Sunday, March 12, 2017

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

“You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance.” – Z-Man, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

One of the most important people to the film industry was Roger Ebert.  For many budding film critics and bloggers, he was an idol.  He was one of the most famous film critics and was the reason that many writers got into movies and writing about them.  Roger Ebert was as important as the filmmakers that people respected.  It was because of his opinions on the movies that he watched.  That’s why they were so hurt when he passed away in 2013.  A part of who they were had left and they had to deal with the newfound emptiness.

One thing that came from the loss of Roger Ebert was that more people began to seek out and watch Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  This was one of the few movie scripts that he wrote with Russ Meyer.  It was a 1970 exploitation movie that was named like a sequel to Valley of the Dolls but, as the opening text card said, it had almost nothing to do with that movie.  It followed Kelly Mac Namara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) as they travelled to Los Angeles with Harris Allsworth (David Gurian) and tried to make it big as a rock band.  With the help of Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John Lazar), they found success and were sucked into the deviant underworld of show business.  It destroyed relationships, destroyed lives, and caused a few deaths.

If there was a possible way to describe this movie in one line it would be that it was an exploitation era soap opera about the seedy underbelly of show business.  It felt like the over-the-top storytelling of a soap opera with the added boundary pushing elements of the exploitation films of the time.  It was perfect for Russ Meyer.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was filled with crazy storylines and scenes.  Of course, this post is going to look at many of the events.  This is a case of insanity being thrown at the screen in a way that is difficult to talk about unless you just go right into talking about it.  For that reason, this is a warning that there will be spoilers ahead.  There will hopefully be more input than a simple recap of the movie.  That would be nice.  Anyway, here goes with the story.

Kelly Mac Namara
The stories will be doled out by the main character involved in each of them.  The stories intertwine, which means that another story might have an important beat mentioned.  Kelly Mac Namara was the main character of the whole movie, so there will likely be other stories mentioned throughout this section.

Each of the four band members (Harris included) in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls had a story in which their life got worse after moving to Los Angeles.  The stories played like extremely sexualized soap operas.  They were overwrought with emotional characters doing insane things, with crazy twists and turns along the way.  Kelly’s story was no different, though not the most ridiculous.

When Kelly got to Los Angeles, she was in a relationship with her manager Harris.  That relationship disintegrated after their first party experience.  Z-Man took her under his wing and practically took control of the band.  He made them famous.  She paid less attention to Harris and began a relationship with gigolo Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett).  By the end, thanks to an attempted suicide, she realized the error of her ways and got back together with Harris.  That will be further elaborated later.

The reason that Lance Rocke wanted to be with Kelly was money.  Kelly had a large sum of money as part of an inheritance that she had turned down.  Her mother had also turned it down.  Lance convinced Kelly to go up against her aunt Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis), who had been given the inheritance.  She did so by seducing Susan’s financial advisor Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod).  He had been trying to take Susan’s money for himself.  After a disagreement halfway through the movie, his motives were revealed and he was kicked out of everyone’s lives.

This was a basic soap opera style storyline with some sex thrown in.  It was a bunch of people trying to take money that belonged to other people.  The ways they went about it weren’t too ludicrous.  It was relationships and backstabbing.  Though this story was the main through line of the movie, it was the tamest that would be seen.

Petronella Danforth
There wasn’t much to Petronella’s story in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  During one of the earlier parties, she met and began a relationship with Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page).  The relationship was going well.  Harrison went off to law school to pursue a career that could get him out of the seedy show business world.  While he was gone, Petronella felt lonely and ended up in bed with a boxer named Randy Black (James Iglehart).

In one of the craziest, most stereotypically soap opera scenes of the entire movie, Emerson walked in on Petronella with Randy Black.  He immediately left.  Petronella kicked Randy out and he ended up in a confrontation with Emerson on the lawn.  Randy got into his car, but Emerson wouldn’t let him leave.  He hit Emerson with his car.  Emerson held onto the hood until Randy forced him to fall off into a flower garden and drove off.  Randy would return for another confrontation, but would get turned away.

The car confrontation felt like something that would be put into a soap opera as a big moment, akin to someone revealing that they are the long lost sibling of an established character.  It felt perfect for a soap opera setting and was the moment where this movie clicked as an exploitation soap opera.  It was this moment that made the movie feel fully formed and fully realized.

Harris Allsworth
Though Kelly was the main character of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Harris was the heart of the movie.  His story took the movie from beginning to end.  He was there at the beginning as the manager, and he was the last character to have their story tied up.

