Valley of the Dolls came out in 1967, a phenomenal year at the movies. That was also the year of such landmark films as Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, In Cold Blood, and In the Heat of the Night, with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rosemary's Baby to come along within months.
The 'youthâ?� audience went to see these revolutionary movies, but not everyone was ready to join the revolution. Some moviegoers, especially the over-30 crowd, only wanted an illusion of novelty. Which is where Valley of the Dolls came in.
Just out on DVD in a 'Special Editionâ?� that includes a hot-pink container and miniature lobby cards, Valley of the Dolls is based on the phenomenally popular novel by Jacqueline Susann, the sassy actress-turned- â?¦ well, I suppose we have to say 'writer.â?� In its day, it wanted desperately to come off as hip, but it was a fogy flick: Valley of the Dolls was like your square Aunt Irma showing up at a 'happeningâ?� in borrowed love beads.
Some of the film's subject matter seemed new, but was it really? Sexual misconduct, after all, had been around for a long time at the movies. So had mental instability. The â?�dollsâ?� of the title referred to 'pills,â?� but films about substance abuse were nothing new, either. You can think of Valley of the Dolls as A Star Is Born meets All About Eve, with updated fashions and slang.
The story of three young women who get caught up in the entertainment business, the picture hearkens back to old Hollywood in the most obvious ways. Neely O'Hara, the aspiring actress-singer played by Patty Duke, is based on Judy Garland, notes Helen Gurley Brown in a featurette that's included in the special edition. The doomed Sharon Tate plays Jennifer North, a beauty in the Marilyn Monroe mold, and Barbara Parkins is Anne Welles, the stock sensible gal. Then there's Susan Hayward's character, Helen Lawson, who was inspired by Ethel 'There's No Business Like Show Businessâ?� Merman. (The featurette also explains that Garland herself was set to play Helen Lawson until personal demons overwhelmed her.)
Joey Bishop and the already-ancient Georgie Jessel turn up in cameos, as does Jackie Susann herself, unmistakable as a reporter. Lee Grant, in a supporting role, somehow maintains her dignity. But the closest the film gets to genuine hipness is the brief, uncredited appearance of Richard Dreyfuss as a stage manager.
'As the decades passed, Valley of the Dolls refused to die,â?� says the featurette's narrator, making the film sound like some kind of vampire ' which, perhaps, it is. 'Undeadâ?� does seem like a good word to describe it: The direction by Mark Robson (Peyton Place) could not be more listless, and the cast is pathetic, especially Duke, who chews the scenery in hollow diva fashion.
'The whole world loves me!â?� she shouts to no one in particular.
Yeah, well, maybe.