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Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Movie Information

In Brief: One of the most peculiar movies ever — famous for its quirks and for being written by Roger Ebert — Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is everything you've heard and a little bit more. It's a camp fest (oddly, written and directed by a couple of straight boys) disguised as a cautionary tale about the evils of Los Angeles that await unsuspecting rubes from the heartland should they ever venture to find showbiz success there. Essentially, the film is a nonstop procession of freaky sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll — tied up with a handy moral that was never meant to be taken seriously. It should be seen at least once.
Genre: Campy Drama with Songs
Director: Russ Meyer
Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John LaZar, Michael Blodgett, David Gurian
Rated: X

Except that I was too young to see Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls when it came out in 1970, I’m not sure why I had never seen this film until I had to write this review. I suspect it may be because there have been a couple of attempts to turn me on to Russ Meyer’s films and they’ve always ended badly. I simply don’t get mammary madness — and that’s certainly something that’s at play here. I won’t say I exactly like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but really it’s just too darned dumb to dislike. Now, I’m pretty sure that screenwriter Roger Ebert know that it was dumb and deliberately wrote it that way. I am less certain that Meyer isn’t taking this ripsnorting nonsense fairly seriously. (I’m almost completely sure that the folks who ripped off the storyline for the 1976 abomination Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band didn’t get the joke.)

At bottom, this is a silly cautionary yarn about the perils of the big city. A three girl rock band (who really aren’t bad) — Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom — and their terminally unappealing manager (David Gurian, who has a presence that just makes you want to throw a brick at him) journey to L.A. to make it big in the music biz. This proves amazingly easy when they meet Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell (John LaZar, who makes the whole thing worth it) at a sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll freak show of a party — the kind middle America in 1970 believed was the L.A. norm. (That means it looks like a sketch from Laugh-In with skin and added vice.)

Of course, it’s a short trip from stardom to the depths of degradation that will lead to an ending that defies belief. I’ve seen it and I still don’t believe it. Let’s just note that this ending includes the line, “You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!” What more can you possibly need to know? Put it all another way: This is an ending that leaves the boring excesses of Spring Breakers choking on its dust. Now, I’m not saying this is a good movie. It has all the production values — and lighting — of a Beach Party movie, though that kind of fits. It’s certainly not good in the sense of it being a serious attempt at anything. Frankly, it strikes me that its real raison d’etre is to confirm middle America’s worst fears about L.A, the rock scene, and counter culture in general. In that regard, it’s at least one hell of a put-on.

Orbit DVD will screen Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Sunday, May 5 at 10:30 p.m. at the Admiral.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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