Mark Robson’s cult classic Valley of the Dolls gets a Criterion Blu-ray release, and presents the film in its original aspect ratio of about 2.40:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a 2K restoration taken from a 35mm interpositive made from the original negative.
The presentation for this film is a fairly pleasant surprise; despite not being as colourful or energetic looking as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (thanks a lot to its heavy use of beige) the image here manages to look quite a bit better than its quasi-sequel. Colours are a bit questionable: beige seems to be the colour of choice, with some splatters of reds, oranges, and pinks scattered about (it’s heavier during one of the trippier montage sequences), but they can look a little weak, with flesh tones looking a little anemic. A couple of the snowy landscape shots in Connecticut can also look blown out and overbearing, washing out parts of the image, though maybe it’s intentional.
Past that, though, it’s a much cleaner looking transfer, and quite a bit more filmic than Beyond. Film grain is a bit more distinct and rendered nicely, while details can be sharper, delivering stronger textures. A few shots here and there may look a bit fuzzy but it appears to be more source related, or at the very least how it was filmed; grain remains distinct.
The restoration work has also been thorough and I can’t say I recall a blemish popping up. In all it’s a very sharp looking presentation, much better than I was expecting. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Unlike their edition of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Criterion isn’t as dependent on supplements that were previously available on the Fox DVD, only bringing over a handful items from that edition.
The audio commentary from the original DVD has made it, though, and take that for what you will. Featuring actress Barbara Parkins and entertainment journalist Ted Casablanca (not to be confused with the Ted Casablanca in the film) it’s more of a fan track I would say and not a very in-depth look at the film itself, other than some behind-the-scenes tidbits. Casablanca, a fan of the film, obviously only loves it on the camp level, with Parkins appreciating it more for what it is (she defends it), but in between some of the games Casablanca likes to play throughout (like “what’s the quote” and “who would you cast in a remake,” the idea of which horrifies Parkins) the actress does talk about Robson and his directing style, talks about Judy Garland (who was supposed to play Helen Lawson) coming on set, and actually shares some interesting anecdotes about the studio contract system. Casablanca is there really to keep the track going I think, and for the most part he’s fine but his entertainment journalist instincts kick in at times in attempts to get gossip, and this aspect doesn’t help the track at all: he tries to get more details about Sharon Tate’s murder, which is in particularly bad taste, Parkins handling it well by going around the subject, and he also seems intent on getting the dirt about affairs that would have gone on during filming (nothing happened according to Parkins). But Parkins does make the track fairly worthwhile, though, and I enjoyed her defense of the film when she goes that route. Plus, she did elicit chuckles from me I’m ashamed to admit whenever she randomly says “boobies” (at the behest of Casablanca) with her interesting accent (which she also talks about), but this still pales in comparison to hearing Helen Mirren say “ballz to the wallz” on Documentary Now! Not a great track by any means, but there are some gems scattered about.
Also carried over from the previous DVD is a television episode of Hollywood Backstories, a 25-minute program that gives a decent if fairly superficial overview about the film’s production. It seems to focus more on the more “gossipy” elements, I guess you could call them, like Judy Garland coming on set (and getting fired) and the issues between Patty Duke and director Mark Robson, but scattered about are a few other interesting production stories, including about the premiere and author Jacqueline Susann’s reaction.
This is followed up by some advertising material, including trailers and TV spots. There are also a collection of radio spots running almost 20-minutes. These latter spots, which sound to be bits of advertising in nature, proved to be more worthwhile than I actually thought. Three of them are presented here, and each features interviews with members of the cast and crew. The first one features Barbara Perkins, Patty Duke, Paul Burke, Martin Milner, and Susan Hayward, and comes off more as a sort of hodge-podge of material that gives a general overview of the film. The second one is exclusive to Patty Duke, who focuses on her character, the “types” of characters that appear in the film, and explains the title (warning: there are spoilers in her appearances in this feature). The third features producer David Weisbart (who actually passed away while the film was being edited) and composer Andre Previn, both talking about their respective duties on the film, Previn getting into a bit of detail about his intentions in the score representing the characters. Altogether they’re technically PR pieces, but they actually still prove to be rather fascinating.
