Following completion of “Don’t Make Waves” Sharon Tate was cast to play a lead role in the drama film “Valley Of The Dolls”. The film was directed by Mark Robson (“Von Ryan’s Express”, “Earthquake”) and released in the UK in January 1968.
The movie was based on Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 novel, also entitled “Valley Of The Dolls”, which had become the Publishers Weekly bestselling novel in the US for that year, was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as best-selling novel of all time by the time Susann passed away in 1974, and has gone on to sell more than thirty million copies.
As the film opens, Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins – “Peyton Place”, “Christina”) boards a train and leaves her hometown of Lawrenceville for New York as snow falls all around. Sent for an interview by her employment agency she lands a job working as a secretary for a theatrical lawyer, Henry Bellamy (Robert H. Harris – “How To Make A Monster”, “Apache Uprising”).
Sent to a Broadway theatre to deliver some contracts to egotistical star-of-the-show actress Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward – “House Of Strangers”, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow”), Anne finds that Lawson wants one of the singers in the show fired to avoid any chance of her stealing the limelight and tells Anne to ensure Bellamy deals with it immediately.
Anne looks on as the singer Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke – “Me, Natalie”, “The Miracle Worker”) is forced out of the show and then helps Lyon Burke (Paul Burke – “Naked City”, “The Thomas Crown Affair”), an attorney-cum-agent at the theatrical agency where she works, to get Neely a slot to perform during a telethon – leading to her starting on the road to film stardom in Hollywood via an act on the nightclub circuit.
Meanwhile, Neely’s friend Jennifer North (Sharon Tate – “Eye Of The Devil”, “The Fearless Vampire Hunters”) is in the chorus for the show and enjoying a succession of rich boyfriends. She sends money back home to her mother who she tells during a phone call that she knows that “…I don’t have any talent, and I know all I have is a body, and I am doing my bust exercises…”
Jennifer soon finds herself falling into a relationship with nightclub singer Tony Polar (Tony Scotti – “Nick Quarry”) despite the reservations of his seemingly overprotective manager/sister Miriam (Lee Grant – “Damien : Omen II”), moves to California with them both and marries Tony.
Anne is in an on/off relationship with Lyon who seems unwilling to commit, especially to marriage. She is also is spotted whilst at work and lands a job as a model for a cosmetics company, appearing in numerous print and TV advertisements.
The film then charts the lives of Anne, Neely and Jennifer over the course of a number of years as they struggle to find themselves whilst they pursue their dreams, and depicts all that their individual successes bring to them and those close to them – good and bad (including the “dolls” of the movie’s title, which was a slang term for barbiturates). What this does is to show that their lives don’t always follow the path that they’re aiming for, with consequences for the choices made along the way.
The clothes, hair styles and surroundings change as some level of success is achieved too. Often described as a trashy film, there is nonetheless substance here and a lot of the acting from the three female leads is really very good – though Duke is a little over the top at times.
So, not what I would call a brilliant film but a cult classic for sure and despite the two-hour duration I’d say it’s definitely worth watching…