BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)

After nearly a decade as one of America’s most successful independent filmmakers, legendary sexploitation auteur Russ Meyer first reached out for the brass ring of major studio success with this frantic cult favorite, once described by Meyer and screenwriter Roger Ebert as “the first exploitation-horror-camp-musical.” Kelly McNamara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) are the three members of an all-girl rock band called “the Kelly Affair” who pull up stakes for Hollywood in search of stardom; they’re accompanied by their manager, Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), who also happens to be Kelly’s boyfriend. Kelly has an aunt in Hollywood, fashion mogul Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis), who takes Kelly under her wing and informs her she’s entitled to a share of a recent family inheritance, much to the chagrin of Susan’s lawyer, the shifty Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod). Susan arranges for Kelly and her bandmates to attend a wild party thrown by Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell (John La Zar), a flamboyant and very successful record producer. And shit happen. well I am not going to tell you the whole movie. See it now. According to screenwriter Roger Ebert, the Z-Man’s secret was not thought of until late in filming, and tacked on at the last minute. While fans feel that the secret is hinted at in the film’s dialogue, Ebert says it’s only coincidence. The ending was not in the script. Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer came up with the idea on the day of shooting, based on the recent Manson Family murders. Budgeted at a modest $900,000 (approximately $4.5 million in 2005 dollars), the film grossed ten times the amount in the US market, qualifying it as a hit for the beleaguered 20th Century-Fox. Though tame by modern standards, “Dolls” was slapped with an “X” rating, and there was much negative publicity generated by the fact a major studio had allowed a “pornographer”, Russ Meyer (labeled “King Leer” by the mainstream press at the time) to make a Hollywood film under its aegis. Grace Kelly, who was a member of the board of directors of Fox, was outraged and lobbied to have the studio’s contract with Meyer terminated. After his next Fox film, The Seven Minutes flopped at the box office (possibly due to its LACK of nudity and titillation), the studio terminated its relationship with Meyer. He never made another film for a studio. Director Russ Meyer once said he considers this film to be his “most important”. While frequently touted as Pam Grier’s film debut (she received an on-screen credit and a photo of her in a party scene was prominently featured in a 1970 Playboy layout on the film), her role in the film is non-existent and she can’t even be spotted as an extra. During a bedroom scene, Kelly wears the same flimsy red nightgown worn by heroines of at least two earlier Russ Meyer pictures (Vixen! and Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!). This film is listed among The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s book THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE® MOVIE GUIDE. The Strawberry Alarm Clock did the soundtrack for this film, and the band’s only real big hit “Incense and Peppermints” can be heard in the first party scene. It took Roger Ebert six weeks to write the screenplay. The theme song was re-recorded by Josie Cotton and released on the CD ‘Invasion Of The B-Girls.’. Russ Meyer threatened to sue Cotton if she put any of his title-songs on her CD, but died before he could follow through. Josie says that she didn’t mean to steal from Meyer, but that she is a fan and it was meant as an homage to his work.

 

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