I remember that I was eighteen and I was sitting at the dinner table with my family. For some reason my grandma mentioned Jacqueline Susann and her novel Valley of the Dolls. This prompted me to the buy the novel, which is probably one of the trashiest pieces of pop culture from the 1960s. Her 1966 novel chronicled the downfall of three young girls who turned to pills when life got tough. It was adapted for the screen in 1967 and became the critically-panned cult classic Valley of the Dolls, which was directed by Canadian-born Mark Robson. Robson was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for 1958's Peyton Place and 1959's The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. It took me this long to see the film because I was worried that the camp take on the novel would fail to live up to my expectations. It is not an exceptionally well written novel, nor is it a great piece of literature, but it is trashy and fun to read. The film stars Barbara Perkins, Patty Duke (winner of the 1962 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Miracle Worker) and Sharon Tate, who is sadly remembered for her murder. Ultimately Valley of the Dolls is fun to watch but creates none of the drama of Jacqueline Susann's novel and because I am a fan of Valley of the Dolls I found myself too focused on what the film failed to include from the novel.
Anne Wells (Barbara Perkins) has just moved to New York City from a small town in New England. She quickly finds a job at a theatre agency. Her boss represents Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), a legendary Broadway actress. Anne soon befriends Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke), a rising star whose talent threatens Helen, and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), a chorus girl with limited talent. Neely's talent eventually brings her to Hollywood, but her success is threatened when she becomes addicted to dolls (prescription drugs). Jennifer follows Neely to California and marries Tony (Tony Scotti). She becomes pregnant with his child and then finds out that he suffers from a debilitating hereditary disorder. She has an abortion and to pay her husband's medical expenses she goes to France to act in art house films. Meanwhile Anne has become a model and discovers dolls as a way to escape her ill-fated relationship with Lyon Burke (Paul Burke). Anne, Neely and Jennifer all become addicted to the dolls and their careers and lives are threatened.
Overall I feel that the film lacked much of the punch that made Jacqueline Susann's novel an enjoyably trashy piece of fiction. Valley of the Dolls, as a film, moved too briskly and I found that I did not believe the story lines. The film begins and ends with Anne and it seems as if the films is Anne's narrative, but the middle of the film loses its focus and Anne is all but forgotten. There are so few scenes from the film that I remember. There is nothing special about the film. At one point in the novel Neely is placed in an asylum and the novel places a lot of emphasis on this. I feel that the the film would have been a better success had Mark Robson and the screenwriters taken Valley of the Dolls as its inspiration and created their own interpretation instead of throwing together this awful mess of a film. There is another film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, released in 1970, that was originally conceived as a sequel. It is a parody of the original and written by Roger Ebert. I can only hope that it was better.
My rating: 1 star out of 4.