Cool Cinema Trash: The Fan (1981)

Cool Cinema Trash

posterThis is the story of a great star and a fan who went too far.

Not to be confused with the Robert DeNiro/Wesley Snipes movie of the same name, The Fan (1981) is a crazy thriller that’s part Torch Song (1953), part Friday the 13th (1980), with a little bit of Cruising (1980) thrown in for good measure.

What it’s all about: If legendary film composer Bernard Herrmann had written the theme to Jaws (1975), then you’d have a pretty good idea of Pino Donaggio’s score for The Fan. As the ominous score plays over the opening credits, Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) composes a fawning letter to his favorite star.

“I bought a gorgeous new Lucite frame for one of your most famous pictures,” he writes. “I know of all the famous men in your life, but I adore you as no other ever has, or ever will. You are the greatest star of all.”

On the closing night of her latest play, legendary actress Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall) is mobbed by fans outside the theatre. One particularly ardent fan snatches the pen that she is using to sign autographs. Douglas, who is more ardent than most, trips the thief and takes the pen for his own collection.

The next morning, Sally’s household staff awakens her with boisterous birthday wishes. “As of today, I’m going to be forty-five forever,” she declares.

“Forty-nine,” her secretary corrects.

Bacall looks terrific, but even the most adoring fan would have a hard time arguing that she doesn’t look all of her fifty-seven years.

In the tradition of Thelma Ritter in All About Eve (1950), Maureen Stapleton plays Belle, the no-nonsense personal assistant who doesn’t take any crap anybody, let alone from her famous employer. Belle reads all of Sally’s fan mail and politely tries to placate Douglas’ increasingly demanding requests.

Jake Berman (James Garner) who was once Mr. Sally Ross, has lunch with the birthday girl. Sally confides to her ex-husband that she is worried about her next show, her first attempt at a musical. Jake confides that he plans to marry the young woman that he’s been seeing.

Later at home, Belle tells her employer that she’s just had three chocolates. “I’ve had three drinks,” Sally counters. When she asks her secretary about her plans for the evening, she gets a typically sassy response.

“One of your old movies is on. That oughta put me to sleep.”

Douglas has plans as well, demented as they may be. “You interrupted a very wonderful evening,” he tells his sister, “Right now I’m having dinner with a very famous actress. A great star of stage and screen.” Since he’s sitting alone in his apartment, she is rightfully concerned. It’s obvious that her brother has more than a few screws loose.

At her first rehearsal, Sally learns the simplistic choreography for the shows opening number. The moment she opens her mouth to sing “A Remarkable Woman”, the modest rehearsal band is replaced by a pre-recorded studio track. This only draws attention to the fact that Bacall has a very, shall we say, unique vocal style. It seems the only way the filmmakers could make Bacall’s singing palatable was with a full orchestra and lots of reverb.

Meanwhile, Douglas pounds out another letter on his typewriter. “We will be lovers very soon my darling—and believe me—I have all the necessary equipment to make you very, very happy.” Yikes. Not only that, he carefully rehearses a confrontation with his boss in DeNiro “You talkin’ to me?” style. He gets fired but paints himself the hero in a note to his idol. Belle, worried about the obsessive turn his letters have taken, severs all correspondence between Douglas and her employer.

In a new letter to Sally, Douglas writes that Belle must be, “jealous of our relationship. Has it occurred to you that she might have lesbian tendencies?”

In a moment that is sure to leave viewers scratching their heads, Sally balks at the idea of drinking coffee during a rehearsal break and takes one of the dancers down the street to a health food store. The woman drinks like a fish and has the gravelly timbre of a lifelong smoker, yet for some inexplicable reason, she has a problem with caffeinated beverages.

Douglas turns up at the rehearsal hall in an attempt to deliver his latest letter, but is intercepted by Belle. When she shows Sally the latest note from the “weirdo”, the star haughtily pulls rank. “You’re supposed to be my secretary and I don’t pay you to upset my fans!”

“He wants to be your lover for chrissake! What was I supposed to do, give him an appointment?” They quickly end their quarrel with Sally admitting to being a spoiled bitch. “One of the greatest,” Belle lovingly agrees.

