Beyond the Valley of the Dolls might be the most stand-out movie of director Russ Meyer’s filmography. Compared to his other work this is such a different movie, one that still has the typical Meyer touch, but isn’t anything like his previous work. Meyer, working of a script by Roger Ebert (the well known film critic), has been given a a big bag of money by a renowned Hollywood studio to make them a movie after “Vixen!” proved to be a smashing box-office success, which is saying something since a movie like “Vixen!” would simply go straight to video nowadays. It shows as the production values are clearly higher than any of his other movies, there is a really large cast and in terms of story telling Ebert’s style of writing is vastly different than Russ Meyer’s style. The result is a mixed bag which can only be described as outrageously camp.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls revolves around an all girl rock group and the boyfriend of the lead singer going to L.A. to make it big. They come in contact with a record producer named Z-Man who’s is clearly a parody of by the famous but also extravagant Phil Spector. As they gain success they also have to face the dark side of fame as drugs and deceit lurk around every corner. Lead singer Kelly Mac Namara (Dolly Read) is an heiress to a fortune, but a lawyer wants to make sure she sees as little of it as possible. Casey (Cynthia Myers) is the guitar player and falls for Roxanne (Erica Gavin) but also has to undergo an abortion after a drunk one-night stand. Petronella (Marcia McBroom) is the drummer and token black girl. She is torn between two handsome black men. L.A. proves to be the hardest on Dolly’s boyfriend Harris. He has to see her fall into the arms of gigolo Lance Rocke and uses alcohol and drugs to ease the pain, even trying to kill himself on live national television but ending up a paraplegic.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a crazy movie. While the plot might sound somewhat coherent on paper, there are a lot of goofy elements included and the whole ordeal reeks of pure camp. It starts off with a disclaimer that this movie is in no way related to The Valley of the Dolls and once the band is in LA we meet the most extravagant character of them all: Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell, a character full of sleazy one-liners and seemingly a homosexual man, only to turn out to be a woman in drag during the finale. The climax of the movie consists of Z-Man going berserk in his mansion, decapitating toy-boy Locke, killing of his Nazi bartender Otto/Martin Bormann as well as several other people. If you want to know where Harmony Korine got the idea of the gun fellatio scene in Spring breakers from, look no further as Erica Gavin has a mind blowing experience.
People expecting a full fledged Russ Meyer movie will be disappointed by Beyond the Valley of the Dolls as it features a lot of Meyer trademarks, but is clearly a picture with a tone of its own, mostly due to the higher budget and the fact he himself wasn’t responsible for the script. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls feels more like a professional movie than his previous low-budget affairs. There are a lot of original songs made for this movie, there are a lot of extras, the movie is shot in wide-screen rather than the 4:3 ratio Meyer normally used and there are also a lot of different sets and costumes. In most of Meyer movies all that was used was some countryside location and a few buxom scantily clad girls.
Not that this movie doesn’t have any nudity in it, quite the contrary as a lot of the actresses are former Playboy models. Therefor it should come as no surprise they have no problem showing of their assets, but a lot of scenes featuring nudity are shot with heavy shadows and silhouettes as Meyer does want to make a movie that is more than just a skin-flick. The nudity never feels really gratuitous and doesn’t seem to be the main selling point.
But should you happen to be a disappointed Meyer fan, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls provides you with a lot of familiar faces from previous movies: Haji, Erica Gavin, Harrison Page, Charles Napier, Princess Livingston and Lavelle Roby to name a few. It’s one of those things that make Meyer seem like a really swell guy to work with as the list of people he worked with on multiple occasions is pretty long. Blaxploitation queen Pam Grier is also credited but good luck trying to find her.
As with most Russ Meyer movies Beyond the Valley of the Dolls isn’t a great movie, but it is very entertaining. Russ always had a great eye for cinematography and with the bigger budget he really made a good looking picture with a funky soundtrack. Because almost all of the actresses are Playboy models, it should come as no surprise that there aren’t that many memorable performances in the movie. John Lazar as Z-Man gets the opportunity to ham it up, but he’s the only actor who’s character makes a lasting impression, probably because he was also aided by a set of prosthetic breasts. Duncan McLeod also seems to have fun in his role as lawyer Porter Hall, but he’s an older actor surround by beautiful young women. Can you blame the guy for enjoying it?
The majority of the other cast members, male and female, seem to have been selected purely on their looks, which is the cause of a lot of bland deliveries. The drug abusing Harris isn’t portrayed very convincingly only adding to the camp tone of the flick.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a fun movie to watch and interesting to see Russ Meyer make a movie on a grander scale than usual. It’s pure camp and can’t be taken seriously, then again: are there Russ Meyer movies that should be taken seriously?