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"Give me back my hair!"
on 18 June 2006
Over the years Mark Robson's movie adaptation of Jacqueline Susann's book Valley of the Doll's has absolutely polarized viewers, there are those who either love it or hate it, indeed someone even remarked to me - "it was a bad film then and it's a bad film now." Either way, viewers are going to get lots of laughs out of this high class, quasi-exploitative romp through the world of show business and the so-called cold-blooded machinations of the people who make it all happen.
The film is certainly lurid and shapeless and hackneyed, and a real hodgepodge of subplots that never real gel into an organized whole. But the movie is also audacious and camp, today it's most notable for being unintentionally funny without trying to be - and now finally out on DVD - it serves as a great window into late 60's fashions and hairdos and home furnishings.
The story tells of three women and their respective careers in show business, tracing their assorted egotistical aspirations, love affairs, and of course, their addiction to pills. The lovely small-town girl Anne Wells (Barbara Parkins) travels to the big city and finds work as a secretary. Here she meets the impulsive, hot-blooded young star Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke).
Neely is threatening to upstage current Broadway diva, the super b*tch Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) and Helen will stop at nothing to secure her prominence at the top. Running parallel to this is the story of the beautiful Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) who ends up marrying saloon singer Tony Polar (Tony Scotti). Of course, fame and money eventually come to all three, but at a terrible price.
Perhaps it is fragile Neely who pays for it the most. She does indeed achieve her ambition of becoming a world famous singer, but she can't handle the pressure, and plummets into a terrifying battle with drugs - she calls the pills "dolls." Hard up for cash, Jennifer becomes a no-talent showgirl, traveling to Paris to appear in tacky French porn films, and Anne achieves stardom as a cosmetic model while spending most of her time playing second fiddle to her beau Lyon (Paul Burke).
The movie stumbles along - some scenes are better than others, with the story mostly coming to life when Neely goes off the rails and ends up in San Francisco in an alcohol soaked rage, totally off the rails. Patty Duke plays the over-the-top role to the hilt - there's not one ounce of subtly here - even though both her singing and her dancing are dubbed in.
Susan Hayward - clearly paying the rent - stands out amongst all the backstabbing and frippery and her aging musical comedy celebrity is the one remotely believable character in the whole film. And the poor doomed Sharon Tate is suitably gorgeous, but it's just too bad she was such a terrible actress.
Undoubtedly the single best scene - and the most memorable - comes in the last act when Hayward and Duke square off for a hair-pulling catfight in the ladies' bathroom - it has to be seen to be believed and cements this film as one of the all time great campy epics. Mike Leonard June 06.