Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
“This Is Not A Sequel. There Has Never Been Anything Like It!”
Director: Russ Meyer
Cast: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom
Synopsis: Three girls come to Hollywood to make it big, but find only sex, drugs and sleaze.
Whenever Roger Ebert, possibly the world’s most famous movie critic/reviewer, discusses Beyond the Valley of the Dolls which, incredibly, he wrote for Russ Meyer, he always claims that the humour within was deliberate, that the film was a sly, satirical spoof of Mark Robson’s Valley of the Dolls (1967). Watching the movie today perhaps robs us of the ideal perspective with which to comment, but it’s difficult to believe that all the humour on display is deliberate simply because it comes across as so unintentionally funny that to have fashioned it in this way would have been an act of near-genius.
The story mirrors that of Robson’s movie, with our three heroines, Kelly (Dolly Read), Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Petron Ella (Marcia McBroom), the members of a Josie and the Pussycats style band travelling to Hollywood with their manager, Harris (David Gurian). The band members immediately fall in with a wild and crazy crowd led by Ronnie Z-Man Barzell (John LaZar), an impossibly camp producer (based on disgraced real-life music producer Phil Spector) who spends most of the movie speaking like a character from a Shakespeare play. It’s not long, though, before exposure to all that fame, money and glamour takes it’s toll on the three girls and their lives begin to unravel.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with this movie. Firstly, though, let’s not kid ourselves here just because it’s Mr. Ebert who dreamed up the story and wrote the screenplay: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is an irredeemably bad movie with very little to recommend it. To be fair, you’d expect this from a Russ Meyer movie, even if it is one that’s backed by a major studio, and Ebert’s subsequent fame as a perceptive and knowledgeable critic has perhaps shaded our expectations. Meyer was a man of limited abilities – more accomplished than his z-grade status suggested, but far short of mainstream Hollywood standards – who briefly rose to an exalted status because he happened to like what most men like – beautiful women with large breasts in various states of undress – and had the nerve to film them in fun ways. His favourite angle was shooting a woman – usually in a bikini – from a low position, so that she appears to stride over the audience with a power that is both threatening and alluring: these woman were desirable, but they could crush you like a bug, a dangerous combination which simply added to the attraction.
Meyer did have a knack for rapid editing which, here, lends the movie a welcome energy, but that’s little compensation for a movie that has a dull plot and characters who behave irrationally at all times. The bright colours, used to emphasise the youth and vibrancy of the milieu, combine with a curiously coy camera when it comes to female nudity (a consequence of the studio successfully trying to avoid an X-rating) to give an almost childlike view of the sexual shenanigans – as if we’re peeking at it all from behind our fingers while hiding behind a bean bag.
The acting is pretty dire – always a danger when you select half your cast on the basis of their bra size – with former Playmate Dolly Read making a real hash of the lead role as she attempts to portray the transformation from naive ingenue to playful sex kitten to hard-bitten business-woman. It’s a task that many accomplished actresses would struggle to fulfill, so a novice like Read – even if she had any acting talent – is completely out of her depth.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a poor movie that has dated badly. Not clear enough in its intent to confirm Ebert’s claims that it’s supposed to be a spoof, it has the dubious distinction of being one of those movies that still manages to bore its audience despite depicting the dissolute revelry of the decadent, beautiful rich and fills the screen with acres of female flesh.
(Reviewed 30th July 2012)