Valley of the Dolls (1967) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
21Jan/111

Valley of the Dolls (1967)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny DISLIKEHave I mentioned before what a shitpile the late 1960's were in terms of studio cinema? They were, for a number of reasons, and the vomitorium of 60's cinema also took a major cue from the literature of the time. No longer confined to brown paper bags and discreet envelopes, trashy novels took over the top of the charts, not the least of them being Jacqueline Susann's infamous Valley of the Dolls.

Dolls, as you may or may not know, are a nickname for pills. You know, those pills you pop to make the hurting go away? Yeah, those ones.

But mere rampant drug use isn't the only selling point in Susann's sordid repertoire, as the story of the Valley of the Dolls follows three women who reach the heights of fame only to come crashing back down again, partially because of drug use, partially because men are scum, and partially because life just kinda sucks.

The actresses aren't so much acting but rather portraying hysteria in all of its many forms. Which I suppose is a kind of acting. Shut up.

The three main women are Neely, a bright up and coming stage star whose ego inflates twice as fast, Jennifer, a beautiful but dim actress, and Helen, our bland as a bucket of cardboard-flavored cardboard chips narrator and guide.

Helen is from a picturesque Massachusetts town and wants to make it in the big city. She becomes a secretary for a lawyer and eventually ends up as the model for a brand of cosmetics. If you think you missed a step or two in there, you didn't. Helen meets Neely who meets Jennifer and they all begin to take painkillers and other assorted pills to get them through their day to day lives.

Melodrama strikes soon, though, as they draw and repulse various husbands. The answer to this, and all of life's problems, obviously are dolls. The movie is unafraid to show the effects of pill popping, which range from being completely hysterical, memory loss, and being, what can be politely called, a total bitch to everyone around you.

But if sheer unadulterated and overplayed emotions splashing across the screen don't do it for you, then the cinematographer has got your back. Awash in a Technicolor glow, Valley of the Dolls at least has a lock on looking good, at least until you pick up on how phony each successive soundstage is.

The phoniest thing of all about Valley of the Dolls, though, comes straight down the line; the story stinks.

First off, it's okay to make a musical about musical professionals, and it's okay to have them dance and sing in musical numbers... but does this really seem like the appropriate movie for it? They're all tacky, tuneless numbers that kill the flow of the movie every time they come around, and, better yet, aren't related to the plot. Worst of all is Dionne Warwick's title track which is dreary, ponderous, and played on at least four separate occasions.

Also, pills are apparently bad.

Next, why is everyone in this movie so stiff? I spent most of the film wondering if the titular dolls grew something long and hard in one's rectum, but, no, I'm guessing that's just late-60's melodrama acting at work. The women are baby doll, the men are tall and handsome. Even the writer is tall and handsome-- when has that ever happened in real life? Especially notable is the constant use of the word 'fag' and 'faggot' for intended drama's sake, and the actors carry off the slurs with all the passion of an unremarkable lamp.

The original novel (yes, I'm going to go ahead and say this suffers in comparison) may not have been the best written thing in the world, but the film version is like watching an after school special with the absolute minimum amount of subtlety invoked. One more step down and little cartoon characters like Alf or the Ninja Turtles would have popped in to give their two cents.

Hell, the film even has a tacked on happy ending... after watching this turgidity unfold for two hours, who the hell would want that?

All of this being said, Valley of the Dolls can be, on some occasions, quite hilarious. Never intentionally, though.

This is a cultural artifact of an era we've long since departed treating sick sad things with all the dignity of a screaming woman who has a face covered in lipstick. I don't like to toss around the words 'train wreck' lightly, but, given enough alcohol and other intoxicants, this can be a fun way to waste an afternoon. Ironically.

Posted by Danny

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  1. Enjoyed your article and totally agree with your summary of late ’60s movies. But the main narrator of the novel is Anne. She’s the sweetheart, ambitious girl from Lawrenceville, Massachusetts. Helen is the “old” stage star they dub “Old Ironsides.”. Sadly, I’m a big fan of both the trashy novel and the bad movie based on it.


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