Douglas has taken to stalking his prey. One evening, as Belle walks along a deserted subway platform, he attacks her with a straight razor. In the hospital, Jake and Sally stand vigil over Belle, whose face is bandaged up like the Phantom of the Opera. While her employee recouperates, Sally is forced to (horror of horrors) open her own mail! In his latest letter to Sally, Douglas cops to the attack on Belle. “The important thing was to get her out of the way so that we could be together. Soon we’ll be free to express our love—fiercely, openly, over and over again.” Double yikes!

The police are finally called in, but inspector Hector Elizondo has very little to go on. The previous letters were thrown away and Douglas stopped putting his return address on the envelopes. In the days before forensic science, it was so much easier to be a predatory psychopath.

When Douglas sees David the chorus boy (Kurt Johnson) give Sally a kiss on the cheek, he follows him to the YMCA. David changes into his Speedo and hits the pool for a few laps. Douglas slips beneath the surface of the water and pulls out his straight razor. As David swims past, he slices him open.

“My dearest darling,” he writes, “Once more I have proven my love. I am ready to do it again and again.”

“He’s after me now. Isn’t he?” Sally asks the inspector. Despite the threat to her life, the show must go on. The pressure starts to get to her at a dress rehearsal where, after flubbing a dance step, she storms off the stage.

In her dressing room, Sally lets loose to her ex-husband about all that is wrong with the show, which she refers to as a “masochistic little adventure”. Masochistic to whom? Her, or the audience that will have to pay to see it? “My secretary has been attacked, and now David,” she fumes. “And, oh yes, just a minor detail, there’s some freak out there who wants to kill me.”

Elizondo, who is perhaps trying to prevent undo harm to New York theatergoers, suggests that Sally let her understudy perform the previews. It’s a no go. Sally is a trouper. Douglas is somehow able to gain entrance to Sally’s apartment and ambush her maid. When Sally arrives home, she finds that her housekeeper has been killed and her penthouse has been trashed. A new note reads: “Dearest Bitch, I’ve exhausted myself trying to think of the perfect way to kill you.”

Sally goes into hiding. At her beach house she smokes, drinks and frets over things that go bump in the night.

What’s a cuckoo to do when the object of his obsession skips town? Hit the nearest gay bar, of course. Douglas picks up a handsome young guy and brings him home. On the rooftop of his building, Douglas whips it out… his razor, that is. He slits the poor guys throat, douses him with gasoline and sets him on fire. Douglas leaves a suicide note nearby, “Let my burning body be a monument to the great love that might have been.”

With her stalker now a pile of ash, Sally returns to New York and the show. On opening night, Garner resolves his character’s tepid subplot. He’s sent his bimbo packing and is ready to commit to Sally, a real woman.

Curtain up. Light the lights. As Never Say Never begins, it’s apparent that this is one faux show that will go down in cinema history as one of the tackiest ever committed to celluloid. Dancers in sequined costumes shimmy across the neon-lit stage as a fog machine works overtime. In the middle of it all is Bacall, who croaks out the gonzo show tunes courtesy of Marvin Hamlisch and Tim Rice. During one number, she sits center stage on a giant bed while shirtless chorus boys cavort around her. In a brief backstage moment, the camera zooms in on a dancer who sets a riding crop on the prop table. Gee, do you think that will be important later on?

Douglas, who seems to have spent the last couple of hours carefully grooming himself at home, arrives in time for the show’s big finale. After seeing what we’ve seen so far, who can blame him for waiting till the end to take his seat. In a black sequined pantsuit, Bacall proudly puffs on a cigarette before launching into the nutty showstopper, “Hearts, Not Diamonds”. From the thunderous audience applause, it seems that Sally and the show are a smash hit. Later, after all her well-wishers have gone, Sally changes into something more glamorous for the big opening night party. Douglas has traded his razor for a penknife and quickly disposes of the remaining backstage help so that he can have Sally all to himself.

When it comes to thriller finales, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching a diva, in full designer eveningwear, being chased by a maniac. The Fan pays off big time as Douglas pursues his ladylove who is swathed in Halston couture. Sally grabs the riding crop (ah-ha!) and manages to get one good smack in before being chased out into the empty auditorium. “I never wanted to hurt you Sally,” he tells her, using the crop to punish the aging star.

Sally, it seems, has had enough. “You’re pathetic,” she growls as he backs her up against the stage. Brandishing his weapon, she remains unintimidated, “Well, I’ve had it. I will not be a victim.”

