I love Roger Ebert more than any other film critic. But “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” proves he made the right choice by picking film criticism over screenwriting.
Let’s be honest, the only reason “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is still remembered today is because it was written by Roger Ebert. It wasn’t the only musical about sex, drugs or Hollywood at the time, and beyond those elements, this film has more in common with a porno than a Hollywood production. The whole thing is supposed to be a satire of Hollywood and its superficiality and the dirty side they only talk about at parties, but its all so over the top goofy that the satire loses its meaning. One minute our three main female leads are having a blast as the next big musical hit, and then the next minute one of them is sleeping with her uncle, another has her boyfriend get beat up by a boxer, the other is sleeping with her friends boyfriend, while that same boyfriend tries to kill himself in front of both of his former lovers.
It all screams of a desperate, almost laughable, soap opera that can’t make up its mind about being a drama or a comedy and doesn’t so either very well. What should be funny is murdered by all the sudden drastic shifts in tone, especially near the climax, while the serious moments are so poorly performed that you’d think it was done by a comedy troupe, or porn stars who can’t emote to save their lives. Any attempt at subtlety is ruined by the ending, when a narrator we’ve never heard before gives us the moral each character was supposed to learn (including the dead ones), though the film never indicates if those characters learned these lessons (especially the dead ones).
“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is everything ridiculous about the 1960s and early 70s rolled up into one movie – drugs, hippie music, sex, struggles for individuality, sending a message to “the man.” Except that everything is dialed up to its most extreme that it all comes across as obnoxious, making it impossible to take any of this seriously. In that regard, this is certainly a porno comedy that speaks to its time. Beyond that, just be glad Roger Ebert didn’t write more movies like this one.
Final Grade: C-