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Volume 34
Issue 33
 
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The Real Spin
Valley of the Dolls, the Everest of movie trash, make its splashy debut on DVD
by Ron Anders - SGN A&E Writer

Valley of the Dolls is my favorite bad movie. It embodies movie schlock more eloquently than any other film. It is glitzy, ludicrously melodramatic, poorly (over-) acted and has become my gold standard for cinematic junk food. In short, it is about as much fun as any movie experience Ive had. After keeping Dolls fans breathlessly awaiting its DVD release, 20th Century Fox has finally issued it in a two-disc special edition. Within its hot pink keepcase, fans will find all the extras they could possibly ask for  and then some.

For the uninitiated, Valley of the Dolls is the story of three young women from humble beginnings who reach the height of Hollywood fame and fortune, only to be undone by pills, booze and sex. Anne, a shy but ambitious gal from New England, comes to New York and immediately secures a secretarial job at a showbiz law firm. Her journey into the cutthroat ways of stardom is meteoric: she quickly becomes a high fashion model. Neely is a young, driven performer who ascends the glittery ladder of success through sheer talent, but whose self-indulgence eventually destroys her. Jennifer is a talentless beauty whose only asset is her body. Our three heroines steadfastly claw their ways to the top, ensuring their success and misery. Their road to stardom is paved with high aspirations, high fashion, and high camp.

The performances are as juicy and juiceless as they come. Barbara Parkins (in the midst of her sexy overnight success on TVs Peyton Place) made her feature film debut as Anne. Though she is fascinating to watch, she is shockingly bland - even sleepwalking through the films colorful, manic fashion makeover sequences. Patty Duke makes a very loud impression as Neely - singing, screeching and crying her heart out. Try though you may, you will never forget her performance. Sharon Tate (as Jennifer) tries to stay awake during the proceedings, but barely succeeds. The other standout is Susan Hayward as Helen Lawson, the quintessential tough, aging Broadway broad, who ruthlessly eliminates any competitor with a flick of her agents finger.

The Valley of the Dolls men fare less well. Paul Burke plays Lyon (Annes love interest) with the élan of a game show host. Tony Scotti plays Tony, a singer who is doomed to finish his days in an asylum. There are countless supporting performers who contribute to the seedy scenario - you will even get glimpses of Jacqueline Susann, Joey Bishop and George Jessel and (looking very young indeed) Richard Dreyfuss and Nathan Lane.

There are many classic scenes in the film, but Patty Dukes Neely grabs the best ones for herself: her boozy poolside confrontation with her unfaithful lover, her hideous musical numbers and her final, tearful, drunken romp in a Broadway alley. The films biggest corker has Neely and Helen duking it out in the ladies room. Its a wig-snatching, fang-baring hoot.

The songs, including the well-known Theme from Valley of the Dolls, are by Andre and Dory Previn. The title song is melodic and haunting (catch k.d. langs beautiful 1996 cover of the song), but the rest of the score is drivel at its best. One of the films golden moments has Susan Hayward brazenly singing a Broadway ditty called Ill Plant My Own Tree, surrounded inexplicably by a huge, flashy, 60s-kitsch mobile.

Director Mark Robson made his melodramatic mark in the 1950s with the feature film version of Peyton Place and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. He later went on to direct the epically junky Earthquake. He manages to keep Valley of the Dolls moving. It is to his credit that the film is never boring.

In the sets exhaustive extras, we get two commentary tracks: one with star Barbara Parkins, interviewed by columnist Ted Casablanca (who took his stage name from a character in the novel). Another track supplies scene-by-scene pop-up trivia. Sex, Dolls and Showtunes is a 40-minute celebration of the film, loaded with an avalanche of facts and film footage, narrated by show-biz types who wax rhapsodic in its thrall  and acknowledge and celebrate the films adoration by the Gay community. There are also documentaries on the films premiere, and on author Jacqueline Susann (who proudly has a place on the all-time bestseller list, in the company of The Holy Bible and The World Almanac). For those who just cant get enough, Youve Got Talent Karaoke allows aficionados to warble the films songs to their hearts content by following the bouncing doll.

Fox has also released (yes, in another super-deluxe edition), Russ Meyers Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a sequel of sorts that has also reached an exalted cult status. While having little more than the title in common, Beyond takes off in a drugs-and-flower-power direction, with Meyer pursuing his usual obsession with extra-large mammaries, and adding a Manson-esque ending - a creepy coda to Sharon Tates bloody demise. Its fans are legion.

Despite derisive reviews, Valley of the Dolls was Foxs biggest moneymaker in 1968, its popularity leading to a now-iconic status. If you dont absolutely love it, check your pulse! Bad taste was never this tasty!

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