Douglas can’t bear it any longer and collapses into her arms. “Please love me,” he begs. Seizing the opportunity, Sally takes the knife and stabs him in the jugular. In what may be the single most horrifying moment in the entire film, the camera captures a close-up of Bacall’s eyes. Baggy, bloodshot and as wrinkly as grandma Moses, it’s hard to believe that a shot so unflattering could have made it into the final cut.

Douglas sits in an aisle seat, stone cold dead, an audience of one. Sally slowly walks up the aisle and out of the theatre. After all, she has an opening night party to attend. She wouldn’t want to disappoint her fans.

In conclusion: The deliciously awful Broadway spectacle featured in The Fan is, in no small part, thanks to Bacall and her husky baritone. As insane as the prospect of Bacall singing for a paying audience might seem, she did in fact star in a Broadway musical, not once, but twice! First came Woman of the Year, and later, Applause, a musical based on All About Eve. It just goes to show that truth is often stranger than fiction.

One issue that The Fan never seems to resolve is the question of Douglas’ sexuality. Is he gay or is he straight? He’s undoubtedly a showtune queen, fastidious about his appearance and knows his way around a gay bar. These are the classic traits of a Hollywood homo, but several references are also made to his desire to bed Sally. Perhaps the filmmakers added this tissue paper thin pretense of heterosexuality as a way to get audiences to believe that his character could desire a woman old enough to be his grandmother.

One thing, however, proves that Biehn’s character was unquestionably straight. In several instances, Douglas refers to Sally in his letters as “Miss Ross”. As any gay man knows, there is only one true Miss Ross, and Lauren Bacall ain’t it.


Cool Cinema trash: Orca (1977)

Cool Cinema Trash

orcaThe killer whale is one of the most intelligent creatures in the universe. Incredibly, he is the only animal other than man who kills for revenge.

He has one mate, and if she is harmed by man, he will hunt down that person with a relentless, terrible vengeance – across seas, across time, across al obstacles.

Mainly considered a B-movie sub-genre, cinematic monsters from the deep blue sea proved to be very popular with drive-in audiences of the 1950’s. This type of story received first-class treatment in 1975 with Jaws. People flocked to the theatres and soon Hollywood producers were scrambling to make their own tales of waterlogged terror. Dino De Laurentiis was no exception.

But De Laurentiis would out-do them all. Not only would his creature be smarter, faster and more deadly, he’d push the dramatic conflict of man vs. beast to operatic heights. The final result is Orca (1977), an over-the-top pop psychology update of Moby Dick.

What it’s all about: “My Love, We Are One”, the haunting instrumental by Ennio Morricone, accompanies the opening scene of two killer whales frolicking, splashing and procreating in the waters off the coast of Newfoundland. In actuality they’re only in a holding tank at Marine World, but more on that later.

Marine biologist Charlotte Rampling and her assistant Robert Carradine are doing some underwater research when they are threatened by a Great White Shark. Luckily the shark is distracted by the sound of an approaching boat. At the helm is fisherman and shark hunter Captain Nolan, played by Richard Harris with an Irish baroque accent.

Carradine, like the disposable character he is, rather stupidly falls out of his rubber dinghy. Just as he is about to become shark food, Carradine is saved by a killer whale that charges in like the cavalry. The impact of being struck by the giant whale sends the shark flying several feet into the air, landing in the water a bloody, whimpering mess.

Our glacial biologist calmly asses the situation, “There’s only one creature in the world that can do that…a killer whale.”

Later, back on dry land, Rampling is giving a lecture that is jam packed with info, the gist of which is that we’re comparatively stupid to whales. Her lecture serves three purposes. The first is to show how smart she is. The second is to give the audience background information on the movies main antagonist. And the third is to set up the movies premise. Rampling unsubtly foreshadows the main plot point when she unleashes this hum-dinger of a whale fact, “…like human beings, they have a profound instinct for vengeance.”


In voice over Rampling tells us that Harris has been coming to her lectures and that she has formed a crush on the salty old Sea Dog. That afternoon she finds the captain rigging a holding pen in the bay. His focus has shifted from shark hunting to whale hunting.

Even when she’s furious, Rampling never looks more than slightly annoyed. “Nolan, there’s a word for you.” She frostily deadpans.

“I know, and I’ve been called it many times.”

Their love/hate verbal sparring is full of flirty double entendre such as when she warns Nolan not to fool with Mother Nature. “It’s hardly something to screw around with.”

