Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967). Director: Mark Robson.

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. **.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - I can't argue at all with your assessment of this film at all...there is so much ineptitude at work here, and you have nailed it brilliantly...BUT in my opinion and so many other camp enthusiasts, it's so bad that it's good!

Oscar winner Patty Duke guaranteed that she would NEVER get another nomination EVER after playing Neely with such histrionic abandon. Parkins has a soothing monotone that puts me in a trancelike state. Poor Sharon was no actress, but so pretty in all her Travilla fashion regalia. Tony Scotti makes me think I too can be a lounge lizard crooner and I sing along with him to "Come Live with Me." But I am really more like Susan Hayward's Helen Lawson:"Look, I'm tired and I'm busy....whaddaya want??"

Along with Mommie Dearest, this is a film that is so unwatchable that it is irresistible, the ultimate guilty pleasure. I too enjoyed the novel, trashy but engrossing...thank god Jacqueline Susann gave up her dream of being an actress, because her cameo in my opinion is the worst performance of all!!

Thanks for covering this, Bill. I believe it was once voted as one of the 50 Worst Films of All Time...but is still a beloved staple in my DVD collection!

William said...

Chris, I loved your take on this movie! I remember it was a big hit in its day and the picture everybody HAD to see. I'm surprised it didn't end poor Patty Duke's career right then and there. I would love to see other Susann adaptations such as "Once is Not Enough" and "The Love Machine" again. Both terrible, if I recall correctly, but entertaining nonetheless, like Dolls!