Valley of the Dolls- The Criterion Collection




DIRECTED BY: MARK ROBSON's Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 4)

In 1955 director Billy Wilder charmed the world with what was, at the time, a not-so-controversial comedy featuring the beautiful Marilyn Monroe in- The Seven Year Itch. The classic, memorable for when Monroe's dress flies up revealing her legs, was not favorable with its treatment to women, considering it was about men sending their wives away for the summer so they could engage in extramarital affairs. Fast forward twelve years, which brought the arrival of a liberal generation in the 60's and Valley of the Dolls, a movie that displayed a rare voice of individuality for mothers and daughters everywhere. Director Mark Robson's film may not have been loudly praised when it first arrived on the scene, Roger Ebert even called it “offensive and appalling”, but with it's new release to the Criterion Collection in a crisp 2K digital restoration, there's a reason to give these Dolls a second viewing. 

In order to understand the Dolls, you must analyze the trio of characters the film follows. Annie Welles, played by Barbara Parkins, is the narrative eyes and ears of reason. She's from a small town, where it's expected to take the role of house wife behind a working man. Her big city dreams lead to her position as an assistant at a New York talent agency instead. The second Doll is Neely O'Hara-a scene stealing performance by Patty Duke- who it's safe to say is a far contrast from Annie, as a confident and goal oriented spark plug arriving with a bellowing voice (dubbed by Gaille Heideman) singing “Give a Little More”. The third and final Doll is Jennifer North, played by the beautiful Sharon Tate. Her character is quiet, but more complex than the other two. She looks all beauty and no brains, but in actuality, her conflict is emotionally draining, dealing with the burden of an overbearing mother and witnessing her husband deteriorate from his sudden illness. It is the stress that these three woman go through that drives them to the brink of existence. All of this drama is still displayed with extravagant clothing and campy dialogue that is too good to miss.

Some of the content matter in Valley of the Dolls are still rare vehicles for women in film. Subjects such as, alcoholism, a woman's position in the workplace, the choice of marriage vs. a career, and the beginning of a sexual revolution are rarely in the multiplex. The novel from author Jacqueline Susann was at the time viewed as taboo to conservative male and female readers, but a welcome liberal viewpoint for the female demographic. These were stories about women that the tabloids didn't want to talk about. The character of Neely O'Hara could be comparative as Miley Cyrus-like. She's someone that starts out as the wholesome, lovable star that looks plucked out of Mickey Mouse Club lineup and later finds herself drunk and cursing the world in an alley behind a bar. It's not pretty, but that is life.

There is something inherently 60's about Dolls. I am not really sure where the term “doll” came from, but it is used to describe the drugs consumed to get high. This term is obviously not something that caught on, in fact when the theme song opens, sung beautifully by Dionne Warwick, I viewed the lyrics as more as a metaphorical term, where women are able to reach beyond a place of being viewed as more than dolls. Oddly enough, beyond the dolls is more reference to somewhere when the three ladies are not controlled by the drugs.

Outside of these themes, there are some fascinating highlights to Valley of the Dolls. The performance from Oscar winner Duke is truly a revelation. Clearly she is performing to the back row, especially in moments where her interpretation of drug addiction overshadows anyone sharing screen time with her. There is also the cool fact that this was legendary composer John Williams' first Oscar nomination for Best Music. Typically there is a purpose to why Criterion would release a movie of this stature, including many additional features, but mainly it's just great to see how much better the Dolls has gotten with age. In many ways, it has moved beyond the critics and become a star on its own.

You can get your copy of Valley of the Dolls from the Criterion Collection HERE

3 Stars

Written by: Leo Brady  ​