Blu-Ray Review: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (Meyer, 1970)

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Blu-Ray Review: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (Meyer, 1970)

By Last Caress.

“I’d like to strap you on sometime.” – Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls

Action. Drama. Comedy. Musical. Sex. Romance. Horror. Social commentary. Sections in a video store? Well, yes, probably. But they’re also the many genres well represented in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Meyer, 1970), arguably the most accessible – and certainly the most successful – movie by auteur Russ Meyer, the purveyor supreme of camp comedy, high sleaze and powerful women with wide-eyed, elfin faces and gargantuan breasts. Arrow video, those purveyors supreme of cult classic movies, have released Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in a wonderful blu-ray package chock-full of extras, not least of which is a DVD presentation of The Seven Minutes (1971), Meyer’s seldom-seen second movie for 20th Century Fox (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was his first).

The Kelly Affair are an all-girl three-piece psychedelic pop-rock combo, fronted by Kelly (Dolly Read) and managed by her boyfriend Harris (David Gurian). They travel to Los Angeles to connect with Kelly’s aunt Susan (Phyllis Davis), who is heir to a large family inheritance and who is willing to share a considerable amount of it with Kelly, much to the chagrin of Susan’s odious accountant Porter (Duncan McLeod), who is secretly attempting to steal the inheritance.

Whilst in the City of Angels, The Kelly Affair are introduced to the wild and eccentric pansexual music mogul Z-Man (John LaZar), who immediately takes The Kelly Affair under his wing, changing their name to The Carrie Nations and alienating Kelly’s boyfriend/manager in the process. From here, the movie follows several plot strands at once: Kelly is seduced by Lance (Michael Blodgett), an actor and male escort; Porter tries at first to discredit and then to ingratiate himself with Kelly, to keep himself close to Susan’s inheritance; Band members Pet (Marcia McBroom) and Casey (Cynthia Myers) enter into relationships with aspiring lawyer Emerson (Harrison Page) and lesbian fashionista Roxanne (Erica Gavin, star of Meyer’s 1968 movie Vixen) respectively; Harris, upset at the increasing distance between himself and Kelly, allows himself to become the plaything of porn star and party girl Ashley (Edy Williams). These waters are muddied further by Pet’s fling with a champion boxer (James Inglehart), and by Harris’ one-night stand with Casey which leaves her pregnant and him trying to fling himself from the rafters of a studio set. Kelly and Harris in particular become increasingly enamoured of the drug scene around which they’re all spinning, and everything comes to a head – literally – at Z-Man’s drug-addled psychedelia bash, during which he has a proposition rebuffed and makes a bizarre and staggering confession…

Phew! If that sounds like a lot to take in… well that’s because it is. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was co-written by the late great movie critic Roger Ebert, and he and Mr. Meyer seemed determined to throw the kitchen sink at the script. Fox, having bought and made Valley of the Dolls (Robson, 1967), based on the successful novel by Jacqueline Susann, had an option to make a sequel and wanted to exercise that option. However, Valley of the Dolls was panned by critics and Ms. Susann began legal proceedings against Fox, claiming their awful movie had damaged her credibility as a serious novelist. Thus, Fox’s “sequel” had to bear no similarity or correlation to Valley of the Dolls whatsoever and, moreover, had to state as much during the opening credits.

Why still call it Beyond the Valley of the Dolls at all, then? Beats me. But Messrs. Ebert and Meyer elected to make a parody of what they perceived to be the whole LA “scene” at that time although, since neither were familiar with LA or its “scene”, a lot of it was guesswork, speculation and good old imagination. The characters of music mogul Z-Man and prize fighter Randy Black for instance are loosely based on Phil Spector and Cassius Clay respectively, but only on exaggerations of their public personas as Roger and Russ saw them; they didn’t actually have a clue who these people were in truth although, in light of Spector’s conviction for murder many years later, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls gains a morbid prescience as regards the character of Z-Man, played at the zenith of camp caricature by the wonderful doe-eyed John LaZar, who also featured in Mr. Meyer’s 1975 pic Supervixens. Indeed, the last portion of the movie takes a morbid turn – albeit a wacky and blackly humorous one – as Ebert & Meyer put a full stop on their camp and crazy drugged-up love-in with a series of vicious acts designed to vaguely echo the murders of actress Sharon Tate and her friends by Charles Manson’s so-called “Family”, itself a full stop on the camp and crazy drugged-up love-in of the “hippie” movement (and drawing one more connection to Valley of the Dolls, in which Sharon Tate featured). But, despite that and despite Beyond the Valley of the Dolls being Russ Meyer’s major studio bow, it’s also unmistakably a Russ Meyer picture: His stars, unblinking, angelic and Amazonian; his cuts, rapid fire, as though spat from a machine gun; Charles Napier, in there somewhere; comedic Nazi imagery, ditto.

