in reverse.  While we sympathize with Bette Davis’ Margo in “Eve,” Helen Lawson is a capital-B bitch, throwing hissy fits and tantrums unless the young upstart (and far more talented) Neely is fired from the show they’re both working on.  The contempt the two share for one another reaches its climax when Neely catfights Helen and rips Helen’s auburn wig off, revealing a head of short, shocking white hair.  Jackie Collins, eat your heart out.


Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is another story entirely.  While Dolls is unintentionally funny, it’s laughs coming from moments done with the utmost seriousness that simply misfired, Beyond goes out of its way to be ridiculous.  Like “Dolls,” there are three women at the core of the story — Kelly McNamara (Dolly Reed), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers) and Petronella “Pet” Danforth (Marcia McBroom), who comprise the rock group The Carrie Nations — who get caught up in the seedy underbelly of sex and drugs in Hollywood.  Unlike Dolls, Beyond doesn’t simply give these women trials to overcome; instead, they are put in unbelievably exploitive situations.  Kelly, for example, deals with being an heiress to a fortune she never knew existed, sleeping with disgusting surfer boys and lecherous middle-aged lawyers to get it, alienating the man who really loves her, Harris (David Gurian), driving him to attempt suicide, and dealing with the repercussions of the totality of her actions.


That’s simply a thumbnail, of course, of her story arc, but she’s given an incredible amount of empowerment as the film progresses, and by the end she pays for her sins by reverting into the doting wife figure.  She gets off relatively easy, though, especially compared to Casey.  She begins as an innocent member of The Carrie Nations who gets sucked into an abyss of drugs and booze, gets knocked up, is forced to have an abortion by her lesbian lover, and is ultimately murdered by Z-Man (John Lazar), a Phil Spector-type who is The Carrie Nations’ manager.  He’s also an acid fiend who trips hard during a costume party and kills his houseguests and his maybe-war-criminal butler, Otto (Henry Rowland).  (Speaking of exploitation, during the costume party, Z-Man politely screams that one of his guests will “drink the black sperm of my vengeance,” and tells Otto, who is dressed as a Nazi, to attend to the ovens. This was in 1970, a mere 25 years removed from the Holocaust.) Meyer subverts the cautionary-tale aesthetic of Dolls and twists it for his own exploitative means.  But that is what makes Beyond so much better than Dolls.  The first film is stodgy in its heavy-handed message; its follow-up is strikingly modern in its sending-up of how ridiculous heavy-handed message movies are.


A major reason for this is that Russ Meyer is a far better director than Mark Robson.  Robson’s direction is uninspired and, at times, amateurish.  He allows the camera to linger too long on faces and moments, not long enough on others and he relies far too much on those aforementioned ill-advised montages.  Meyer, on the other hand, knows how to shoot and cut a movie.  If anything, Beyond moves too quickly — its 109-minute runtime would easily be 20 minutes heavier if he lingered as much as Robson does in Dolls.  (For comparison sake, Dolls has a runtime of 123 minutes.) But Meyer makes up for this spastic editing with truly transcendent moments, like his split-screen montage where Z-Man and Harris each take up one side of the screen as The Carrie Nations perform and get progressively more popular.  Besides employing a technique that wouldn’t become ubiquitous until Brian DePalma utilized it in the late-‘70s, the split-screen pits Z-Man and Harris against one another, with each of them looking at the other guy, confronting each other via looks, glances and shattered emotion — played out only on their faces — through the membrane of the split-screen, all the while a lot of time passes.  Talk about a montage.  Anyone who still clings to the belief that B-movie impresario Meyer was nothing more than a sex-obsessed schlock-meister, a maniac responsible for Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and other depraved exploitation films, should watch Valley of the Dolls and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls back-to-back.  It will quickly become clear that Meyer was one of cinema’s masters.


Ultimately, recounting what happens in Beyond isn’t important; it’s an experience, and it’s one not easily distilled.  But somehow, Fox (or maybe Meyer) was able to do it in the brilliant, manic, rambly trailer for the movie: “It’s all here. Love, rape, murder, dope, grass, abortion, suicide — somethin’ for everybody! Hold it, man, don’t close your mind. This is what living is all about.”  They don’t make trailers like that anymore, and they don’t make movies like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls anymore.  Come to think of it, no one made a movie like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls ever again, which is why its release on DVD is so noteworthy.


