Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Valley of the Dolls

I know, i know, this one is shooting fish in a barrel. But such pretty, brightly colored, completely fucking ridiculous fish!

Valley of the Dolls is based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann which, 57 years after publication still remains the best trashy beach/airplane/hospital read of all time. I have given away many copies of this book. Valley of the Dolls the movie manages to be even more trashy and absurd than the novel. No mean feat. This movie is completely terrible and absorbingly watchable -- silly plotlines, ludicrous dialogue, bad casting -- but fabulous outfits and funny as shit. Valley of the Dolls is the tale of three special ladies and their lives in this biz we call show.

Our main character, theoretically, is Anne Welles. At the opening of our story, Anne is a boring, small-town girl in Connecticut. She moves to New York City where she becomes a boring secretary and then to L.A. where she becomes a boring supermodel. Whether she's got some sort of brown suede turd on her head or a four-foot, thirty-pound ponytail, she remains expressionless and monotone. Anne is played by Barbara Parkins, who was also in Peyton Place. That she was in two of the most overblown hokey sleazefests of the decade should tell you what kind of actress she is.
Next up, the lovely and fairly untalented Jennifer North, played by future Polanski wife and Manson victim Sharon Tate. Sharon is about as good an actress as Barbara, but she's beautiful enough that you don't mind. Also, Jennifer is supposed to be a lousy actress.
Finally, Neely O'Hara, singer, dancer, actress, trainwreck. Neely's crazy, "booze and dope," endless diva-fit lifestyle should clue you in that she's based on Judy Garland, although she is played by Miss "A hot dog makes her lose control!" herself, Patty Duke. Neely is an awe-inspiring disaster of a character, going from perky Broadway ingenue to jaded, washed-up addict who spends a lot of time shouting "I'm Neely O'Hara" at husbands, friends, bosses, flunkies, mirrors, empty rooms, glasses of bourbon, bumpy rocks, throw pillows, small lizards...

Interestingly, Judy herself was originally cast as slightly faded Broadway diva Helen Lawson but, being Judy Garland, got into the vodka and the pills and the drama and wound up being replaced by Susan Hayward.
 Jackie and Judy at a press conference. No further comment necessary.

So, Anne comes to New York, where she office-jobs for an entertainment lawyer and meets some beefy schlub in an undersized suit named Lyon Burke. She immediately and inexplicably falls hopelessly in love with him. At Helen Lawson's new Broadway show, she meets singer Neely and showgirl Jennifer. Neely gets fired because she lip-synchs so damn well -- Susan Hayward is stressed enough having to mouth someone else's voice while wearing one of those damn ponytail wigs and trying not to get knocked on her ass by some damn oversized Calder mobile knockoff. Next time tell the damn grips to wipe their fingerprints off the acrylic before we shoot! And get that mouthy little bitch out of here!

Neely is consoled with a telethon appearance. Then she gets some kind of cabaret gig, unleashing the first of Valley of the Dolls' incredible montage sequences, a parade of weird contrasting colors, wacky wipes and absurd outfits. Oh, and she marries her boyfriend.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, everyone goes to a tacky nightclub, where they watch some clown with too much hair and a tight red suit croon about shacking up. He focuses his song on Jennifer. She immediately and inexplicably falls hopelessly in love with him. The two lack chemistry but, well, Jennifer is supposed to be a lousy actress and Tony is supposed to be an idiot. No, really, like he's an official, medically-designated idiot. Maybe i should have spoilered that, but it comes as no surprise and all of this happened fifty years ago. In a movie, two books and three TV shows. Deal.
Lyon bangs Anne and ditches her. Tony bangs Jennifer and marries her. (Odd, as boring marries boring more easily than idiot marries beautiful.) All three women eventually wind up out in L.A. in glorious mid-century homes, reclining on the Hollywood Regency decor or sitting by the giant-sized pool. They're overworked or underemployed and griping about it either way.
Tony isn't working enough and his sister is a total uptight buzzkill bitch. Neely is working too much and is a total, raging, pill-gobbling, booze-huffing, screaming like a maniac, loads o' fun bitch. She swaps one husband for another, get fired from a few movies, wins a Grammy, gets fired again...

None of this is nearly as trashy as it is in the book: They took out the homosexuality and the anal sex. Which, for the record, were two separate storylines. Also some more adultery was left out. And the whole "lesbians in Europe" sequence...
Tony has some kind of retard-related seizure, gets put away and Jennifer makes softcore porn in France to pay the tab at the nuthouse. Anne becomes a supermodel as "the Gillian Girl." Oh, and she marries her boyfriend. Who is the head of Gillian Cosmetics, not that tedious sad-sack Lyon Burke. For whom Anne still holds a torch. Until he comes back and bangs her again. Regardless, Anne's cosmetics commercials are things of beauty and hilarity...

Ah, fashion! The outfit inspirations one can take from this film are endless and even if you aren't up to a mod shift or chiffon gown, you can at least stick on some false eyelashes. However, those fucking hairdos are beyond anyone's reckoning. Valley of the Dolls must have deployed hundreds of thousands of dollars in wigs and falls and hairspray.

Speaking of wigs, Valley of the Dolls has one of the most legendary wig scenes in all of cinema, even beating out Debbie Harry's exploding beehive at the end of Hairspray. I speak of the ladies' room catfight between Helen Lawson and Neely O'Hara. Cruel things are said about husbands and children, faces slapped and, yes, wigs torn off!

Woo hoo! Too much fun. Yeah, time to take that down a notch. So, Jennifer gets her own montage (finally) when she -- What else? -- od's on pills. Because she gets the boob cancer. And, well, as she herself explains it....

In the meantime, Neely hits a delightfully stereotyped bottom, plenty of staggering around spotless Tenderloin streets, swilling cheap drinks and waking up next to rough trade.

This leads to a stint in some kind of mental hospital/rehab which leads to our most ridiculous scene yet. For this is the same hospital in which 'Tarded Tony has been stashed and, on in-patient talent show night, the subnorm in the wheelchair and the sociopathic junkie lip-synch a touching duet.
Lyon bangs Neely. Neely makes a comeback. Neely is still a total psychotic, raging bitch.
... and to prove it, on the opening night of the huge Broadway show in which I am starring,
I am going to chug down a bottle of quaaludes and a dozen whiskeys.
And then I am going out into the alley to shout at a dumpster.

And Anne goes back to her hometown. Like anyone gives a shit.

Valley of the Dolls was scorned upon its release but has since become a shining light of demented inspiration. There was Russ Meyer's amazing un-sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Then there was a 1981 TV miniseries remake and a 1994 TV series. And several theatrical versions, both musical and not, females biological and not. It's been used as fashion inspiration many times, but also for interior design ideas, party ideas, cupcake recipes...
And, remember, if anyone asks: “Who’s stoned? I am merely traveling incognito.”

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