THE FILM YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE IS NOT A SEQUEL TO “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.” IT IS WHOLLY ORIGINAL AND BEARS NO RELATIONSHIP TO REAL PERSONS, LIVING OR DEAD. IT DOES, LIKE “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS” DEAL WITH THE OFT-TIMES NIGHTMARE WORLD OF SHOW BUSINESS BUT IN A DIFFERENT TIME AND CONTEXT. — Disclaimer at the beginning of Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970)
If I hadn’t reviewed it already, I would definitely have included 1967’s Valley of the Dolls in this series on film melodrama. However, seeing as I have already reviewed it (and you can read that excellent review here!), I figured why not take this opportunity to review a film that was legally required to acknowledge that it was not a sequel to Valley of the Dolls.
I’m speaking of 1970’s Beyond the Valley of The Dolls, a satirical take on every Hollywood melodrama that had been made up until that point. It was directed by notorious exploitation veteran Russ Meyer and written by film critic Roger Ebert. The combination of Meyer’s unapologetic tawdriness and Ebert’s film school in jokes comes together to create a truly memorable film experience.
Okay, so what happens in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? Let’s see if I can keep all this straight because, in its clearly satirical way, BVD is a bit like the Game of Thrones of satiric Hollywood melodrama. There are so many characters with so many subplots that it helps to have a flowchart to try to keep track of it all.
Kelly (Dolly McNamara), Casey (Cynthia Myers), and Pet (Marcia McBroom) start a band and, after playing the high school graduation dance, they decide to head out to Los Angeles to become famous. Accompanying them is their manager, Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), who is in love with Kelly and spends the entire film looking miserable. As opposed to the three main characters in Valley of the Dolls, Kelly, Casey, and Pet do not arrive in Hollywood as wide-eyed innocents. Instead, they’re already talking endlessly about their love of weed, pills, and sex but they do so in dialogue that is so deliberately over-the-top, so intentionally artificial, and so cheerfully delivered by the three girls that it’s impossible not to root for them. More than that, though, these are three strong, independent women and, regardless of whether they’re appearing a film directed by a man best known for being obsessed with boobs, that’s still three more than you’ll find in most American films from both the 70s and today.
Fortunately, the girls already have a contact in Los Angeles. Kelly’s rich aunt Susan (Phyllis Davis) knows all sorts of people and wants to share some of her fortune with Kelly. Unfortunately, Susan’s lawyer is the evil Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod), who hates free spirits. Porter tries to keep Kelly from getting the money but Kelly is willing to seduce Porter in order to get that money, even after she discovers that the uptight Porter wears his black socks to bed. Obviously, Porter is a bad guy but who can help Aunt Susan realize this? How about the wonderfully named man’s man, Baxter Wolfe (Charles Napier)?
Through Aunt Susan’s influence, the girl’s end up at a party thrown by the legendary music promoter Z-Man (John Lazar). Z-Man is one of those flamboyant 70s characters who simply has to be seen to be believed. Z-Man speaks in some of the most florid dialogue ever heard and there are more than a few secrets hidden behind all of that eccentricity. But, at the moment, what’s important is that Z-Man takes control of the girl’s group — now known as the Carrie Nations (which is actually a pretty good name for a band) — and makes them famous overnight.
Soon, Kelly is spending more and more time with notorious Hollywood gigolo Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett, who gives a hilariously narcissistic performance) and ignoring poor Harris. This drives Harris into the waiting arms of porn star Ashley St. Ives (Eddy Williams) who, with her unapologetic and non-neurotic approach to sex, is probably the most stable character in the entire film.
Casey, feeling uncomfortable with the Hollywood jet set, is soon popping pills like they’re candy. She finally starts to find some comfort and happiness with Roxanne (Erica Gavin).
And finally, Pet falls in love with Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page), a serious-minded law student. However, as much as Pet and Emerson seem to be meant for each other (and they even get a slow-motion montage where they run through a green field), Pet is still tempted to stray by a punch drunk boxer (James Inglehart).
And finally, there’s Otto (Henry Rowland). Otto is Z-Man’s butler. Apparently, he’s also a Nazi war criminal.
And, not surprisingly, all of this lust and all of these secrets lead to a suicide attempt, renewed love, and finally a disturbingly violent massacre that leaves the surviving members of the cast feeling wiser and sadder but not necessarily older. Fortunately, just in case we the viewers might be wondering how all of this could have happened, a somber-voiced narrator suddenly explains what every character did wrong and how those mistakes led to their fate. Thanks, narrator guy!
So, obviously, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is not meant to be taken seriously. The film is a satire of all of the self-serious and hypocritically moralistic Hollywood melodramas that came before it . Fortunately, the largely likable cast plays all of this absurd material with the straightest of faces and the end result is a film that is sordid and oddly likable. This is one of those films that, if it offends you, you may be taking life too seriously.