Saturday, June 15, 2013

Those Damned Dolls

Once a staple on most critics’ “worst films of all time” lists, Valley of the Dolls has been elevated to a high-fashion, high-camp guilty pleasure. Everything about this epic, based upon the lurid Jacqueline Susann novel that Truman Capote famously critiqued as “typing, not writing,” is over the top. The plot, a thinly veiled roman a clef of show business celebrities, is sudsy and soapy. The wardrobe, by 20th Century Fox glamour guru Travilla, is an exaggerated version of what was then au courant. Wigged-out hairstyles, curious cameos (including Toastmaster General George Jessel and Jacqueline Susann herself) and hopelessly dated songs by Andre and Dory Previn round out the garish production. And all throughout, the silky, haunting, dreamlike Dionne Warwick ballad (also written by the Previns) envelops this ultra-rich movie sundae like a whole spray can of whipped cream.

In a word, it’s FABULOUS.  

Standout performances: Barbara Parkins, making the leap to the big screen from the TV soap opera Peyton Place, is statuesque and cultured as the privileged clotheshorse Anne Welles. Sharon Tate is ideal as the Marilyn Monroe/Brigitte Bardot sex kitten who meets a tragic end, foreshadowing her own grim early demise. Susan Hayward (who replaced Judy Garland) is perfect as the tough and talented Broadway barracuda Helen Lawson—obviously based on author Susann’s friend Ethel Merman. As strung-out superstar Neely O’Hara, Academy Award winner Patty Duke, whose silence had proved so golden as Helen Keller inThe Miracle Worker, proved that she would never again touch Oscar gold after opening her mouth to speak, sing, croak and screech with such histrionic abandon.

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