Criterion then includes a couple of interviews featuring writer Amy Fine Collins: Once Was Never Enough, a 22-minute discussion about the life and work of author Jacqueline Susann, and Travilla: Perfectly Poised, a 7-minute piece about the film’s fashion, designed by Travilla. I rather enjoyed both, the Travilla one a decent look at the time period and the influences. But it was the Susann piece that I most enjoyed. Collins—who researched extensively for an article she wrote on Susann for Vanity Fair back in 2000—makes it feel as though she’s sharing first-hand accounts about Susann, talking about her work (specifically Every Night, Josephine and Valley of the Dolls) and her personal life, including her battle with breast cancer (which obviously worked its way into Valley of the Dolls). Collins does focus fairly specifically on the period around Valley of the Dolls, looking at the blow back she did face because of it, whether it be sexism, not being taken seriously by literary circles, shamed by ultra-conservatives or feminists. Susann had passed away long before Collins wrote the article (which can be found here) but Collins almost gives off the impression she knew her personally, more than likely because of the research, and that makes this a much stronger feature.
A few “archival materials” follow next, starting with one of the more bizarre features I’ve ever come across. Carried over from the original DVD and called A World Premiere Voyage, the 48-minute 1967 piece appears to be an advertisement for both Valley of the Dolls and (I think) Princess Cruises. The film’s premiere was actually held on the SS Princess Italia and was done during a 28-day cruise. Members of the cast and crew participated, either traveling with the ship or showing up when it ported, and throughout the journey interviews are collected by the off-kilter hosts. Most of the interviews are useless (an interview with Sharon Tate proves to be especially unfortunate since the interviewer was only interested in her “disrobing” in the film) but then others prove to be incredibly bizarre: a couple with Tony Scotti are downright odd, where the singer performs for the camera in badly choreographed pieces with horrendous dubbing. I don’t know what the hell this thing is, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t fascinating.
Much better is another 1967 film, Jacqueline Susann and the Valley of the Dolls, which was also on the original DVD. This one spends about half its time covering Susann and her bestselling novel while production has begun on the film version. We get some very candid, up close interviews with Susann and a look at her life before and after her successes, and we get a number of interviews about reactions to the book, some considering it garbage while others admit to its appeal. We also get to see some of the attacks and sexism that Collins mentioned in her interview, not only on screen but within the structure of the segment itself: other than the 50-minute segment concluding with the suggestion her husband, Irving Mansfield, was the key reason to her success we also get to see her face off with an incredibly uptight (not surprising for the time) conservative radio host who is bewildered by the fact her husband would actually let her write some of the stuff that appears in the novel.
As a time capsule it’s interesting, though its main source of value really isn’t from making someone today feel superior to another time, but more in just getting a very upfront, personal look at Susann (who Collins describes as a “tough broad” and that shows when she stands up to those that seem steadfast in shaming her) and offering a perspective on why the novel did cause such a controversy. The last half is not unfortunately not as engaging as the first, when it focuses more on Susann visiting Fox studio and getting a look at the film’s sets, costumes, and so on. But for the first half I found the feature an incredibly engaging one and I’m happy Criterion carried this one over.
New to this edition is Sparkle Patty Sparkle!, 16-minutes’ worth of footage from a Q&A session from a 2009 screening of the film featuring Patty Duke in and writer Bruce Vilanch. It’s a fairly funny conversation, with Vilanch sharing certain gossip he’s come across (like what influenced the wig-stealing moment in the film) and Duke offering backstage stories from the production. Duke expresses her thoughts on the film in not at all subtle terms, stating she’s always hated everything about the film (except for Sharon Tate), but she’s obviously touched that there is a passionate audience for it and she lets the audience there know that. Getting a more one-on-one with Duke is probably the real payoff to the feature but it’s also quite funny. It runs about 16-minutes.
The disc then features about 28-minutes’ worth of screen test footage followed by a new visual essay by film critic Kim Morgan called Doll Parts. This 17-minute essay is more of a defense of a film, though a well put together one that does admit all the faults to the film, Morgan forgiving them more because the film still reaches her on some emotional level. In it she also talks a bit Robson, the film’s director, and she manages to work in parallels to Requiem for a Dream because, hey, why not? Ultimately I enjoyed it.
The release then closes with an actual booklet featuring an essay by Glenn Kenny, getting into detail about the more risqué films of the period, Mark Robson’s career, and the ultimate toning down of the material. It’s a decent all-encompassing essay with a few humourous moments, like his comparison of Susann’s failed attempt in getting the word “Dolls” (a reference to pills)into the mainstream to Lacey Chabert’s character from Mean Girls trying to get “fetch” to “happen.”
Surprisingly Criterion hasn’t carried over everything from the previous DVD, which is odd since they carried over most of the material from Fox’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to their own edition. I can’t speak to the quality of what’s missing since I never watched them, but I don’t think that’s hurting this edition all that much. Despite a couple of slight misfires (the commentary and that odd feature about the film’s premiere) Criterion has put together a rather respectable edition for the film. 8/10