Three young women decide on a career in show business in this trashy film version of Jacqueline Susann’s pulp novel. They are lovely to behold, but their acting is terrible, and no one else in this sorry affair does much better.
Anne Wells (Barbara Parkins) leaves the snowfall of New England for the slush of New York and immediately ends up with the dream job for a pre-feminist era Vassar girl, as a secretary, and meets Mr Heartthrob, Lyon (Paul Burke, who employs the interesting acting device of talking about being British instead of actually using a British accent!).
Anne tangles with the nasty grand dame of the theatre, Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), and then becomes a supermodel overnight.
Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) is an aspiring actress who has a nice body but can’t act. We know this to be true as she is often shown in a telephone conversation with her mother discussing her lack of talent.
She falls in love with Tony Polar (Tony Scotti), a lounge entertainer with what sounds like a singer’s version of a speech impediment. Tony also harbours a deep dark secret which somehow drives Jennifer to get naked in French softcore porn . . .
Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) is the kid ‘who’s really got it’ (talent, that is). Neely walks out with dignity from Ms Lawson’s show after it becomes clear she’s a threat to the ageing star. She claws her way to the top singing some of the worst songs ever written for the screen.
Her fame evaporates into pills, booze and divorce, and she somehow ends up in the same sanatorium as Jennifer’s boyfriend, returns to defile Ms Lawson’s wig and delivers a near career-ender of a final scene.
The men in the film seem hand-picked for their blandness. They are essentially slices of white bread between which a self-destructive female sturm and drang sandwich is made.
As controversial as the movie was at the time it was released, it still omits plotlines such as Jennifer’s lesbian affair, Tony’s preference for ‘backdoor deliveries’ and Neely walking in on Ted Casablanca with another man.
It’s speculated that Jacqueline Susann based the character of Neely O’Hara on Judy Garland. In fact, Garland was signed to play Helen Lawson but sadly the actress was too busy living her own train-wreck to participate in this one and was replaced by Susan Hayward.
Valley Of The Dolls is a quintessential 1960s time capsule. Everything from Anne’s lipstick shade (‘barely pink’) to the George Nelson chairs in her modern home. It is also an entertaining piece of cinematic trash that is nowhere near as racy as it would like us to believe.
Patty Duke released the album Patty Duke Sings Songs From Valley Of The Dolls and Other Selections in 1968. On it, she sings her own off-key renditions of songs from the movie. It seems Patty did not do her own singing in the film. Listen to this album and find out why!
Robert H. Harris