This week we hang out with three show-business babes, all with very real issues. I read the book a long, long time ago when I was travelling and was really into the sixties vibe. Since then this movie has been kicking around on my wish list and I can’t believe it’s only now I’m finally committing to it.
Film version of Jacqueline Susann‘s best-selling novel chronicling the rise and fall of three young women in show business.
Dolls to put you to sleep at night, kick you awake in the morning, make life seem great – instant love, instant excitement, ultimate hell!
*Minor spoilers/TW: suicide*
Valley of the Dolls follows the rise and fall of three best friends, Anne Welles (Perkins), Neely O’Hara (Duke) and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). Anne is new to NYC, having left the bosom of New England for a job as a secretary. Her boss is a theatrical lawyer which seems potentially fortuitous but for now affords her the opportunity to accompany him to his show business appointments.
One of her first experiences is meeting the diva Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), a legendary actress and performer. She’s there in fact, when plucky talent Neely is fired by a jealous Lawson. Ms Lawson is not having anyone threaten top billing on her show of all things. Luckily, the firm’s attorney Lyon Burke helps Neely get work and she swiftly becomes a rising Hollywood star. Neely and Anne also become firm friends – and Jennifer, another actress of limited talent makes three.
The young women share their experiences as their stars ascend – and men come in and out of their lives. Anne herself is having a relationship with the not very nice Lyon and is driven to drugs to deal with his affairs. Neely is a wild card who starts to display erratic and brattish behaviour, the more famous she gets. Her drug use drives a wedge between her and her husband, Mel and she has an ill-advised affair with a fashion designer.
Jennifer meanwhile, follows Neely to Hollywood and meets sexy nightclub crooner Tony Polar, whom she marries quickly and then gets preggo. Unfortunately, Tony falls ill and his domineering sister Miriam reveals that he has a nasty hereditary condition. His mental and physical health takes a nosedive and he’s sent to a sanitarium to rest. Funnily enough this is the same institution that Neely is sent to to dry out. When they bump into each other, the pair share a sweet moment in the common room – and Neely is inspired to get better – and get her career back on track.
Alas, Jennifer starts to crack under the pressure put upon her by her own mother – and this situation with her husband. Fearing for the safety of their unborn child, she has an abortion. She also takes some work in some French “art films” to keep the money coming in. When she’s diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s the last straw and rather than turn to her mum – who’s outraged about what her friends will think of Jen’s soft-core porn career – she takes tragic action.
I have to get up at five o’clock in the morning and SPARKLE, Neely, SPARKLE! ~ Neely O’Hara
Neely has an affair with Lyon, yes the same Lyon that was also seeing Anne – and has a cat fight with Helen Lawson which I enjoyed immensely. When she hits rock bottom a second time, who will be there to help her up? And what will become of pretty Anne? When she quits the dolls and leaves New York for a quieter pace of life, things start to look up again. Will she give it all up for cheating Lyon, who chases her down to propose to her?
Well, I like the ending of this film but I felt very sad about Jennifer’s story line. Maybe it’s because of who plays her, I’ve never seen Sharon Tate in the flesh in an acting role and it’s kind of hard to look at her. Jennifer’s pure heart makes her vulnerable and her own admission that without her body she’s nothing is heartbreaking but also kind of true by Hollywood standards. The plot cuts her absolutely no slack and I’m furious about it. I wanted her to have the happiest ending of all.
All the women are great though. I have to admit that I had severe white man blindness throughout this movie – all the husbands and lovers looked identical to me. As a result I didn’t follow who was who as closely as I should have. Honestly, while there are choice moments and the central performances are good, this is quite a long movie and it’s boring in places. However, it’s sixties aesthetic is chic as fuck and I’m going to stockpile black kohl tomorrow, let me assure you.
As for the feminist angle, I guess it is a pretty interesting study of three different types of women. Anne is liberated sexually and not after a husband thanks, while Neely finds her validation in the attention of men. In turn, Jennifer is the epitome of femininity but struggling to find her more than. If she’s reduced to just being a gorgeous body and then loses that – what the hell does she have left?
Again I wish I’d been more into this, as it is I’m glad I’ve seen it now and I’ll probably think of the girls fondly but it’s not life-changing.