Most of Harris’s time in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was spent in a silent struggle with Z-Man for control of the band.  Z-Man took over as manager immediately after the quartet arrived in Los Angeles.  The band drifted away from Harris not only as a business opportunity, but as friends.  The loss of Kelly as his girlfriend led Harris to hook up with porn star Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams).  It was a purely sexual relationship that left Harris emotionally empty.  He still loved Kelly.  He never loved Ashley.  Ashley just kept him preoccupied.

During one of Z-Man’s many parties, Ashley tried to get Harris to have sex on the beach.  He was too depressed to fulfill her desires, so she left him for another man.  This sent Harris into a downward spiral that involved his getting beat up by Lance Rocke before attempting suicide.  While Kelly and her band were performing on live television, Harris jumped from the studio rafters.  He ended up paralyzed.

Following his paralysation, Harris started his relationship back up with Kelly.  In fact, almost everyone was once again living a happy life.  Petronella was back together with Emerson.  Susan Lake was back together with her ex-boyfriend Baxter Wolfe (Charles Napier).  Casey had gotten into her own relationship too.  The happy relationships ended up leading to a multiple couple wedding during the end credits.  Speaking of Casey…

Casey Anderson
Casey seemed like a pointless character through most of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  She wasn’t around until the final third or so.  She travelled to Los Angeles with the rest of the band but quickly faded to the background as she stayed away from the parties.  That didn’t prevent her from being in a bad situation.

When Harris was dumped by Ashley, he went to talk to Casey.  They ended up getting drunk and taking a bunch of pills.  This led to them going to bed together, and Casey getting pregnant.  She confided in her designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin), who convinced her to get an abortion.  (On a side note, the visual during the abortion scene was one of the most offensive yet funny jokes I’ve seen in a while)  She then began a relationship with Roxanne.

For the final portion of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Casey was invited to a role playing party at Z-Man’s house.  She arrived with Roxanne and Lance.  The four friends started playing and Z-Man made a move on Lance.  Lance rejected him.  Then the craziest thing happened.  Z-Man opened his shirt, revealing breasts.  He decapitated Lance, killed his servant Otto (Henry Rowland), and Roxanne.  Casey called for help, bringing everyone else to the house.  They were too late to save her.  As everyone fought with Z-Man to stop the madness, Harris was knocked out of his wheelchair and rolled around on.  Somehow, this brought back the feeling in his legs.  He still had trouble walking, but he could walk.  He was no longer paralyzed.

The twists and turns in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls made it feel like a stereotypical soap opera.  The paralysation followed by the return of feeling, the cheating followed by the crazy car incident, the drugs followed by pregnancy followed by abortion, the attempt to steal money… It was like watching a racier soap opera.  With music.

The music was missed throughout this whole post.  Since the three main female characters were in a band, they performed many songs.  They were psychedelic rock songs, most of which were pretty good.  The women weren’t the only music, however.  One band from that era also showed up during Z-Man’s first party.  The Strawberry Alarm Clock performed their hit song Incense and Peppermints.  A real band that people knew made an appearance in this ridiculous Russ Meyer movie.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls might not be Roger Ebert’s legacy.  That would be his film critic work.  The movie is an interesting look into another side of the man.  He had a wacky side that showed how funny he could be when not seriously analyzing something.  It showed that he could poke fun at a lifestyle in a highly entertaining way.  Roger Ebert not only wrote good criticism, he wrote a good movie in the guise of a bad movie.  Beyond the Valley of the Dolls might seem bad, but deep down, it is a good movie.
Now let’s get to the notes:

  • Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was suggested by @Movie_Doc, who also suggested Gymkata.
  • One of the actors featured in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was Charles Napier.  He was also in the movie Steel.
  • Kong: Skull Island came out this weekend, so I want to mention that I’ve seen some ape movies for the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  They were Ed and Shakma.
  • Have you seen Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?  Have you seen any other Russ Meyer movies?  Did you read anything Roger Ebert wrote?  You can discuss this stuff in the comments below.
  • Another thing that you can do with the comments section is suggest movies for me to watch for the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  Twitter is also a good place for suggestions.  I’m always looking for movies to watch.
  • Sometimes when I’m watching bad movies, I share clips on snapchat.  You can add me (jurassicgriffin) if you’re interested in seeing some of this stuff.
  • Next week is week 225 of the Sunday “Bad” Movies, so I’m watching a fairly well known bad movie that I haven’t already watched for the blog.  Next week is going to be the week where I cover the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez bad movie classic, Gigli.  It rhymes with really.  Come on back here next week for that.

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