Thursday, September 17, 2015
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
Three young women either in, or on the fringes of, show business endure heartbreak of varying kinds and turn to pills for comfort. Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) has a complicated relationship with her boss, Lyon Burke (Paul Burke). Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke) gains success but turns into a drug-addicted monster. Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) falls in love with a singer, Tony (Tony Scotti), who must be institutionalized due to a rare illness; then she develops breast cancer. I remember that Jacqueline Susann's novel was a very entertaining potboiler, but the film version is not so successful. There is certainly enough drama and tragedy in the story to make an effective movie, but the direction and editing, and some of the third-rate acting, really sink the production. The sense of time passing is never clearly delineated, and it seems apparent that a lot has been left on the cutting room floor. Barbara Parkins' [Asylum] blandness seems to work for the role of the "good girl;" ill-fated Sharon Tate is not much of an actress; and as for Patty Duke ...? Let's say that the character Duke is playing is horrible, and that she is miscast to begin with, but even with that in mind Duke's performance is pretty much an embarrassment. Duke self-consciously "acts" all through the movie, and acts badly for the most part; she simply can't do a convincing drunk and when she sings with a dubbed voice she looks spastic. Paul Burke [The Disembodied] is not bad but Martin Milner sinks to Duke's level as O'Hara's husband. Charles Drake doesn't appear long enough to make much of an impression, but he's fine. The cast members who come off best are Susan Hayward as a Broadway star; Lee Grant as the afflicted Tony's sister; and Robert H. Harris as Burke's business partner. Tony Scotti is barely acceptable as Jennifer's husband -- this was his only film appearance -- and Richard Dreyfuss of Jaws appears briefly as a stagehand. A scene when Neely O'Hara, who is drying out in the same sanitarium where Tony must live, encounters him in the lounge and they sing together, comes off more treacly than moving. The scene most people remember is a bitchy encounter between Duke and Hayward in the ladies room. The screenplay betrays decidedly sixties attitudes towards homosexuality, and the whole business of referring to pills as "dolls" is ridiculous. The theme song by Andre and Dory Previn isn't memorable, and there are other really lousy numbers as well. This was remade as a mini-series in 1981 -- I recall it being better than this film -- and to my surprise it was also a TV series with 65 episodes in 1994. Robson also directed the film version of Peyton Place, which is superior to this.
Verdict: Not very many redeeming qualities. **.