Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Genre: Drama, Music, Romance
Directed by Mark Robson
Starring Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, and Paul Burke
Plot: Film version of Jacqueline Susann’s best selling novel chronicling the rise and fall of three young women in show business.
Movie Trivia: The character of Neely O’Hara was partially based on Judy Garland’s own history. It was Garland’s real life pill addiction that contributed to her leaving this film.
The beginning with the silhouette of a thin woman turning into a mountain range as the narrator describes the climb of Mount Everest followed immediately by the three women becoming three pills that burst open to release cascades of granulated medication that bring you down to the opening title tell you quickly what this story is going to be about. You are given the impression right off the bat that this does not intend to be the sugarcoated reach for stardom that most pictures of this kind were at the time. The montage seems broken up and almost like pictures in a storybook rather than a flowing montage of memory. It is almost as if she is telling this from the future, after the fact, when she has already succumb to addiction, if the context clues so far tell me anything. The song during the opening credits along with the script for the credits themselves date the movie perfectly. The flashes of cemeteries throughout the journey seem very ominous, especially as the song talks about the scary joy of future.
Anne’s first taste of true show business should be her first sign that this is not the place for her, but it seems it is “possible future boss, ohmuhgah isn’t he so cute” is going to be changing her mind. As Neely takes the stage for the telethon I can see the correlations to Judy already. Her stage presence seems to be modeled directly after her. Sharon Tate as Jen is gorgeous. She is just as stunning as all the pictures and news reports made her out to be all these years. The music still dates this movie so much and not a single song has yet to be in a style I enjoy. The male singer seems so stiff, almost like a Ken doll flirting with Barbie.
As the night concludes you see the three girls separate into their different lives. Each one seems to be going in a different way, all of them seem like they are grasping at a false hope. Things look good for now but you are on the edge of a cliff and that jump could kill you. Now as Lawson performs for her first time it is even more obvious that while Neely was based off of Judy, she was meant to play this part. I think it would have been very interesting to see her in a movie that seems to match her own rise and fall in some ways. The darkened sex scene with zero nudity is one of my favorite old techniques for letting you know what was happening and still leaving just enough to your imagination. I have no issue with nudity, I enjoy it in most instances as a valid and effective story technique, but it isn’t needed all the time, especially as just a way to get views and raves from an audience. The montage of Neely advancing her knowledge and career, getting married, and beginning taking a pill of some kind.
The mysterious phone call from Tony’s sister to a doctor is very intriguing. I actually have no clue as of now what it could be in reference to. Neely seems to be doing well while Jen is being seemly used by Tony and Anne breaks off her tryst with her boss. Soon after she is offered the job of being a spokes-girl for a new cosmetic company which she readily accepts as a new challenge and an increase in quality of living. The following montage shows her popularity and glamour appeal rising steadily as the Gillian Girl becomes more and more popular. Next on the TV in Jen’s living room is Neely receiving an award. With Anne as the Gillian Girl, Neely a recognized star, and Jen married still to the love of her life and living in what appears to be great comfort, their false success seems to be lasting for a while, lucky them.
Seeing behind the scenes into Neely’s life we see the pills and the fame taking its toll heavily on her personal life, causing her husband to leave her at last. Anne seems to be back under the claws of her ex-boyfriend/ex-boss combo, which does not bode well for her innocent character at all. It seems the point of this so far is not quite learning from your lessons. Next we get the answer to the mysterious phone call to Tony’s doctor. He has a very rare genetic disease that will have him incapacitated within a year. On top of it all, Jen is pregnant and is seeming to have started her own pill regimen.
Anne seems to be the only one who has her head above water as this point while both Jen and Neely struggle to stay afloat as life deals them new heartaches and challenges. Neely is falling deeper into a spiral of depression fueled by pills and alcohol. Once her second marriage implodes it seems her spiral starts to quicken. Neely stumbling upon a porn theater advertising Jen seems to solidify this. At this moment Anne is the only one who has a hope at a chance of making it out of the world in one piece. Neely’s stoned and drunken stumble ending with her waking up in a place she has never been with a man she doesn’t remember going through her purse is reason number 294897 I am an introvert. I know that with proper knowledge and common sense and a little self defense that there are ways to protect yourself, but nonetheless, things like that scare me and I cant even begin to imagine Neely’s fear in that moment.
