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  Valley of the Dolls Pills 'n' Thrills And Bellyaches
Year: 1967
Director: Mark Robson
Stars: Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, Paul Burke, Susan Hayward, Tony Scotti, Martin Milner, Charles Drake, Lee Grant, Naomi Stevens, Robert H. Harris, Jacqueline Susann, Joey Bishop, George Jessel, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexander Davion
Genre: Drama, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) leaves her small town, family and sweetheart behind for the bright lights of New York City. She gets a job working as the secretary to a bigshot theatrical lawyer, and on her first day she is sent over to a theatre to deliver some contracts for musical star Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) to sign, but after Anne witnesses the egomaniacal behaviour of Lawson, she is immediately disillusioned. It takes the kind words of Lyon Burke (Paul Burke) to convince her she is in the right job, and meanwhile, Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke), the singer Lawson had fired for being too good, is starting to make her way up the ladder of success...

Is Patty Duke whipping off Susan Hayward's wig and flushing it down the toilet your idea of entertainment? Well, if so, sit back and enjoy this camp favourite, based on the bestseller by Jacqueline Susann and scripted by Helen Deutsch and Dorothy Kingsley. It all sets out to reassure you in the trashiest way possible that the beautiful people, all those stars and their glamorous, rich friends with their jet set lifestyles, are capable of having a terrible time - even worse depths than you could sink to yourself.

This being 1967, the film makers can't go as far as Russ Meyer goes in the follow up, which results in a peculiarly coy style of outrageousness, a mixture of the prudish and the extravagant, where, for example, gay men are called "fags" but you can't say "son of a bitch". The look of the film, although it was a big production of the day, is cheap and tacky, dialogue includes lines like "That little whore makes me feel nine feet tall!" and for the first half hour you'd be mistaken for thinking you were watching a musical, with cynical, scene-setting numbers about losers and the brevity of love.

Once the three main characters become successful and move to Hollywood, their troubles begin. Anne and Lyon fall for each other, Neely is a big star of stage and screen, and the acting career of Jennifer (Sharon Tate) takes off. Neely and Anne's rise to fame are represented by two frankly ridiculous montages, which sketch out in a couple of minutes marriages, showbiz and, of course, the dolls of the title: pills to keep them up and pills to take them down. Neely in particular is reliant on them, and she transforms into the kind of self-centred monster that Helen Lawson is.

There's glamour in the success we see, but there's even more glamour in failure, which is inevitable - unlike the success. The story wallows in the breakdowns: Neely tumbles into a drug hell, Anne follows her and Jennifer is reduced to - gasp! - taking her clothes off in French films! All three ladies have man trouble, and Jennifer's singer/actor husband Tony (Tony Scotti) gets a terminal condition, leaving her to support him. The message is that you're better off living the simple life, but it's all so over the top that I defy you to take it seriously. The only way that it could have been camper is if Judy Garland had been in it (as she had been supposed to, for a while). Music by John Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Mark Robson  (1913 - 1978)

Workmanlike Canadian director who occasionally rose above the mainstream. A former editor, he got his break directing some good quality Val Lewton horrors for RKO: The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, Isle of the Dead and Bedlam. Excellent boxing drama Champion led to more high profile work: Home of the Brave, Phffft!, The Harder They Fall, Peyton Place, enjoyable Hitchcock-style thriller The Prize, Von Ryan's Express, campy Valley of the Dolls and Earthquake.

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