Beyond the Valley of the Dolls October 18, 2015
1 Hr., 44 Mins.
Before Jacqueline Susann rises from the grave just to tell me off, I must inform you that 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is not a sequel to the 1967 cult film adaptation of her then-controversial novel The Valley of the Dolls. It's a sleazy parody. If I don’t, her ghost might have the sudden urge to file another lawsuit for something akin to defamation, and I’m not much in the mood to deal with vengeful pulp writers who don’t understand that there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with topping bad taste with more bad taste.
I haven’t seen the original Valley of the Dolls, but it doesn’t take a lot of research to come to the conclusion that those who like it only fondle it for its camp — the more serious minded brush it off as soap opera without the classy underlinings of 1957’s Peyton Place.
Its supposed successor, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, is much more renowned in terms of the schlock cycle. Those who dig the trash manifestations of exploitation, blaxploitation, and nudie-cuties know it as a classic waiting in the wings of rediscovery. It’s no surprise that it’s directed by Russ Meyer, a garbage king maybe only rivaled by Jack Hill. The bigger, more infamous surprise, though, is that the film is written by Roger Ebert, the film critic who helped define a generation.
What we have with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is not a disaster (which most would expect) but rather a delightfully tawdry mess of schlock. When it isn’t stooping to stock dialogue and scenes worse than anything you’d find on a particularly bad episode of The Days of Our Lives, it confides in its old friends nudity and violence. It would cause Joan Crawford to foam at the mouth. So bless its heart for topping Trog.
The story is mostly nonsensical and giddy, either because of its editing (fond of jump-cuts) or because Meyer and Ebert are less concerned with being coherent and more with figuring out which wacky scenario they can turn to next. It involves three sexy young women, Kelly (Dolly Read), Pet (Marcia McBroom), and Casey (Cynthia Myers), who, when not smoking pot and getting it on, are part of The Kelly Affair, a talented rock group managed by Kelly’s boyfriend, Harris (David Gurian). With enough chops and good looks to propel them to potential superstardom, they travel down to Hollywood in hopes to find Kelly’s Aunt Susan (Phyllis Davis), a millionairess whose endless show business connections could lead them to the fame and fortune for which they thirst.
Things quickly pick up after Kelly comes into contact with erratic music producer Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell (John LaZar) at one of Susan’s parties. With a mutual attraction between them, it doesn’t take long before he replaces Harris and changes the group’s name to The Carrie Nations. Their act spreads like wildfire throughout the United States and the girls become major performers — but the endless touring and endless bouts of drama can only lead to trouble.
I forgot to mention that side-plots involve a porn star’s (Edy Williams) ambitious decision that she must seduce Harris, Pet’s troubled affair with a foul-tempered fighter (James Iglehart) who irrationally runs her boyfriend over with his fancy-pants convertible, Casey’s one night stand that ends with an abortion and a lesbian sex scene, and Z-Man’s desperate attempts to hook up with an expensive gigolo (Michael Blodgett).
I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but I want to establish that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is wilder than most mainstream films that were released circa 1970; for being the product of a major Hollywood studio, it leaves class in shambles and ass on a pedestal. But the bad taste is in good fun — and I had a blast watching it. Maybe it’s Ebert’s knack for writing dialogue that appears to be stocky and satirical all at once. Maybe it’s the way Meyer directs the film, hoping to push the buttons of Jacqueline Susann and the public and succeeding rather tremendously. Or maybe it’s the performances, which range from Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? camp (Z-Man, Ashley St. Ives) to paralyzingly stifled attempts at likability (every one of its leading characters).
The film was rated X upon release and reconfigured as an NC-17 product back in 1990. How curious. There are no flashes of genitalia, no boundary-pushing violence, or harshly graphic dialogue in sight — it’s a game of generational match-up severely head-scratching, even frustrating, as it more than likely deters audiences wondering what a Roger Ebert-written film would be like. Don’t step back in fear: bask in the thunderous trash that is Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. A-