"I am NOT nutty! I’m just hooked on DOLLS!"
Should you ever come across someone who simply doesn’t understand the term “camp” and you can’t seem to explain it well, I’ve got your solution. It’s quite simple, really: sit this person down and show him or her Valley of the Dolls. That should clear up any confusion in a jif. Surely there’s no movie that’s so deliciously camp as directorMark Robson's Valley of the Dolls, the1967 ode to pills, sex, Hollywood, and showtunes based on Jacqueline Susann’s hot novel of the same name. Make no mistake- this is a bad movie…a very bad movie. The filmmakers have aimed for high drama and come up astoundingly, wonderfully, hysterically short. Valley of the Dolls is so bad it’s the best.
The film tells the sordid tales of three young women in Hollywood as they reach dizzying highs, desperate lows, and rich, creamy middles.
Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) heads to New York City, leaving behind her fiancée and her quaint, constantly snow-covered New England hometown. Hired on as a secretary at a law firm specializing in Entertainment Law, Anne is shocked…shocked and appalled at the ruthlessness on display behind the scenes on Broadway. The cut throat nature of The Biz doesn’t jive with her good-girl sensibilities, but handsome lawyer/agent Lyon (Paul Burke) convinces her to stay on with the firm. Before you know it, Anne and Lyon are sleeping together and Anne is the new face of Gillian Cosmetics. Plucked from obscurity, Anne heads to California to become a Gillian Girl, a supermodel famous the world over. When Lyon cheats on her, Anne dabbles with pills…after waking up on the beach, however, she gets her shit together enough to hightail it back to New England with her sanity and her beauty intact.
Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) is a sweet, beautiful girl who sadly realizes that she’s got no talent- any success she finds in showbiz will happen thanks solely to her looks. She faithfully does her bust exercises and endures date after date with older, powerful men- until she meets Tony Polar (Tony Scotti). The two fall in love and get married, but their wedded bliss isn’t to last: Tony has a terminal disease and is forced into a sanitarium to spend the rest of his days. Jennifer remains a faithful wife, but to pay the sanitarium bills she heads to Paris to make “art films”. “Art films”, of course, means “nudie cuties”. Jennifer eventually finds a lump in her breast, and, faced with losing one of her only money-earning assets, she ODs on pills.
And then there’s Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), the talented young singer who succumbs to the sweet siren call of success, spiraling down to the depths of substance abuse, man-stealing, and assorted other diva-like behaviors. Neely gets hooked on Dolls- sleeping pills- which she counteracts with uppers and often downs with copious amounts of booze (“It makes ‘em work faster!”). Eventually she winds up committed to the very sanitarium that houses poor Tony Polar, but the sobriety she gains there is short-lived. Soon enough Neely is out and chugging booze, gulping Dolls, dropping out of performances, and sleeping with Anne’s boyfriend Lyon. The abuse she’s heaped upon herself hits home one fateful night in a back alley, where Neely shouts to the heavens the names of people she’s lost along the way- when she gets on her knees and rails “NEELY! NEELY O’HARA!”, the audience is moved to tears…of laughter.
That’s the magic of Valley of the Dolls: it’s so incredibly over-the-top and melodramatic that you can’t help but laugh. The dialogue is atrocious and the acting isn’t much better- though it’s bad in an endearing way. There’s no way to describe Patty Duke in this movie except to say she goes absolutely apeshit. It’s one of the most scenery-chewing, ridiculous performances I’ve ever seen, and that’s exactly what makes it so much fun. Add in cat fights, lines you’ll immediately add to your personal lexicon (“You know how bitchy fags can be!”), showtunes, and some truly dated and bizarre sequences (see below for shots of Neely’s training regimen as she works at becoming a star!), and it all adds up to 2 of the best hours you could spend watching a movie. It’s like 5 seasons of the best Aaron Spelling nighttime soaps wrapped up in 12o minutes!
While Patty Duke’s performance is far and away the highlight of Valley of the Dolls, Susan Hayward steals every scene she’s in as Broadway battlehorse Helen Lawson. The restroom showdown between Neely and Helen simply isn’t to be missed. In no time at all, you’ll be screeching right alongside Neely: “I NEED A DOLL!”
For all its ludicrous qualities, however, Valley of the Dolls was a teeny tiny bit revolutionary in that it exposed what really goes on behind the scenes in Hollywood. While the problems of studio stars had previously been kept firmly behind closed doors, Valley blew the door off to show that Tinseltown is run on booze, drugs, and sex. It’s hard to imagine today, when every celebrity’s every move is documented and broadcast for the world to see, that sex and pills in Hollywood were once a hush hush topic.
This is the stuff, kids.