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Valley of the Dolls
Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins of Peyton Place) looked like she had a bright future ahead of her. She's just finished post secondary education and is leaving the small town where she has spent the vast majority of her life to move to the biggest of the big cities in hopes of finding a Broadway career. Before she figures fame and fortune will land on her doorstep, however, Anne figures she'll easily find herself a cushy job and a hunky man to help her along the way.
As Anne explores The Big Apple and later hits Hollywood she gets to know the reality of live in the big city and she eventually meets up with Jennifer North (Sharon Tate of Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers) and Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke of The Miracle Worker). These two other women had similar delusions of grandeur when they relocated to New York before Anne made the same fateful decision. Unfortunately, as we soon find out, they're damaged goods as they've been burned one too many times. Jennifer is so jaded that she feels she has nothing to offer anyone but her wonderful body and all the men she chooses to deal with in her life do nothing but affirm this in her mind. On the other hand, Neely, who seems to be poised on the verge of her big break, gets accused of foul play by one of her fellow actresses, Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward in a role originally tailored for Judy Garland who famously walked off the set of the film) – and the accusations might just be legit.
As the these three lives come into contact with one another they all soon begin to spiral out of control – drinking and pill popping gets way out of hand and ultimately though the odds are stacked against them, they are their own undoing. Emotions run hot and tempers flare as the three female leads simply self destruct and things quite honestly stop making a whole lot of sense.
Valley Of The Dolls is a tough film to get a handle on. One on hand, it's a fairly big studio production with slick set design, nice costumes, an interesting cast of 'beautiful people' and a pretty swinging soundtrack (John Williams was Oscar nominated for his work on the film), but on the other hand it almost feels like it was written by a prepubescent girl as a sort of anti-drug film not too far away from the likes of Reefer Madness. The film tries to play itself out as a serious piece, a staunch drama about the perils of fame and the co-relation those same perils have to substance abuse, but it turns out to be so heavy handed and so completely soaked in poorly scripted melodrama that the end result is more of an unintentionally hilarious comedy than anything else. So thick is the over acting and scenery chewing in the film that it literally feels like a parody at times.
Director Mark Robson does a fine job with the pacing in that the movie doesn't suffer from ever being dull or overly long, but there's just so much thrown into the last half of the film that it feels haphazardly strewn together. Certain shots, such as the infamous scene where Tate is doing a certain exercise routine to accentuate her chest, are almost lecherous and creepy and at times things feel very perverse and very ugly despite the fact that we're watching three very attractive women up there on the screen. The interaction that these three ladies have with pretty much any of the men in the film is never anything short of odd, while their interaction with one another becomes increasingly catty and bitter as the story plays out.
The biggest factor in the film is the dialogue (call it success or call it disaster, depending on how you see and/or appreciate the film!). Written by Helen Deutsch and Dorothy Kingsley and based upon the famous best selling novel by Jacqueline Susann, lines like "The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's me, baby, remember?" are delivered with such absolute conviction that you can't help but get sucked into the whole screwball world that has been created with this film. Arguments lead to disaster (or in one specific and famous scene, a de-wigging' that would obviously later influence John Waters) but it's disaster of the fabulous kind. Valley Of The Dolls is big budget trash of the highest order, and unintentionally hilarious and at times quite sublime piece of exploitation movie making masquerading as a serious drama. It works by accident, but it works none the less.The DVD
The Valley Of The Dolls hits DVD in an excellent brand new 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks fantastic – almost perfect, really. Sure, there is some grain present in a few spots and if you look really carefully you might even see some mild print damage present in a couple of scenes in the form of the odd speck here (but you're really going to have to strain your eyes to see them) and there but other than that, the image looks great (though the first couple of minutes are grainier than the rest of the movie – don't worry, it cleans up nicely about two or three minutes in). Edge enhancement and aliasing are never problematic (there are one or two instances of noticeable line shimmering but that's about it) and mpeg compression artifacts are virtually non-existent. Color reproduction looks dead on and black levels remain strong and deep throughout the duration of the film. Both foreground and background detail is strong and even during darker moments the image always remains very clean and very clear. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the picture stays sharp from start to finish. The transfer is very film like and very natural looking without a lot of obvious digital enhancement or the like. Anyone who has seen the film projected should be impressed with the job that Fox has done here, as it really does capture the look of the movie pretty much perfectly.Sound:
Fox has included three audio options for the feature on the first disc – English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, English Dolby Digital Mono, and French Digital Mono. Optional subtitles are included in English and Spanish and an English language closed captioning option is provided for the feature itself.