Both Dolls and Beyond are presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and in Dolby Stereo 2.0 Stereo and Mono.  The visual presentation leaves something to be desired with Dolls.  While it’s great that the movie arrives in widescreen, the image is routinely muddy and the source print occasionally shows scratches and other signs of wear.  Beyond the Valley of the Dolls fares better.  It’s a crisper, cleaner transfer with few instances of print noise.  The audio presentations leave much more room for improvement.  While the movies are presented in their original soundtracks, and even though the films are dialogue heavy, it isn’t too much to ask for a surround sound option, especially for the performance scenes in both movies.  As it is, what’s available on the discs work as well as would be expected from a stereo mix.  All that said, these are still the best presentations of the movies available on home video; the DVDs are a significant upgrade from a beat-up VHS tape.


Luckily, Fox compensates for what the discs lack in the technical department with a plethora of extras, beginning with a set of four lobby cards packaged inside each set.  From there, each two-disc set has a fine complement of special features.  Valley of the Dolls disc one includes a commentary by Parkins and Ted Casablanca from the E! network, “Trivia Overdose: A Pill-Popping Guide to ‘Valley of the Dolls,’” the 48-minute documentary “Gotta Get Off this Merry-Go-Round: Sex, Dolls and Showtunes,” and a stills gallery.  On disc two are three featurettes, the 14-minute “The Divine Ms. Susann,” the five-minute “The Dish on Dolls,” and a 23-minute, seemingly made for another outlet, “Hollywood Backstories: ‘Valley of the Dolls.’”  There is also “‘You’ve Got Talent’ Karaoke: Follow the Bouncing Doll,” a kind-of sing-a-long for three of the songs from the movie: “Theme from ‘Valley of the Dolls,’” “It’s Impossible” and “I’ll Plant My Own Tree.”  There is an additional, audio-only feature focusing on the movie’s music that allows viewers to listen to 11 songs from Dolls, including the Dionne Warwick titles song, which was ironically her biggest hit at Scepter Records written by Andre & Dory Previn, despite the countless classics she cut and has hits with by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.


Finally, there is a collection titled “From the Medicine Cabinet: A Secret Stash of Archival Footage” that includes: the 48-minute look at the 1967 world premiere of the movie, which is of horrendous quality, akin to someone projecting the footage on a wall and videotaping it; “Jacqueline Susann and the ‘Valley of the Dolls,’” a 50-minute documentary from 1967 that is of similarly awful quality, but this time it seems the footage was recorded off of a VHS tape that was suffering from tracking issues; screen tests; two TV spots; and two trailers.


Beyond the Valley of the Dolls boasts an equally impressive collection of bonus materials.  On Disc One is an introduction by John Lazar and two commentaries, one from Ebert and the other from Read, Cynthia Myers, Page, Lazar and Erica Gavin.  Disc two houses five featurettes: the 30-minute “Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy;” an 11-minute look at the movie’s music, “Look On Up at the Bottom;” the 13-minute “The Best of Beyond;” the eight-minute “Sex, Drugs, Music and Murder: Signs of the Time, Baby!” and the five-minute “Casey and Roxanne: The Love Scene.”  Additionally, as on the first Dolls disc, there is a collection of behind-the-scenes and promo material titled “Z-Man’s Far Out Party Favorites.”  Included are six photo galleries, two screen tests, the teaser trailer, and two theatrical trailers, including the one with the wild narration.


Fox should be commended for going all out for these releases.  Not only will the commentaries and featurettes and behind-the-scenes material grab and satisfy fans of either movie, the DVDs represent an amazing opportunity for newcomers to the movies.  Not only can they see Valley of the Dolls and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for the first time, in good presentations, but they can immerse themselves in the worlds of the movies and the fandom surrounding them.  Few catalogue titles get such a bang-up treatment, let alone movies considered “camp” or “cult” favorites.  These discs are a testament to how the DVD medium should be used when it comes to older titles.



-   Dante A. Ciampaglia


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