It isn’t until Neely wakes up in the hospital and describes how she is unable to sleep or get through the day without a doll that I realize that “doll” is in reference o the drugs not the girls. Again showing how my sheltered background makes it to where I am always learning something new that I just assume all other know automatically somehow. The scene of Jen in the porn was actually very artistic, especially when you compare it to modern porn. The way the lace curtain billows across hides just the right things at just the right times. The follow scene as Jen begs for her freedom to go home, I am brought again to the theme of the overall story. Heartbreak comes in call forms.
I remember a few months ago I said that Captain America: The First Avenger is where montages went to die. I was mistaken, I just had not gotten to this film yet. There are so many that the word is starting to lose meaning as I type it yet again. Neely’s montage about her time in the hospital is slightly different in the small fact that this time we have a thick grey-white mist around the edge of the picture to make it seem as if we are seeing this from her drug laced vision, even though she is on the shots as well. The movie feels like a mix between Mother Dearest and The Snake Pit at this point. The way that Neely delivers her monologue is very steady, almost like she is listing off something from a book, but it doesn’t fall flat the way that people usually use that phrase. In this case it feels more like Neely has cut off emotion from the experience. She is wearing a mask and she must maintain that mask. It also feels like she is attempting to send Anne through a guilt trip for playing a part in sending her there. The scene of Neely and Tony singing together is very touching and I feel like I enjoy this song much better as a duet. Tony does not feel as stiff, which I guess is ironic since he is technically considered a “vegetable” at this point.
Jen is the tragic beauty of this film, much like her real life off the screen. The makeup in this is also noteworthy. I may not be a huge fan of the music of this movie but the makeup more than makes up for that, no pun intended. As Anne is hounded by reporters as the scene of Jen’s death and the reporter asks “What were her measurements” I am drawn again to how close this resembled her actual death. She may not have committed suicide, but the focus on her body throughout her life and even into her death is foreshadowed in this film.
The phone call between Neely and Anne followed by the flashes between the two, the ocean, the pills and then Lyon seems to represent an internal struggle between the two women for Lyon and for health. I also see it as a temptation to Anne to begin a step down the same road. Anne’s overdose seems to be her last and her first as she stumbles out into the ocean waves, showing me I was right about the foreshadowing of the montage sequence between Anne and Neely after the phone call. As the theme song picks back up and the waves crash into Anne’s limp body I feel overcome with sympathy for her character. She is just as beautifully tragic as Jen but in a much different way. Like most deaths such as these, you think most about what they could have done with the life they threw away of whatever comfort they thought they had. Oh, yay! She is pulling herself back up!
The scene where Anne stumbles into her room and tosses the pills across the room feels like it is rage against so much more that the pills. Rage that she did not die, rage that she wanted to die, rage that Jen is gone and that her friendship with Neely is dissolving, rage that Lyon seems to not be with her anymore (emotionally that is). There is a noticeable lack of cemeteries on Anne’s journey back home, making you feel more hopeful as she returns home. As the film starts to draw to a close I am reminded of All About Eve as Neely becomes the monster that started her own path of self destruction. It is like that movie made all stars paranoid of the upcoming young stars even more than they already were.
Holy face of a twelve year old, Batman! Richard Dreyfuss looks amazing! And upon a quick search I have learned that this is his very first movie at the age of 20. I know I never knew that before watching this movie. He is so cute! As Neely drunken screams in the alley and paces back and forth, the slasher movie side of me is just waiting for Michael to be in the shot behind her each pass. It may not be Michael, but she is in a very vulnerable situation at the moment. As she starts listing off the people she shoved away before finally pleading to God and screaming her own name. So much is not said through words in this scene. You sense what it all really means in her head and I gain my first dab of sympathy for her.
I love that Anne walks out on Lyon, off to seek her own way separate from the hell she just left. As the theme song picks back up it feels less sorrowful and more hopeful as the lyrics tell of learned lessons and stronger wills.
This was a pretty good movie! Not a favorite, when it comes to movies about show business there are quite a few I enjoy more such as Sunset Boulevard, Mommy Dearest, or What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. I rate this a 3.7/5 and would recommend to the right people. No matter what it was a joy to watch the acting and Sharon Tate in particular after reading so much about her for so long. My last parting thought…. how perfect would Sharon Tate have been for a live action Sleeping Beauty? She looks so much like a Disney princess!