Purportedly, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) was the film Russ Meyer felt was his most successful work. It was certainly his most profitable movie, and has the most extensive cult following.
Its origin is well known. Upon learning that Meyer’s Vixen (1968) brought in six million dollars on a budget of seventy-five thousand, Fox Studios signed the director to a three-picture deal, with each budgeted at one million. The studio desperately needed a profitable venture, after the expensive flops Doctor Doolittle (1967) and Hello Dolly(1969). Meyer was assigned scriptwriter Roger Ebert to make a spoof of the studio’s Valley Of The Dolls (1967). After Mark Robson’s adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s trash novel had proven to be a surprise hit, Fox was taking no chances, counting on the Dolls name to bring in audiences.
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is only loosely related to its original source, and it was hated by both studio and Susann (who unsuccessfully sued to stop its release, fearing it would harm even her reputation). Fox insisted that Meyer insert a disclaimer, informing viewers that BTVOTD was not related to the Susann original. In hindsight, the studio’s misgivings are puzzling, since the movie is exactly what they ordered: a big budget Russ Meyer flick that became an instant cult phenomenon. While best viewed as a time capsule, BTVOTD is better than the pedestrian film it parodies. Valley Of The Dolls was directed on cruise control. Comparatively, BTVOTD has the vigor of a tawdry cartoon, supplied by its twenty-seven-year-old scriptwriter and a middle-aged perverted artisan.
Kelly Mac Namara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) are “The Kelly Affair,” a trio of buxom rockers who, in their “Josie and the Pussycats” van, travel from sleepy Texas to the wild and wooly Los Angeles in hopes of success. At a party, thrown by a bell-bottomed Caligula, the hexagon of singing mammary glands are discovered by the androgynous Z -Man (John Lazar, channeling Phil Spector), who redubs them “The Carrie Nations.” With their rapid success comes drug addiction, avarice, harlotry, lesbianism, abortion, alcoholism, transsexualism, porn stars, and Nazi orgies.
Visually, the film is a 1970 smorgasbord of primary colors, beautifully captured by cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp. Accompanying the eye-popping visuals is catchy musical kitsch. The editing, like the plot, is episodic. As in the best of Meyer, the appeal of BTVOTD lies not in its narrative, but in its self-conscious camp. Comparisons to Chuck Jones cartoons are apt (as he would do again in 1975’s Supervixens, Meyer throws in Wile E. Coyote sound effects). BTVOTD hurls the viewer into an unexpected psychedelic, psychotic comic strip of a finale, which still divides the film’s fan base. It is unlike everything that precedes it. The ill-fated Sharon Tate was amongValley of the Dolls’ leads, which makes the nihilistic Charles Manson-styled massacre of BTVOTD a shrewdly tasteless finale worthy of John Waters.
BTVOTD is a celebration of counter culture trash. Despite its excesses, garishness, and plethora of broken taboos, its appeal will be dependent on the audience’s receptiveness to drug-induced soap opera pacing. For some, this is the director at his most accessible. Undoubtedly, BTVOTD is an essential entry in the Russ Meyer oeuvre, but it is debatable as a good starting point.
8 thoughts on “RUSS MEYER’S BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)”
re: “doesn’t think that it would be a profitable endeavor.”
That’s it in a nutshell and… they’re wrong, of course.
A lot of his films are available on youtube of course, most in godawful quality. However, there are just as many notable entries that are missing. Sigh
You are right about the transfers. I’m afraid they’re going to stay that way unless someone can get a hold of the original elements. Last I heard, his estate is not interested in physical media and doesn’t think that it would be a profitable endeavor. I don’t know if they’re interested in streaming or just letting the movies rot. It’s a shame when I think about some of the companies that could potentially do great things with these movies.
Seven Minutes is an oddity in the Meyer cannon. Agreed on Arrow, but the transfers were below par.
I appreciate the supplements the Arrow box. I know there were from previous laserdiscs, but those were way out of my price range.
I’ll have to look again, but I think Blacksnake was widescreen.
The Fox disc for BVD was great. I wish it would hit blu ray one of these days. I’d also like a legitimate release of The Seven Minutes. It’s his only major movie that I’ve never seen.
The Arrow Collection promised to be the one everyone was waiting for. Alas, it was a letdown. Meyer’s work has posthumasely been plagued by all-too-common limitations of independent filmmaking (including an apathetic estate). Couple that with his work being deemed unfashionable in the contemporary climate. Sigh.
That’s a great marathon you set up. You definitely picked the movies with the most replay value.
Aside from Beyond the Valley, I’m completely disappointed in the presentation his movies have received. The fact that his estate is in the hands of people who will do nothing with it is a tragedy.
Agree doc, thanks for sharing. I do believe that was a quite intentional reference.
Cherry, Harry & Raquel, BTVOTD, SV, Up!and BTVOTU is a marathon I recently revisited. It was akin to a delightful reunion.
This is absolutely one of my favorite movies ever. I love talking about and I love reading about it. It’s up there with Supervixens as my favorite RM movie.
I think it’s interesting that Kelly shows up to the first Z-Man party wearing the dress that Sharon Tate wore in the Robson movie. I could never tell if that was a reference to Tate or a holdover from when this was an actual sequel (the Aunt Susan character being Anne Wells reuniting with Lyon Burke who is now Baxter Wolfe).