Valley of the Dolls Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Success is a taunting beast, and there may not be a person alive who doesn’t want it, especially if in New York City. The city is a haven for would-bes, hungry and ambitious and wanting to just get that big break that will make them something, anything.
Fresh out of New England, Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins, TV’s PEYTON PLACE) moves to New York and falls into a job at prominent agency. Her first act is to bring contracts to a Broadway diva (Susan Hayward, I WANT TO LIVE!), who has a genuine disdain for another member of the cast, Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke, fresh off of her titular show), who is bound for the sort of stardom that the aging diva once had. There is also chorus girl Jennifer North (Sharon Tate, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year; she lost to Katharine Ross for THE GRADUATE), who has gotten where she is solely because of her looks (aided in part by “bust exercises”).
It’s clear that so little will go according to plan, and if you think the trio won’t fall victim to the business and its excesses, then you likely don’t know what the “dolls” of the title refers to. Things go wrong, yes, and oh, how spectacular it all is.
Despite the straight face, it is nearly impossible to take VALLEY OF THE DOLLS—loosely adapted from Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 novel of the same name—seriously. (If you do, then maybe your grandparents took REEFER MADNESS as gospel.) This is, at its core, over-the-top camp. But that’s the charm it holds and why it has its cult following. (The adoration is nicely paralleled in a scene early on, where Patty Duke is told, “It’s a rotten business.” To which she replies, “I know—but I love it!”)
And so the initial intentions—presumably that the entertainment industry will suck you in and spit you out onto the sidewalk, all while poisoning your soul and turning you into someone else entirely—aren’t really what works here. It’s all there and ties the movie together, but it’s the overall absurdity of the picture and the general lack of couth that marks it as memorable.
At a glance, director Mark Robson (whose lengthy filmography extends from 1943’s horror THE SEVENTH VICTIM to 1979’s adventure AVALANCHE EXPRESS, which he didn’t finish due to his death; other works include Humphrey Bogart noir THE HARDER THEY FALL and disaster movie EARTHQUAKE) has a grasp on the devastating effects of drugs and the industry. There are moments that are mildly hallucinatory and screaming with vibrant colors. Yet, as the movie progresses, these all seem like accidents, with Robson inadvertently aiding in the silliness of it all. (Also of note in the cast and crew are Sharon Tate (her most famous role) and composer John Williams, who earned his first Oscar nomination here.)
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is a mess. Intentions are there, but only barely, and the movie is far from being the cautionary tale it could have been. But that’s where its “charm” is; after all, would we be talking about it 50 years later if it all went as planned?
Video: 2.40:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was creaked in 2K resolution from a new 35 mm interpositive made from the 35 mm original camera negative at Illuminate, Los Angeles.”
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS looks quite nice, with fine details/textures, healthy colors and an overall strong and faithful presentation.
Audio: English 3.0 Surround. “The original 3.0 surround soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm six-track magnetic print master that accompanied the 70 mm release. Additional restoration was performed by the Criterion Collection using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
Dialogue is clean and the music (especially the title song) comes through nicely.
Commentary with actor Barbara Parkins and journalist Ted Casablanca: Recorded in 2006, this track features cast member and fan having a fun conversation throughout, with the latter doing his part in drawing out stories from Parkins.
Hollywood Backstories: “Valley of the Dolls” (25:06): This 2001 episode from the series spotlights the evolution of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS from novel to film.
Interviews: Included here are two interview segments: Once Was Never Enough (21:49), with writer Amy Fine Collins discussing author Jacqueline Susann, and Travilla: Perfectly Poised (7:37), with Collins discussing the work of costume designer Travilla.
Archival Programs: There are three here: A World Premiere Voyage (48:12), a 1967 promotional film featuring various VALLEY OF THE DOLLS cast/crew on a cruise promoting the movie; Jacqueline Susann and Valley of the Dolls (50:31), spotlighting the author and her most famous work; and Sparkle Patty Sparkle! (16:29), which highlight excerpts from a 2009 gala screening of the film.
Screen Tests (28:06) for Patty Duke, Tony Scotti, Sharon Tate and Barbara Parkins.
Doll Parts (17:11) is a visual essay written and narrated by film critic Kim Morgan, who reflects on the emotional power the film holds on her.
Trailers and TV Spots
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Glenn Kenny.