While a 5.1 mix might have been fun for the party scenes and the musical numbers, the tracks we've got on this DVD get the job done nicely. The mono is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion as is the stereo track, which adds some nice channel separation to a few scenes and spreads the music out a little bit more to nice effect. The low end is strong while the high end is distinct without being too shrill.Extras:
The main extra feature on the first disc is an audio commentary with Barbara Parkins moderated by Ted Casablanca of the E! Channel. This is a pretty interesting discussion and you can tell that the movie means a lot to Ted who keeps Barbara on track pretty much throughout. There's a fair bit of time spent discussing what happens on the screen rather than how things were during the making of the film but there are quite a few fun anecdotes in here that cover a fair bit of ground. Parkins talks a little bit about her relationship with her co-stars and how she got along with the director as well as how the movie affected her career later on in her life. Also included on the first disc is a Trivia Overdose – A Pill Popping Guide To The Valley Of The Dolls option that provides 'Pop Up Video' style trivia bits on screen as the movie plays out.
The second disc is where the bulk of the supplements are found, starting with the featurettes section. The first featurette, The Divine Ms. Susann is a look at Jacqueline Susann's life through interviews with people who knew and worked with her. A wealth of family photos and pictures of her from throughout her life document this alongside the interview clips as we learn how she was a 'bad girl' in her younger years and how she later went to New York to get into show business (much like the characters in her book) and finally got married. This piece if almost fifteen minutes long and it serves as a really nice and genuinely fun look at her life and times.
The Dish On The Dolls, the second featurette, includes interviews with noted gay film critic Alonso Duralde of the movie who explain the enduring appeal of the film and compares it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Michael Musto of The Village Voice covers the celebrity cameo factor that the film had working in its favor and along with Alonso they cover a lot of the odd little details about the movie that only the obsessive fans will likely pick up on. At five minutes and twenty-seven seconds this one is just a little too short but it does cover some very cool and enjoyable material – definitely don't watch it before the feature however as it will spoil half the fun of the movie.
The third and final featurette is Hollywood Backstories: Valley Of The Dolls. This made for TV special covers the reality behind the story that the movie tells and some of the interesting parallels that it had to the careers of some of the people involved in the movie. There are plenty of clips of the film used in this one (almost too many, at times it feels like padding) as well as some great behind the scenes pictures and interesting stories about various aspects of the production. Barbara Perkins shows up and talks about some of her co-stars as does one of the choreographer's involved in the movie who explains how Judy Garland was infamously fired from the production due to her behavior and her drinking. The interviews are the most interesting part of this featurette as they really dish out some gossip, while the narration, as dry as it is at times, does a good job of providing context for all of this. The running time on this one is twenty three minutes and four seconds.
Once we're through with the featurettes we find a section called From The Medicine Chest – A Secret Stash Of Archival Footage. Included in here is a pretty interesting assortment of random clips and footage relating to the film, starting off with Valley Of The Dolls – A World Premiere Voyage from 1967 which is an excellent forty-eight minutes television special that Fox originally broadcast to promote the film's theatrical release that details various worldwide premieres of the film and presents them in a strange sort of travelogue fashion. Jacqueline Susann And The Valley Of The Dolls, also from 1967, is roughly fifty minutes of another television special that details Susann's book and it's journey to the big screen. In here we see some clips from the movie and some great interviews with the perpetually chain-smoking writer who explains what her story is all about and why. There are even clips with the man who was, at the time, the president of 20th Century Fox talking up the movie. Interesting stuff! Also included in this segment are screen tests for Sharon Tate and Tonni Scotti (4:51), another one for Tate solo where she does her famous breast exercises (2:03), a screen test for Scotti doing his serenade (3:13), and finally a great screen test for Barbara Perkins as Neely O'Hara (7:26). Two television spots and two theatrical trailers round out this section.
There's also a section on the second disc called You've Got Talent Karaoke – Follow The Bouncing Doll in which you can sing along to three songs from the movie - The Theme From Valley Of The Dolls, It's Impossible and I'll Plant My Own Tree. Some fun clips from the film play out underneath each of the three tracks and a 'play all' option is also included.
Last but not least is a section called Musical Numbers From Valley Of The Dolls which is basically the film's soundtrack. Eleven tracks are included and they play as music only with only the menu screen underneath. Again, a 'play all' option is included or you can select your preferred track on its own.
The two discs are housed inside a translucent pink colored keep case that in turn rests inside a cardboard slipcase. The artwork on both the keepcase and the slipcase is identical on the front though the backs differ in that the keepcase has credits as well as technical specs on the back, the slipcase does not. Inside, aside from the discs, there is a small envelope which, when opened, contains four postcard sized lobby card reproductions and a small booklet which has three pages of liner notes that explain how the film came to be and a listing of chapter stops for the feature.Final Thoughts:
While age hasn't been so kind to the film, Valley Of The Dolls is almost better because of that fact. The melodrama is so completely over the top and the performances so surreal in spots that the movie is one of those 'fabulous disaster' films that can't be planned but instead just sort of seem to happen. Fox has done a fantastic job on this release, it looks and sounds great and comes with a wealth of fun supplements making this two disc collector's edition highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.