March 21, 2010

Of Booze and Dope

The catfight scene between Helen Lawson and Neely O'Hara

"They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you can come crawling back to Broadway. Well, Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope! Now get out of my way, I've got a man waiting for me!" These are the famous lines that Helen Lawson utters to Neely O'Hara towards the end of the movie, Valley of the Dolls. I recently revisited it when I heard that the Actors Fund was doing an All-star benefit reading of Valley of the Dolls. I had forgotten how campy it is but have thoroughly enjoyed it my second viewing.

Valley of the Dolls is a movie based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann. The "dolls" in the title refer to downers used as sleeping aids. The story involves 3 young women who meet in NYC and eventually become friends. Anne Wells (Barbara Parkins), a naive girl from New England gets a job at a theatrical talent agency and falls in love with a cad, Lyon Burke (Paul Burke) and eventually finds success as a model. The talented Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke) is in the musical with the famous actress and star of the show, Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward). Ms. Lawson hears Neely sings and manages to get her fired for fear that she might get upstaged. Neely O'Hara eventually gets a guest singing gig at a TV show which eventually leads her to success in Hollywood. The blonde and very beautiful, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) meets a handsome singer Tony Polar and eventually marries him but little do they know that he has an undiagnosed condition. All 3 strive for fame and fortune while holding onto their friendship but the ever present allure of the "dolls" looms around them.

This film has the camp potential of the musical Xanadu. If done right and a great creative team, I would like to see a stage version of this. It is so over the top that it is so enjoyable. Patty Duke is so over the top as a drugged and boozed up Neely that there are several scenes you just can't help but chuckle. Susan Hayward as Helen Lawson has lots of lines too that are quotable quotes of the movie. I'm sure the original intention of the creators of the film is to make this more of a drama but the resulting acting choices and dialogue made it into a delicious campy cult favorite. Go see for yourself!

One more note that I almost forgot is the beautiful theme song of the movie. Dionne Warwick sings it perfectly. It's sung at the start of the film and also woven in between the scenes several times when there are turning points in the women's lives.

For well loved quotes of the film please click here.

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