The Kelly Affair are an all girl band consisting of Kelly (Dolly Read), Pet (Marcia McBroom) and Casey (Cynthia Myers). After a gig at a high school prom, they and their manager Harris (David Gurian) decide to try for better things and move to Los Angeles, where Kelly contacts her aunt, Susan (Phyllis Davis). Enjoying the fruits of her inheritance, Susan offers Kelly a third of the money to help with the band, and at a party they meet Z-Man Barzell (John Lazar), a big player in Hollywood who makes up his mind to help them on their way to stardom, renaming the girls The Carrie Nations. But success has its downside...
Made at a time when big studios were giving projects to the hippest filmmakers they could find in the hope of tapping into the youth market, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was Russ Meyer's break into the big league. Or at least it would have been if he hadn't just made exactly what he had always done, only on an improved budget, proving that cult status is the best situation to be in for some directors. The script was written by critic Roger Ebert, and has gone down in movie history as one of the wildest examples of Hollywood melodrama, though at the time, while a big hit, it was lambasted by many who saw it as the nadir of Hollywood chasing the most prurient audiences it could now that censorship was easing.
Because original author Jacqueline Susann had seen her idea for a screenplay turned down and was threatening to sue the studio, there was a disclaimer at the start informs us that this is not a sequel to the previous Valley of the Dolls, but it follows the same campy road to the bright lights and dark emotions of that film. This time, supposedly, it's meant to be a spoof, although it's difficult to tell as it looks exactly as it would have done if filmed straight - rumour had it the cast were told this was a serious movie, or at least not told it was intended as camp. Meyer's trademarks are there, fast cutting, overheated passions, over the top presentation, and, of course, all the curvaceous and buxom women filling out the performers' credits.
If it's meant to be funny, it's a bad joke. Even the scenes where the characters are being sincere come across as ludricrous, such as the scene where Pet gambols in the fields with her new boyfriend (Harrison Page) or the perils of illegal abortion Casey suffers. The people inhabiting Meyer and Ebert's world certainly have complex relationships, and most of them end up sleeping with each other in various combinations. The moment they're near fame it immediately goes to their heads, as Kelly drops boyfriend Harris for musclehead playboy actor Lance (Michael Blodgett), Pet drops her new beau for bullish boxer Randy (Jim Inglehart) and Casey gets confused about her sexuality. Kelly even seduces the evil Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod), a powerful, middle aged lawyer who sets himself against The Carrie Nations, only to humiliate him when he has premature ejaculation thanks to her overwhelming sexiness.
Trying to be so fashionable it hurts, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls abounds with self-consciously hip dialogue ("This is my happening and it freaks me out!") and daring behaviour, with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll on the agenda. But it's all so superficial, using the lazy "don't take it seriously folks" cop out, that it wears you down with its relentless silliness. The first party scene resembles a hellish Laugh-In sketch; when one character attempts suicide at a TV studio, the cameras keep rolling in an apparent moment of satire - so is that bit supposed to be funny too? The fact that it is indeed funny is uneasy, as is the ripped from the headlines, Manson Family-inspired finale (remember star of the previous film Sharon Tate had lost her life in that tragedy). Yet the film only really hits the required heights of delirium in the last twenty minutes when Z-Man's party goes wrong in a psychotic frenzy of bad taste, like a nightmare at the Playboy Mansion (though apparently a pre-murder Phil Spector was the main influence). If they had reached that note earlier on, then this film might have deserved its outrageous reputation. It's not as subversive as it thinks it is, but does manage some fine music (some played by The Strawberry Alarm Clock) and a good number of stoopid laughs along the way.
American director and one of the most notable cult filmmakers of the 60s and 70s. Meyer worked as a newsreel cameraman during World War II, before becoming a photographer. In 1959, his work for Playboy led to his first film – the hugely successful ‘nudie’ feature The Immoral Mr Teas. Other soft-core features followed before Meyer moved to a series of trashy, thrilling B-movies – Mudhoney, Motor Psycho and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! – that combined the two elements – incredibly voluptuous women and graphic violence – that would become Meyer’s trademark.