DVD Review: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Special Edition)
Release Date: June 13, 2006
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
· Russ Meyer
· Dolly Read
· Cynthia Myers
· Marcia McBroom
· John La Zar
· Roger Ebert's Reflections
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: July 18, 2006
When it comes to 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, you either love it or you hate it. For those who love it, it's a brilliant spoof of every movie cliche, decorated with plenty of bountiful breasts and strengthened with an undercurrent of female empowerment. For those who hate it, it's an inane pastiche of bad acting, nonsensical plot, and ridiculous dialogue. Count me firmly in the second camp.
In 1967, Valley of the Dolls, based on the blockbuster book by Jacqueline Susann, was a successful movie for Fox Studios. Planning ahead, Fox had already nailed down the rights to the title Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. When Susann didn't come up with a treatment they liked, the studio threw up its hands and handed the project over to independent film director Russ Meyer, best known for sexy films created quickly with high grosses.
Working with Roger Ebert, Meyer came up with a script for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls that was, as the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie makes clear, in no way a sequel to Valley of the Dolls. It borrows the motif of three girls who go to Hollywood, but that's the only similarity. In Beyond, the three girls, Kelly McNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) are all members of a rock band. They head to California with their manager, Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), because Kelly has a wealthy aunt there. By way of this aunt, the trio meets up with Ronnie "Z-man" Barzell (John La Zar), an eccentric (to put it mildly) music producer.
Once in Hollywood, the girls have various misadventures, ranging from romance (straight and lesbian) to abortion to murder to hospital melodrama. Several genres are spoofed during the course of the movie, and every recognizable element is based not on fact, but on impression. Thus, there's a heavyweight boxing champion that represents not Muhammad Ali but Ebert and Meyer's impression of Muhammad Ali. Similarly, Z-man is "based" on Phil Spector, but without any actual knowledge of Spector.
The strongest character is not any of the actual characters, all of whom are flimsy and cartoon-y, but sexuality itself. The women are all big-busted (Read and Myers had both been Playboy Playmates, and McBroom had been a model), and the character of Ashley St. Ives (played by future Mrs. Meyer, Edy Williams) is vintage Russ Meyer -- an overtly sexual woman who provides more than naive Harris can handle.
Whether you appreciate Beyond the Valley of the Dolls depends in part on how willing you are to go along with the joke. To enjoy Beyond requires giving up on the standard elements of good storytelling. The dialogue is ridiculous, featuring lines such as "You're a groovy boy; I'd like to strap you on sometime" or "You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!" Meyer instructed all of his actors to play their roles straight, feeling (according to Ebert) that "actors are never funny when they think they're being funny." And yet the actors are not of the caliber to sell the ridiculous situation in a serious way, and thus they end up looking pathetic, not funny. The rapid shifting of film style (humor, sex, melodrama, horror) provides Meyer a chance to poke fun at standard genres, but again, there is no emotional center to hang this on, or even a coherent plotline. For me, a movie needs to first operate as one integrated, crafted work; a bunch of slapped together parts simply is not satisfying to me.
However, when it comes to pure "I can't believe it's this awful" entertainment, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls might be worth a rental. I'd advise taking it with a lot of friends and no small degree of alcohol.
As with Valley of the Dolls, Fox has provided a number of extras to this DVD special edition, along with similar packaging (a blue plastic case, a guide to the movie, and four postcard-sized stills). There is commentary by Roger Ebert, which is informative in terms of learning about Russ Meyer, but which doesn't address many questions (such as "Why, Roger, why?") about the movie. There is also a cast commentary, which suffers from the usual problems of cast commentaries -- too many voices, and too many fluffy comments ("Oh, you look so pretty there."). There are featurettes with reflections by several of the cast members and other people interested in the film, such as composer Stu Phillips. The best of these is the one on the music, but all of them provide some insight as to why people like this movie. With a movie so lacking in appeal on its face, every little bit helps.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Special Edition)
Movie w/commentary by Roger Ebert
Movie w/commentary by Harrison Page, John La Za, Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, and Erica Gavin
Introduction by John La Zar (1 and a half minutes)
- Above, Beneath and Beyond the Valley - The Making of a Musical-Horror-Sex-Comedy (30 minutes)
- Look On Up at the Bottom - The Music of Dolls (11 minutes)
- The Best of Beyond (12 minutes)
- Sex, Drugs, Music and Murder: Signs of the Times, Baby! (7 and a half minutes)
- Casey & Roxanne - The Love Scene (4 minutes)
Z-Man's Far-Out Party Favors
- Original Trailers
- Screen Tests (Michael Blodgett, Cynthia Myers, Harrison Page, Marsha McBroom)