Monday, 22 June 2015

JACQUELINE SUSANN’S VALLEY OF THE DOLLS “1981”



I’ve been waiting eagerly for the release of the  JACQUELINE SUSANN’S VALLEY OF THE DOLLS TV remake on DVD, but still no such luck.  And I’m not talking about the forgettable ‘90s late-night soap opera that starred Sally Kirkland and her  hair but about the two-parter mini-series event that came our way in 1981 via the CBS affiliates.  The one executively produced by Susann’s hubby Irving Mansfield. I was a young teen back then. I had already seen the original on TV with my mom (I talk about it here) and I just couldn’t believe I might experience that same camp appeal all over again.  Because let’s get this straight: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, whether the film or the novel,  is by far the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, and just the thought of settling myself in front of the TV screen for this new version gave me goosebumps all over.   


From the moment Dionne Warwick What Becomes of Love cues in at the start of the mini-series, I knew I was in good hands.  Not only is the piece as catchy as the title song from the original but also just as syrupy; so much so that many like moi still wish the song was available somewhere (hint, hint, Ms. Warwick).  But moving on, of course the whole plot is about the same:  good girl gets caught up into the world of show business and suffers greatly.  And orbiting around her is a whole bunch of colorful but ever-so troubled characters. The difference in this one, however, is that most appear a little less one dimensional. Take Ann, for example.  She’s not just a victim of her bad choices but a survivor as well.  She does not retreat back where she came from to mend her broken heart or rely on drugs and alcohol as the character did in the 1967 version.  She faces her problems head on, as do many others throughout the mini-series five-hour run.   
 

Like in the original, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS “1981” brings to light a big chunk of melodrama found in the Susann novel, not to mention some extra goodies since this TV presentation is also based on material omitted from the book.  But all the characters you’ve come to know are there, from Ann to Jennifer to non-gay (!) Ted Casablanca.  And if you look quick enough you’ll even see a young Nathan Lane as a stage manager (reminiscent of the small role Richard Dreyfuss had in the original). The part of Helen Lawson is played by silver screen beauty Jean Simmons.  She really nails down the role of the jealous fading star, from her hard facial expressions to her dismissive gestures.   Susan Hayward would be proud.  Wish the same could be said for Lisa Hartman Black’s performance as crazy-ass Neely O’Hara.  As much as she’s lovable on screen, her portrayal of an insecure, pill-popping songbird is a little bland.  Don’t get me wrong, when she goes ape shit she does it in a big way (that includes the infamous wig throwing in the bathroom stall) but the end results are not as rewarding as they should be.    

The whole production is very ‘80s kitsch, from the cheesy song numbers (most interpreted by Hartman) to the casting choices (Bert Convy, Gary Collins, David Birney…).  But at times its budget seems far less generous (though I may be wrong on this) as certain scenes look awfully restrained, in need of some pizazz. The acting overall is quite decent, the most noteworthy being Catherine Hicks and Veronica Hamel as Ann and Jennifer respectively. Both bring a certain depth otherwise missed by Barbara Parkins and Sharon Tate in the original.  As much as I wanted to dig this version, I got to say that it left me a little cold.  Perhaps it was the constant comparison I made to the 1967 film every time anyone appeared onscreen.  It never succeeded in making me forget the original, and that’s where the faults lie mostly.  That said I’d still indeed get this well-made mini-series if it officially ever came to DVD.  Why shouldn’t I?  Fool of me to ever pass up the chance of owning part of a legacy taken from the Jacqueline Susann library.  I barely think she’d have hated that version like she supposedly did the first one but she would have wanted someone else to take another shot at it, I’m sure.  Hence Fox’s megahit EMPIRE which has a Susann story of its own and may very well be discussed here in the near future. 

 

 

 

Until next post—Martin


 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

“DAZZLE” BY JUDITH KRANTZ (WITH SPOILERS)



The very first time I started Judith Krantz’s DAZZLE I got mocked by a co-worker of mine.  It was in the late ‘90s and I was working night shift—not by choice, mind you—and the second I took the day-glo yellow paperback out of my backpack, she blurted out a big: “But this is women’s fiction...”  Meaning I couldn’t possibly be reading this shit. Moi, a guy.   I wish I could say that I told her to fuck off with her prejudices but I didn’t.  I just remember mumbling something very awkward while putting the book aside.  I also remember feeling the heat rising up my face as I tried my best not to let it get to me.  Of course I failed big time.  Here I was being ridiculed because of my reading choices and it didn’t suit me at all.  I never touched that novel that night.   In fact, I got rid of it afterwards, unread.  I bought it back a few years later but it took me almost two decades to get back to it. Which brings me to this review. 
 
After charming us with titles such as SCRUPLES, PRINCESS DAISY and MISTRAL’S DAUGHTER, Judith Krantz definitely hit a wall.  As grand as she wants DAZZLE to be, it fizzles out rather quickly (yes I went there). Oh, she tries hard to glamourize us with colorful characters, opulent settings and a rich narrative but the overall effect has a deep sense of déjà vu (from her earlier work and other novels on the market) that ultimately verges on boredom.  Not that the book is a flat out dud.  There are moments of pure joy notably when the heroine’s former stepmom and power antagonist Lydie Kilkullen steps in.  She is one cold beotch, let me tell you.  She makes Cinderella’s wicked stepmother a sweetheart.  In fact, DAZZLE is a hearty knock off of the Charles Perrault classic story (complete with the two self-centered, manipulative stepsisters).  The only thing missing is the prince that got away.  On second thought, we got that one too.  Only he’s a ranch hand and he’s as clumsy and as bland as the novel itself.
 
Now the plot:  DAZZLE is the surname of the heroine (nee Juanita Isabella) and to her father’s eyes she is Miss Little Perfect. To me, however, she’s just a pain in the ass; sassy, beautiful, successful as a photographer to the stars perhaps but still oh-so stupid when it comes to the opposite sex.  As much as the author wants to make her likable with pages after pages of situations and hardships it never reaches that end, even when Dazzle’s old man croaks leaving her the ranch and part of the land.  Of course she ends up fighting tooth and nails her siblings (and stepmom) who want to sell the land for condos.  Anyway, to make a long story short, good prevails over evil as in any good sleazy novel should but it hardly matters since no one really cares up to that point. 
 
The thing I hated most about DAZZLE is the feeling of having been cheated.  Here I was thinking I was investing my time with a sure bet when the end result was nothing but.  Despite this realization, I still have respect for this author. The reason is simple: like Susann or Collins before her, she paved the way for other big names (such as Gould, Conran, Vincenzi).  She made the genre much more accessible and I respect her for that.  Now about those flashy covers.  I know it’s asking for a lot since I’m not included in the targeted demographics but can we butch them up or something?  It would make my life so much easier. Though on the other hand I could just buy myself a book cover or download novels whenever possible on my Kindle and that’ll be the end of that problem.  Or I could just say fuck them all and still go at it commando.

  


Until next post—Martin