Well, this is a first – I’m going to link to a short that was NOT shown before the film. I mean, it would have been, but the laptop connector cable in the conference room has been broken and isn’t yet repaired, so there was no way to actually do it.
See? It’s about dolls!
Though, to be fair, it’s about a different kind of dolls than the film this week was. Our feature presentation, the first ever film shown by Angie Michaiel, was Valley of the Dolls by Mark Robson. While the obvious temptation is to equate the “dolls” of the film with the several characters playing actresses, they in fact refer to the pills those actresses thrive on. Without any further ado, let’s hit it!
This is Anne Wells. She’s not exactly an actress (though she does eventually get a gig in commercials) but rather some sort of assistant or secretary to a talent agent. She’s a noob, and perhaps to scare her off, her boss sends her out to a Broadway theater to deliver some contracts to aging actress and spite queen Helen Lawson.
Did I mention that this movie is faaaabulous? Lawson is cranky (probably because she has to wear a wig to hide her gray hair), and she only gets crankier when the naïve Anne compliments the singing of her co-star, Neely O’Hara. Neely is clearly a threat, so she fires her on the spot.
When life gives you lemons, says Anne’s handsome under-boss Lyon Burke, make a ton of money. So he wastes no time signing Neely and getting her a couple of gigs on a telethon and in a lounge act. Like, the very same night. Both of them. By the end of the evening Neely O’Hara is apparently the hottest commodity in the entire country.
This is perhaps the first hint that the movie isn’t going to check the reality meter before finalizing its screenplay. I mean, if I were generous, I’d call it metaphor, but I’m not.
Incidentally, Lyon also wastes no time landing Anne, though he has what we might call “commitment issues”.
So Neely heads out to Hollywood to be a big star while we meet Jennifer North, who did NOT get fired from Lawson’s play. This is basically because North has no talents outside of the self-admitted ability to take her clothes off. This doesn’t stop her from landing lounge singer Tony Polar and moving out to Hollywood (shoot, it probably helps), and it doesn’t stop her from introducing Neely O’Hara to her various eponymous pep pill friends and their counterpart downers, because, you know, sleeping.
This starts Neely into a downward spiral wherein she dumps her pre-success husband and settles on flipping a “fag” fashion designer. Why he is continually referred to as a cigarette butt is unclear, but he doesn’t do a very effective job of standing in for pills.
In the meantime, Anne has landed that commercial gig (for cosmetics products) in Hollywood, and I’d be remiss to mention my favorite moment of the entire film. North is watching TV when one of Anne’s commercials comes on. The narrator on the TV is going through a tedious laundry list of the reasons why these cosmetics products are going to make every woman’s life worth living. But when North’s phone rings, the narrator kindly stops for a full minute while she answers and the kicks back in once she has hung up. Oh well. It’s only a movie.
Finally the pills get to Neely (oh wait, it’s not the pills, it’s the not showing up for work and firing her protegés like Helen Lawson would do) and her agent has her committed into a sanatarium. The sanatarium has a really nifty leather tarp bathub treatment. It also features North’s husband Tony Polar, the former lounge singer who has been reduced to a shell of himself by Huntington’s Chorea. He and Neely share the world’s cheesiest duet moment during one of the sanatarium’s bingo nights.
North, meanwhile, has headed off to France to do nudie films in order to pay for Tony’s sanatarium hospice. But just like a horror film, where every moral indiscretion results in certain death, North is diagnosed with breast cancer. Faced with a career mastectomy and sorely lacking people in her life that care about her (as opposed to her body, her money, or her reputation) she lets a large handful of her doll friends usher her into the sweet, sweet release of losing-continence-in-your-hotel-bed-is-the-last-thing-you’ll-ever-do.
Neely is released from the sanatarium and ends up hooking up with Anne’s former beau Lyon, but she eventually succumbs to the pills and finishes the film on an unused set from West Side Story screaming to God about how she’s Neely O’Hara, dammit.
And Anne? Well, after Lyon comes crawling back to her she takes him back, but then she dumps him again due to his refusal to commit and moves back home with her dignity and a terrible song telling us how what she had always wanted was here all along. At this point, you don’t really even care anymore and you’re just happy that the film is over. I mean, at least if you’re a normal person. Apparently there were a ton of people who were really upset that the end of the film didn’t include Anne marrying Lyon like in the book. I guess there were people that cared. But then again, apparently a lot of people prefer the trash/shlock faux sequel penned by a famous movie reviewer, and that’s not a good sign.