Review by David Carter
Posted on 10 July 2004
Don’t get me wrong. I like Roger Ebert. He is easily America’s most well-known and trusted film critic. However, with trust comes power. Since he is trusted much more than any other critic, regardless of genre, his opinion weighs heavily on a film’s success. Roger Ebert, along with his partner, with one twist of his thumb can send thousands of ticket buyers rushing to the theatre. Equally, he can damn a picture. Like a modern Caesar, Ebert can with the downturn of his thumb sentence a film to commercial death. This is a power that he has used.
Unfortunately, he has used it against many of the films that are the bread and butter of the gang here at Not Coming. He once urged people not go see I Spit On Your Grave at all. In print he has called Caligula one of the worst films ever made. Along with Siskel he read a list of those involved in the making of the killer Santa flick Silent Night, Deadly Night on air in an open condemnation of their involvement. Since these and many, many films like them were not up to the standard that Mr. Ebert has set, let’s take a look at one that just might be.
Long ago (the 60’s) in a land far, far away (California) Roger Ebert co-wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with Russ Meyer (Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!). The film is an unauthorized “sequel” to the best-selling novel/film The Valley of the Dolls. During the opening credits there is a blurb to remind the audience that the film has nothing to do with its namesake, it merely works with the same themes. This much is true. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is an odd morality tale set against the decadent background of late 60’s Los Angeles. Each character represents a vice or a virtue and by the end of the film is paid back in kind. One can assume that these themes were probably Ebert’s idea, not Meyer’s.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the films of Russ Meyer, allow me to sum them all up for you. One word: Breasts. Meyer’s films revolve around the cleavage of his leading ladies. Beautiful and voluptuous women are the centerpiece of all of Meyer’s films and this one is no exception. There is no shortage of nudity by the main cast and extras alike, hence the X Rating.
The plot of the film is as flimsy as the paper it was typed on. An all-girl rock group along with their manager travel to California to become stars. Once there, the doe-eyed lead singer tracks down her aunt and finds out that she’s entitled to a large inheritance. As if that weren’t enough good fortune, her aunt is friends with a record producer who immediately makes them stars and re-dubs the group The Carrie Nations. That is the bulk of the storyline and it takes place within the first 20 minutes of the film. The rest of the film is a confusing trip as we watch the characters go through their respective moral lessons. Much like a modern daytime soap opera, there are tons of sex, drugs, and backstabbing. All of which lead up to a very strange and out of place ending. In a complete insult to the intelligence of the viewers, voice over narration is used just before the ending credits to further beat the audience over the head with the moral lessons contained therein.
As stated earlier, the film really intended to be watched for its plot. Thankfully though, there is more to enjoy than just the nudity. The dialogue is classic 60’s cheese. Almost everything said is such an over-the-top cliché of 60’s speech and slang that the film will become even more unintentionally humorous in the years to come. Pay particular attention to everything said by the record producer, Z-Man Bar-ell the “Teen Tycoon.” A lot of it reminds me of those scenes from sitcoms where the parent attempts to relate to the teenagers by incorrectly and humorously using the modern slang. Russ Meyer was old even back then and Ebert doesn’t strike me as a hip swinger type of guy, so I have no clue where they got most of this stuff. You’ll probably catch yourself rewinding different parts of the film just to hear the ridiculous things being said again and again. For added fun, try to count how many lines, word for word, that Z-Man uses that have found their way into the Austin Powers movies.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is the perfect example of a “so bad its good” movie. If it wasn’t X Rated, it could be the basis for the funniest episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 ever. It does have its redeeming qualities though, however small they may be.
Roger Ebert is a wonderful film critic and probably a very good writer as well. The majority of the reason this film is so amusing is simply because Roger Ebert wrote it. It is some kind of odd poetic justice that his movie is really this bad. The only moral lesson that one should take from this film is that you should take all criticism of art with a grain of salt. Don’t believe everything that Roger Ebert, Rex Reed, Gene Shalit, or even Rumsey and myself tell you. Go out and see the movies that you want to. Don’t like something just because someone told you that you should, and don’t hate it for that reason either. In the end the only critic that matters is you.