By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: The dolls are pills.
Usually when sites commemorate Sharon Tate it is on the anniversary of her murder, which is in August, but I decided to do things differently and talk about her in January when she was born. Had she lived she would have turned 71 this year and each Sunday this month I will review a 60’s film that she was in.
This one is probably her most well recognized part and it’s based on the bestselling novel by Jacqueline Susann who appears briefly as a reporter. Here Tate plays Jennifer North a woman with ‘no talent’ who must use her body and looks to get where she wants and she is constantly reminded of it by her mother who regularly calls to make sure she is doing her ‘breast exercises’. Eventually she stars in nudie films, which leads to a self-destructive downward slide. Patty Duke is Neely O’Hara a talented young singer who finds climbing to the top can be laced with drugs, alcohol and jealousy. Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) makes up the third part of the trio as a small town girl who comes to the city looking for excitement, but finds more than she bargained for and eventually leaves.
If there is one thing that saves this otherwise trashy, standard script it is Mark Robson’s direction. Usually most directors come up with a color scheme based on the type of script that they have and mood they want to create, but Robson’s uses every color of the rainbow and more. The plush varied sets and interesting stop action photography that gets implemented from time-to-time keeps things moving at a brisk a visually interesting pace. John William’s score is excellent and Dionne Warwick’s song ‘The theme from Valley of the Dolls’, which charted at number 2 is like most of her work infinitely hummable.
Duke is lively as the caustic Neeley. She took on the role to get rid of her ‘goody-goody’ image and does so in grand style as her angry tirades and meltdowns are entertaining. While she is attractive Tate’s acting seems limited, but her character is by far the most likable. Parkins may be the least well known of the three, but her performance is solid as the film’s anchor.
Veteran actress Susan Hayward gives the best performance as the aging acerbic singer Helen Lawson who will allow no one to push her from the top. Her confrontation with Duke in the women’s bathroom where Duke pulls off Hayward’s wig and tries flushing it down the toilet and then Hayward’s response to it is by far the most memorable scene of the whole movie.
The story itself is predictable, clichéd and one-note. The characters are cardboard and the dialogue is stale. If it weren’t for Robson’s direction this would have been a ‘bomb’. However, it has attained a high cult following for its campiness, which if you view it from that perspective isn’t bad.
This same story was remade as a 1981 TV-movie starring James Coburn and Jean Simmons. Also, a young Richard Dreyfuss can be spotted briefly as a stagehand.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: December 15, 1967
Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes
Director: Mark Robson
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming