"You’ve got to climb mount Everest to reach the valley of the dolls.” Aw, such sweet words from a movie that is definitely the best of the genre. I was around 10 years old when I first saw it, seated comfortably in my parents living room, unaware that the film was about to be pivotal in my growing up. No, not in a draggish way, mind you, but as an introduction to—how I would later describe films such as this one—bad movies heaven. It was right after THE BRADY BUNCH series ended and right before Travolta’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER began. I was knee deep in Archie Comic books and, alas, the unfortunate victim of gay bashing. The sad part is that I wasn’t even aware of my own sexuality back then. But, for some strange reason, they sure were.
Anyhow, if it hadn’t been for Jacqueline Susann and her VALLEY OF THE DOLLS I would never have been as easily lured into the trashy world. One thing I have to say before continuing: just like my then-up and coming alternative lifestyle, I didn’t know the film had been harshly criticized by moviegoers at that time. To me, VALLEY was just the greatest thing that ever existed. It would take me years to finally get it and see the film as the epiphany of bad taste in a high gloss production value. But back then, I, the kid educated to the screen world of Esther Williams and Elvis Presley, was mesmerized by everything that was going on, and with good reasons.
For those two people still unaware of the film, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS centers around three unfortunate gals (or dolls, if you prefer) who take on the showbiz world and are quickly tramped upon by success, failure and pill popping (referred to as dolls as well). There’s Neely, the gifted but auto-destructive singer/actress whose low self-esteem takes her to loony bins and darken gutters; Jennifer, the bombshell with nothing to offer but her tighten by exercise boobies; then there’s Ann, the good girl with her naive ways who suffers greatly in the name of love, so much so that the Dionne Warwick theme song follows her wherever she goes. Almost two hours are spent watching these aspiring women loving, hating, back stabbing, and best of all, wig pulling one another for the sole benefit of sheer entertainment ‘60s style (an era so in right now that there’s even talk of bringing the film to TV, à la MAD MEN series). It’s like watching every episodes of the JERRY SRINGER SHOW all rolled up into one—but with classier broads.
Ann was my favorite character. She was the strongest of the trio; positive (when doll free), supportive; a true friend. I can still see her on that train heading to New York, so sure that her world was about to rock once there. And without knowing it, I, too, had found my niche somewhere else, embarking on a cheesy journey that would change the way I see movies forever. And yes, I did develop a strong dependence on trashy films afterwards. In fact, I’m still riding on the same high. Not that I don’t appreciate a good old fashioned movie once in awhile. Like everyone else, I have my own limits. But there’s nothing better than watching a high or a low-budget train wreck in action. That is, what is considered to be a train wreck. Because you know the old saying: one man’s celluloid trash is another man’s celluloid treasure. It just depends on what tickles your fancy, and for me, this film does it aplenty.
If you have yet to savor the VALLEY OF THE DOLLS special DVD edition, I suggest that you do it pronto. There’s everything in it, from never-before-seen supplements—like the Judy Garland wardrobe test shots before she was replaced by Susan Hayward as queen bee Helen Lawson—to the actual movie soundtrack that includes the ever-famous theme song belted by co-creator Dory Previn (Warwick could not contractually appear). Now, all we need, to die very very happy, is the official 1981 mini-series remake released on DVD. Wouldn’t that be a kick if it ever came to be?! In the meantime watch this blog for my eventual take on it (reviewed here).