As the opening titles warn the viewer, the film is in no way a sequel to the 1967 camp classic Valley of the Dolls, based on the popular Jacqueline Susann novel about three ingénues' exposure to Hollywood decadence. This film manages to so exponentially up the ante on its predecessor's camp as to earn its title. It's unlikely the late Ms. Susann would have been able to stomach it.
Again, we have three ingénues. Kelly (Dolly Read), Casey (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella (Marcia McBroom) perform in a rock band called the Carrie Nations that sounds like Jefferson Airplane would if they changed their name to Crap Airplane and played accordingly. They come to Hollywood and quickly fall in with the hip crowd courtesy of Kelly's aunt Susan, who promises her niece an inheritance in a sub-plot that quickly goes nowhere.
At a party they meet impresario Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell (John Lazar), who likes to interchange Shakespeare quotes with lines like, "This is my happening, and it freaks me out!" He has all the film's best dialogue, including "You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance." The film's best name, though, belongs to Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett), a sleazy gold-digger who latches onto Kelly when her star is on the rise, prompting her to gleefully proclaim, "You've made me a whore."
This being a Russ Meyer film, all of the women have large breasts on such prominent display as to deserve supporting character status. None so much as those of the improbably named (except in this movie) Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams) who plays temptress to the band's former manager Harris Allsworth (David Gurian) declaring, "You're a groovy boy. I'd like to strap you on sometime."
Harris is the proud owner of the film's most ridiculous storyline. Shunned by his former love Kelly and insulted as a "lousy lay" by his new lover Ashley, he impregnates Kelly's bandmate Casey before attempting suicide on national television. And then his subplot gets kind of silly.
After all this, if any question remains as to the poor taste of the film, a scene in which Casey goes to get an abortion is followed by a shot of someone scrambling an egg. This is not for those of delicate, or even moderately sturdy, sensibilities.
This movie is, however, for those who appreciate the fine art of bad cinema. Russ makes a concerted effort to create a film that's nasty, mean-spirited, and exploitative. Then without a hint of irony, he attempts to apply a sheen of moral rectitude via narration that explains to us, at great length, why everything everyone did in the movie was wrong. And it's all done with such melodramatic flourish, courtesy of screenwriter Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert), that not for one second can we take anything we see seriously. This is a good thing, because if we could take it to heart, it would actually be pretty disturbing fare. As it is, it's about as shameless as fun gets.
Later this year, Criterion will be releasing this film on DVD in a special two-disc set. Criterion is known for its pristine transfers and quality production values. It's also known for not wasting its time with films that are not in some way iconic. Its seal of approval here should not deceive you into thinking that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is in any traditional sense a good film. It should, however, indicate the status of the movie as, in its own way, a classic.
Reviewed at the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 17th June 1970
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Russ Meyer
Producer: Russ Meyer
Screenwriter: Roger Ebert
Starring: Dolly Read as Kelly McNamara, Cynthia Myers as Casey Anderson, Marcia McBroom as Petronella Danforth, John Lazar as Ronnie Z-Man Barzell, Michael Blodgett as Harris Allsworth, Edy Williams as Ashley St. Ivens, Erica Gavin as Roxanne, Phyllis Davis as Susan Lake, Harrison Page as Emerson Thome, Charles Napier as Baxter, Princess Livingston as Matron, Lavelle Roby as Vanessa, Haji as Cat Woman