So, how does it look? Well, Arrow have once again done a sterling job. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – presented here in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio –  is an incredibly vibrant movie aesthetically, full of colours and light, retro-cool (although of course it wouldn’t have been retro at the time) and it looks every inch as much on this blu-ray. The movie could’ve been made yesterday. Audio is presented in the movie’s original mono state, as God intended, so although it won’t melt your face off in that satisfying way that the most impressive soundtracks do, it is however crystal clear without fault or overlap.

Extras are as follows:

  • Introduction by John LaZar – Recorded in 2006 for the movie’s DVD release by Fox, John LaZar (Z-Man)  provides an ad-libbed and in-character introduction to the Special Features section.
  • Above, Beneath & Beyond the Valley – A hugely entertaining and informative half-hour documentary, managing in its brief runtime to touch on Russ Meyer’s career in general up to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, into which it delves more deeply.
  • Look On Up at the Bottom – Only a ten-minute feature, this, but it packs in a lot of opinion on the music of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which of course is plentiful since it’s about a rock band.
  • The Best of Beyond – Critics and stars of the movie discuss their favourite scenes in this twelve-minute feature.
  • Sex, Drugs, Music & Murder – seven-minute piece touching on the hippie counterculture of the sixties and the dark side which ultimately smothered it.
  • Casey & Roxanne: The Love Scene – Erica Gavin and a decidedly flirty and coquettish Cynthia Myers discuss their lesbian love scene in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in this four-minute feature.
  • Screen Tests – Just what it says on the tin. Seven minutes’-worth.
  • Stills Galleries – Over a hundred incredibly interesting pics, segregated into four sections: Behind the Scenes, Cast Portraits, Film Stills and Marketing Materials.
  • Trailers – Take a guess!
  • Commentaries – For me, the highlights of the extras on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, even though neither is original to this release (both were commissioned for Fox’s 2006 DVD release): First up is from the late great Roger Ebert, co-writer of the movie and arguably the finest movie critic who ever lived. This is an incredibly informative yet fun and light commentary which I could listen to again and again (indeed, I intend to), and which stands right up there among the best commentaries I’ve ever heard. The second – featuring actors John LaZar, Erica Gavin, Dolly Read, Harrison Page and Cynthia Myers – finds this quintet in fine form, full of anecdotes and clearly enjoying the commentary and the work on which they’re commenting.

As mentioned at the top of the review, Arrow’s blu-ray presentation of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls comes packaged with a standard-definition DVD presentation of Russ Meyer’s second picture for 20th Century Fox, The Seven Minutes (1971). Based on a novel by Irving Wallace, the movie concerns the trial of a bookstore owner for selling an obscene publication, a novel entitled “The Seven Minutes”. The trial focuses on the novel itself, trying to ascertain whether the novel – which may have motivated a young man to rape a woman – is indeed obscene. With its heavily trial-based setting, The Seven Minutes is without doubt the most straightforward and conventional Russ Meyer movie I have ever seen; unfortunately, it’s also the driest and least interesting, despite some enthusiastic gyrations in a more typical Meyer vein by Baby Doll Devereaux early on. Deejay Wolfman Jack has a cameo and Charles Napier turns up (of course! It’s a Russ Meyer pic!) but, aside from an early sighting of Tom “Magnum, PI” Selleck – and his moustache! – there is little to commend this movie to anyone but Russ Meyer completists. An interview with Russ Meyer and Yvette Vickers (Attack of the 50ft. Woman) on David Del Valle’s Sinister Image talk show from 1987 is the only additional feature on the disc, but it’s best I think to view this entire disc as an extra to the main feature and nothing more. Looked at in that light, it’s a pretty bloody good extra.

So there we have it. A hyperreal and gorgeous-looking slice of funny, camp, sexy sixties psychedelia, a superb jump-off point for anyone unfamiliar with the great Russ Meyer – and if you ARE unfamiliar: WHY?? – and another triumph for the almighty Arrow Video.

Released 18/Jan/2016, get it before it’s gone. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is highly recommended.

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