“That’s a very dangerous word to use around a fellow like me…I might get a notion or two.”

Captain Nolan and his crew (Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, and Peter Hooten) head out to sea and find a pod of frolicking whales. In an attempt to capture one of the creatures, Nolan misfires his harpoon gun and mortally wounds one of the whales.

Bo, apparently an amateur whaleologist, informs Nolan, “You nicked the male, you hit the female.”

The whale becomes tangled in the line and swims underneath the boat where she gouges herself against the boat propeller. The real reason that Bo is part of the crew becomes readily apparent. She has ESWP (Extra Sensory Whale Perception). “She’s trying to kill herself!” Bo shouts.

First, since the whale is underwater and underneath the boat, how does Bo know that the female Orca is purposefully trying to do herself harm? Second, how can she vouch for the whale’s mental state?

Inexplicably, they bring the injured whale onboard while her mate observes from the water. Bleeding, traumatized, and hoisted high above the boat’s deck, the pregnant female has a miscarriage. The fetus plops down onto the deck while the father lets out an anguished roar. Nolan quickly washes baby Shamu overboard.

As the crew heads back to port, Orca repeatedly rams the boat. Guessing he wants his mate back, Keenan Wynn climbs out on the yard arm and cuts the female loose. Orca leaps out of the water and plucks Wynn off the boat.

With his wife returned, Orca and friends swim toward land in a water bound funeral procession. Orca then beaches her corpse to remind Nolan of the pain he has caused, and that for his crime, he will pay.

The next morning Nolan is surprised to see that the whale made it to shore. “She didn’t swim,” Rampling tells him, “her mate pushed her. He followed you.”

Enter Will Sampson as Umilak, the wise native. “She speaks you the truth. She knows it from the University, I know it from my ancestors.” He continues with more hokey mumbo-jumbo and restates Rampling’s asscertation that the whale will hunt Nolan down.

A fin, with a recognizable nick in it, breaks the surface of the water with a familiar shark-like menace. Duh-dum, duh-dum. Orca smashes through the hull of every boat in the harbor, except Nolan’s.

That night a representative of the local fishermen tells Nolan that he’d better take care of his whale. “An hour ago a kid saw a fin off the North point. A fin with a nick in it. Stationary. Just waiting.”

Sure enough when Nolan goes to the jetty Orca is waiting for him. People must constantly explain everything to Nolan, proving that whales are indeed smarter than man, or at least this man.

Rampling enlightens Nolan, “Why do you think he sunk the other boats in the harbor and not yours? He deliberately left you your boat because he wants to fight you on the sea.” But fighting is the last thing Nolan wants because he understands what the whale is going through. Nolan lost his wife and unborn child in a car accident. They are brothers in misery. All Nolan wants to do is look Orca in the eye and tell him that he’s sorry, that it was all a terrible mistake.

But Orca doesn’t want to talk, he wants vengeance. To prove he means business, Orca sets the dock and hillside ablaze with the help of a conveniently located gas line and a precariously perched lantern.

“The monster’s message to us is clear,” Will Sampson chimes in again, “we must send him Nolan or he will torment this village without mercy.” Oh, boy. Orca please kill him, kill him now!

If torching the village and forcing us to endure Will Sampson weren’t bad enough, the whale with the attitude next attacks Bo Derek. While nursing a broken leg at Nolan’s Cliffside home, Bo senses something. Her ESWP kicks in.

Orca’s ultra sonic sound vibrations shatter her wine glass. Before she can escape, he strikes the house supports and the cottage begins to slide into the bay. The back of the house crumbles away as the whale smashes through the floorboards. Nolan tries to save Bo but Orca rises out of the water and bites through her cast with a loud crunch and swims off with her leg.

Enough is enough. While Orca leaps and splashes in victory, Harris shifts the historonics into high gear. “You revengeful son of a bitch. You win. You want revenge? Well you’ll have it! I’ll come out there and fight you!”

Harris and the remaining cast members head out to sea. In voice over, Rampling reiterates the loopy pop-psychology logic behind the voyage they are about to embark on. “At this point I was sure of only one thing, that his grief had made the Orca wildly unpredictable and I felt an obligation to protect both it and Nolan from the consequences of that insanity.”

