Cutthroat careerism, wild sex, and fierce female protagonists are all on offer in this adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s sensational and wildly popular novel. Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins, and Sharon Tate star as three friends attempting to navigate the glamorous, pressurized world of big-time show business—the “valley” is not a place but a narcotized state of mind, and the “dolls” are the pills that rouse them in the morning and knock them out at night. Blending old-fashioned gloss with Madison Avenue grooviness, this slick look by director Mark Robson at the early days of sexual liberation and an entertainment industry coming apart was a giant box-office hit and has become an unforgettably campy time capsule of the 1960s.
“At night all cats are gray.”
Neely O’Hara has a problem. She sung her heart out for an audition and has a roomful of people confident she’s gonna become a big star. Unfortunately she was too good and gets fired for potentially overshadowing the aging star who headlines the show. What’s a girl to do? She takes a risky deal singing for a telethon and in no time her star is rising like a rocket! After resorting to drugs, sex, and booze to keep up she nearly loses everything. Neely’s story would make an excellent reality tv show that would garner millions of followers. She would be a trending topic daily. And that’s what we love. To witness the glorious downfall of a celebrity and see the vicious wolves of the industry tear them apart is great entertainment! It’s no different now than when Jacqueline Susann penned her bestselling novel about three women and their search for stardom.
‘Valley of the Dolls’ is a 1967 melodrama from director Mark Robson who you might know from such films are ‘Peyton Place’ and ‘Von Ryan’s Express’. Adapted from the novel, ‘Dolls’ is a cautionary tale about fame, fortune, and the corruption of nice girls from the northeast. Unfortunately, the film has gotten a bad rap over the years for being a kitschy ornament rather than a relevant deconstruction of the cynical show business machine.
The film opens on innocent small town girl Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) as she leaves snowy idyllic New England for New York City. The snowbound cottages and quaint rail station remind you instantly of ‘Peyton Place’. Minutes after interviewing for a job she is sitting in on Broadway auditions and going out with a talent agent named Lyon Burke. Before long she is modeling for a cosmetics company only after being discovered while taking dictation for her boss. What luck!
Running parallel is Neely O’Hara’s (Patty Duke) rise to fame. The aforementioned singer utilized her spunky attitude to escape the bounds of Broadway and soar through the Technicolor Hollywood landscape chewing up everyone in her path. Alienating loved ones and fueling herself on pills or “dolls” by the mouthful, she slowly transforms into her worst enemy. Patty Duke steals the show and acts her ass off in every frame. She never lets up! Even her subtlety is loud and brash! Anne may be doomed from the start of her journey out of “Neverland”, but Neely is a rocketship disintegrating in the Hollywood atmosphere.
Shoehorned into the story but no less important is Jennifer North played clumsily by the gorgeous Sharon Tate. Jennifer’s story is about the power of vanity in a world full of talented nobodies. After a hard day being beautiful, Jennifer’s evening routine begins with bust exercises and a call from her mother asking for more money. Working as a showgirl she marries a handsome crooner but after a string of tragedies knock her down a few pegs she resorts to doing “art” films in France. I think they would call her a “hot mess” these days, right?
Scandal, betrayal, lies, and sex are the connective tissue in this film. Robson keeps matters moving along at a decent rate while engaging the audience even when the layers of melodrama pile on thick. He weaves the women’s stories together nicely but fitting in the array of supporting characters makes for messy circumstances. I think the negative reactions to the film are centered around the bombastic performances and not the machine these girls buy into with their innocence. Sure it’s funny to see drunk Patty Duke wander down 42nd street calling out “Boobies boobies boobies who needs em? I did great without em!” but the larger issues paint a grim portrait of fame that even today with our “Insta-Celebs” feels relevant.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Valley of the Dolls’ arrives on Region A Blu-ray thanks to The Criterion Collection. The movie is pressed onto a BD50 disc housed in the typical Criterion transparent case with film booklet. The disc opens to the Main Menu.
The Blu-ray presentation for ‘Valley of the Dolls’ is a clean 1080p HD resolution with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. This new digital transfer is a 2k scan from a newly minted interpositive from an original 35mm camera negative. In terms of overall quality this transfer is a vast improvement over previous home video releases of the film. Colors are vivid without appearing oversaturated. Contrast is nicely balanced with deep blacks throughout the feature. Detail is very good even with the presence of fine film grain. Those with a keen eye will notice some image flickering during a few scenes. However it’s barely noticeable and doesn’t detract from the film’s presentation.
The supplied lossless DTS-HD MA 3.0 audio track sounds excellent! Dialogue and music tracks are balanced providing the viewer with music that pops and clear dialogue throughout the feature. Volume levels are consistent even during the romantic swells of the rich musical score.
Audio Commentary: Carried over from the 2006 DVD is this commentary track with actress Barbara Perkins and E! Network journalist Ted Casablanca that is worth a listen.
Hollywood Backstories: “Valley of the Dolls” (HD) (25:06) This made-for-tv archival featurette examines both the film and it’s source novel. Filled with interviews, clips, screen tests, and behind-the-scenes moments this featurette is a fun and informative look into the making of the film.
Trailers and TV Spots (HD) (4:53) A collection of various trailers and tv spots for the film.
Radio Spots (HD) (19:54) Three original radio spots with cast members, composer Andre Previn, and producer David Weisbart.
Doll Parts (HD) (17:11) A visual essay by film critic Kim Morgan created exclusively for The Criterion Collection in 2016.
Film Booklet: A 30 page illustrated booklet with an essay from film critic Glenn Kenny.
Once was Never Enough (HD) (21:49) Produced exclusively for The Criterion Collection in 2016 this featurette is an interview with author Amy Fine Collins. She discusses Susann’s novel and its film adaptation with admiration while pointing out the film’s shortcomings.
Travilla: Perfectly Poised (HD) (7:37) Amy Fine Collins discusses the film’s costume designer Travilla and the impact of the costumes in the film.
A World Premiere Voyage (HD) (48:12) Archival promotional film from 1967 featuring the cast and crew celebrating the film’s opening by sailing on the SS Princess Italia from Italy to California.
Jacqueline Susann and Valley of the Dolls (HD) (50:31) Archival documentary from 1967 that highlights Jacqueline Susann’s career.
Sparkle Patty Sparkle! (HD) (16:29) Footage from a 2009 gala screening of ‘Valley of the Dolls’ along with a Q&A after the screening with Patty Duke and writer Bruce Vilanch.
Screen Tests (HD) (28:06) Archival screen test footage with Patty Duke, Tony Scotti, Sharon Tate, and Barbara Parkins.
‘Valley of the Dolls’ is about the corruption of success and the destructive power of fame wrapped in a grim soap opera. At every turn I was eager to see how dreams would become nightmares. Witnessing those unhappy endings is trashy escapism at it’s best. Criterion’s Blu-ray release has an excellent array of special features and a solid A/V presentation. Fans of the film should check out this phenomenal Blu-ray. Highly recommended.