Nolan intends to use explosives to drive the whale to the surface. Rampling objects and they idiotically fight over the stick of dynamite. The fuse is lit and the dynamite is dropped during the scuffle. Rampling springs into super heroine mode and tosses the dynamite overboard just as it explodes.

Upset by all the drama, she leans over the side of the boat with a case of the dry heaves. Orca swims quickly upward, racing towards the surface. She pulls her head back just in time as Orca leaps from the water with a mighty roar. He then waves his flipper at Nolan, beckoning them to follow.

Oh, by the way, Robert Carradine (aka Mr. Disposable Character) finally dies. He is plucked off the boat by the toothy jaws of Orca. Rampling doesn’t seem overly upset at his demise. In fact, everyone simply carries on with their business.

Rampling narrates in her usual pseudo-intellectual style as the boat sails farther north trough the polar ice. “The creature led, Nolan followed. If there were any other purpose to what we were doing only the Orca knew it.”

Harris has been driven to the breaking point and is so delirious that he gives us this philosophical bon mot, “He loved his family more than I loved mine.”

Silently Orca nudges an iceberg towards the humans, sandwiching the boat between huge blocks of ice. Will Sampson is (finally) crushed in an icy avalanche while Rampling and Harris make it off the boat as it sinks into the freezing waters. Rampling takes refuge on an iceberg, but Harris is trapped on a floating sheet of ice. Orca breaks the surface and gives Harris the evil eye. The final showdown has begun.

With a shrieking battle cry, Orca rises out of the water and positions himself on the edge of the ice and, like a giant see-saw, the ice tilts up. Nolan looses his footing and slides into the water.

The whale slowly circles around the helpless Nolan until, finally, with a flick of his giant tail, Orca sends Nolan flying through the air. Like a rag doll Harris crashes against the ice. His broken and bloodied body rests briefly at Rampling’s feet before slipping into the cold depths of the ocean.

A rescue chopper sweeps over the horizon on its way to rescue the stranded Rampling. Orca, his quest for vengeance now complete, quietly swims away.

In conclusion: There are both good points and bad about how they used trained killer whales for most of the production. On the plus side, a real whale is obviously more convincing than a mechanical mock-up. On the negative side, those whales lived in California and the film was shot in Newfoundland. You obviously can’t set whales loose on location, so all their scenes were shot in the tank at Marine World. The footage from the two separate locations rarely match. The sunlight and water clarity often varies from shot to shot within a single scene.

In the films frigid finale you can’t see the actor’s cold breath. That’s because it was shot at the Mediterranean Film Studios in Malta. The giant outdoor tank that overlooks the sea offers a controlled production environment while giving the illusion that the action is taking place in the middle of the ocean. The wood, plaster and Styrofoam ice formations were built around the edge of the tank and the shallow water (about five feet deep) made it easier to operate the mechanical orca in the films man vs. killer whale finale.

As ridiculous as the vigilante killer whale in Orca might seem, it wasn’t the last time this plot device was used. In Jaws the Revenge (1987), Bruce the great white hunts down the remaining members of the Brody family. It’s ironic that the fourth and final installment of the Jaws franchise would heavily borrow from the same movies that attempted to copy the original Jaws. Ah…that’s showbiz.

Cool Cinema Trash: The Oscar (1966)

Cool Cinema Trash

El_scar-119522389-largeThis is the story of the dreamers and the schemers, the hustlers and the hopefuls, the free-loaders and the phonies, the fakers and the famous, all fighting for the highest possible award!

There’s nothing Hollywood likes more than to expose the seedy underbelly of the entertainment industry. The dark sides of the music business, the fashion and literary worlds have all been examined under the cinematic microscope. But nothing can quite compare to when Hollywood turns the camera upon itself. The results are almost always guaranteed to be bad movie bliss. Trash classics like The Lonely Lady (1983), The Carpetbaggers (1964), The Star (1952), and The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) have all made their mark in this dubious dramatic subgenre, but none can quite compare to the deliciously bad, all-star fiasco that is The Oscar (1966).

What it’s all about: While sitting in the audience on Hollywood’s biggest night, Hymie Kelly (an unlikely Tony Bennett) remembers the good ole days spent with pal Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd). “It was all for one and one for all… you, me and Laurel.” Laurel (Jill St. John) was the proverbial stripper with a heart of gold, Frankie was her fast talking “spieler”, and Hymie was their sad sack tag-a-long. Talk about a third wheel.

Frankie roughs up a club owner who tries to cheat the trio out of their cut of an evenings profit. Before they can make it to the county line, they’re hauled in by the corpulently corrupt local sheriff, Broderick Crawford. “Now, if you’re lookin’ for a bruise,” he warns Frankie while slurping down a carton of ice cream, “Keep scratchin’.” Booked on trumped up prostitution charges, they must sell Laurel’s car to post bail.

They make it to New York by “bus and thumb” where Laurel auditions for gravelly Ed Begley. She lands the dancing gig. While she’s busy working, Frankie and Hymie go to a “swingin’ party in the Village”. It’s there that Frankie meets the impossibly chic Kay Bergdahl (Elke Sommer).

“Are you a tourist or a native?” he asks.

“Take one from column A and two from column B,” Sommers purrs in her German accent, “you get an eggroll either way.”

Their conversation grows increasingly existential and ridiculous as she continues, “I’m not the kind of woman who uses sex as a release, or even as a weapon.”

“You free thinkers confuse me.”

“I am the end result of everything I’ve ever learned, all I ever hope to be and all the experiences I’ve ever had.”

“You make my head hurt with all the poetry.”

All this before they’ve even introduced themselves.

Laurel is understandably upset that loverboy has been two-timing her, so she kicks freeloading Frankie to the curb. Hymie explains the laughably Freudian reason for Frankie’s behavior (a slutty mom and suicidal dad) which prompts Laurel to deliver a teary soliloquy. “I wanted a kid. I always wanted a kid… and what rotten stinking luck that it’s gonna be Frankie’s kid!”

With a job schlepping bolts of fabric in the garment district, Frankie continues to pursue designer Kay with even more priceless bad movie dialogue, “I’ll show you the big town. We’ll have Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too.”

“How very lyrical.”

One evening, Kay delivers some costumes to the theatre and Frankie stays to watch the rehearsal. When a choreographed fight doesn’t meet his standards, Frankie hops on stage and shows them how it’s done.

Chi-chi producer Sophie Cantaro (Eleanor Parker) likes his “youthful exuberance” and is inexplicably impressed when he purposefully chews the scenery during a meeting in a theater row restaurant. She “trains” him and puts him in a show. It’s not long before they’re on their way to Hollywood where Sophie and “Kappy” the agent (Milton Berle) talk the head of Galaxy Pictures (Joseph Cotton) into signing Frankie.

“It was a new world and he needed a friend alongside,” Hymie narrates, “I came, I saw and he conquered.”

As his new PR man, Hymie moves into Frankie’s pad and offhandedly mentions that Laurel is dead.

In a date set up by the studio, Frankie takes out a snooty starlet (Jean Hale). “You can put your suave masculine charm in escrow for the night,” she warns, but on the red carpet he shows her who’s really the boss.

The years pass and Frankie becomes the hottest actor in the business. “The parts got bigger and Frankie was hooked. Like a junkie shooting purest quicksilver into his veins, Frankie got turned on to the wildest narcotic known to mortal man… success.” While at a chi chi nightclub, Frankie chats up gossip queen Hedda Hopper before abandoning his date for Kay, who now works at the same studio as Frankie.

She tries to resist him, but Frankie plays it suave and takes her to his boat, which is aptly named Miss Kay B. While on board, he insists he has more to offer her now, but she’s not buying what he’s selling. “So what, you haven’t changed. It’s that seed of rot inside of you which makes you what you are. You represent everything I loathe.”

“You mean everything you love.”

After striking out with Kay, Frankie heads into the arms of Sophie, who’s just as good as Kay at making melodramatic declarations wrapped up in a pretty bow of purple prose. “You’re some sort of fog that comes drifting in here at night and out again in the morning. You go after what you want and in some men it’s admirable, in you it’s unclean.”

Frankie runs into an old actor friend (Peter Lawford) at a local restaurant and receives an uncomfortable glimpse of what his future may hold when he learns that his pal is all washed up and working as the matre ‘d.

Kay agrees to a trip to Tijuana when Frankie gets her a job working with Edith Head. Not only does the legendary designer make a rare onscreen appearance in The Oscar, but she would later be nominated for a real life statuette for designing the costumes in the film.

Fame follows Frankie wherever he goes, even south of the border. At a bullfight, obnoxious American couple Barney and Trish (Ernest Borgnine and Edie Adams) talk Frankie and Kay into witnessing their quickie Mexican divorce. This inexplicably gets Frankie in the mood. After planting some truly unappetizing kisses on Kay, they get hitched. Marriage doesn’t curb Frankie’s tomcatting ways and Kay soon becomes unsatisfied and bitter. Despite the fact that she lounges around in barely-there negligees, Frankie spurns his wife’s advances, leaving poor Kay to bemoan her fate, “In no time at all I’ve been typecast as the nagging, shrewish hausfrau.”

Things aren’t so great at the studio either. Frankie’s films start to loose money and the studio doesn’t pick up the option on his contract. “Frankie couldn’t face reality because he’d lost touch with it,” Hymie informs us, “The word was out, he was box office poison.”

Kappy tells him that a TV pilot is his only prospect. “Frankie, winter is coming. Be smart, get out of the cold.” While in the middle of negations for the TV series, Frankie learns that he has been nominated for an Academy Award.

Anxiety haunts Frankie, resulting in the kind of deliciously silly nightmares that can only happen in movies such as this. He’s seen the bottom and nearly lost everything. He’s going to do everything possible to stay on top. He gets Barney the private dick to leak information about his, Hymie’s and Laurel’s checkered pasts, sure that the scandal will garner sympathy from the Oscar voters. “I blew the whistle on myself,” he tells Hymie, “You’re only remembered when you win… and I’m gonna win.”

In the novel on which the film is based, Frankie goes about discrediting each of the other nominees in his bid for Oscar gold. In a stab at vermislitude, the producers of The Oscar decided to use real life celebrities as Frankie’s competition, instead of the fictional characters that appear in the book. Frankie’s self-inflicted scandal simplified the plot and freed up valuable screen time. It also meant that libelous (but completely fictional) claims wouldn’t have to be made against the celebrities who’d lent their names to the project.

A swanky Hollywood party is held in Frankie’s honor and his plan seems to be working, that is until Barney begins to squeeze him for more money. When he asks Kappy for the fifteen grand to pay the blackmail, Kappy gives his biggest client the heave-ho, “Like the snake that sheds it’s skin, Frankie Fane I’m getting rid of you.”

Unable to get the cash and googly-eyed with panic at the thought of losing everything, Frankie turns to his old pal suggesting that they silence Barney for good. Hymie finally draws the line.

Frankie tracks down Trish, who is more than willing to trade information about her ex-husband if it means a way of getting into the picture business, “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” With the threat of the IRS investigating some hidden assets, Barney backs off.

Hymie returns to the fold one last time. “I never had the guts to tear myself away from you!” Scenery is chewed and fists begin to fly when he finally reveals that Laurel died during the miscarriage of Frankie’s baby.

After a few well-deserved punches, Frankie ends up flat on his back. Even Kay can’t stand the sight of him. “Look at what’s left of you. There isn’t even enough to feel sorry for. Goodbye Frankie and I do hope the Oscar keeps you warm on cold nights.”

We return to where the film began, the big night, where Merle Oberon is about to announce the nominees for best actor. Frankie, along with those he has wronged, wait anxiously as the envelope is opened.

“And the winner is… Frank…”

Frankie begins to stand.


Frank Sinatra proudly strides to the podium to accept his statuette.

Frankie claps a little too eagerly and grins a little too widely before collapsing back into his seat. His career has disappeared in an instant. Justice has been served… Hollywood style.

In conclusion: By anyone’s standards, The Oscar would be a contender for Cool Cinema Trash status simply by nature of its subject matter. What truly earns it a place in the bad movie pantheon is thanks one man: Stephen Boyd. His performance as unlikable anti-hero Frankie Fane goes beyond mere scenery chewing. With his tough guy accent and wild gesticulations, his performance is like a sledgehammer, there’s absolutely nothing subtle or sympathetic about Frankie Fane. He’s an irredeemable, narcissistic jerk, which only serves to make everyone else in the film look ridiculous since they’re bound by the screenplay to find him charismatic and beguiling.

Inexplicably, The Oscar is not yet available on DVD. Used VHS copies and homemade DVDs (struck from the laserdisc release) can usually be found online. Any efforts to see this bad movie gem will not go unrewarded. If you’re lucky enough to have a copy already, hold onto it, it’s as precious as the little gold statuette itself.


Cool Cinema Trash: Once Is Not Enough (1975)

Cool Cinema Trash

poster2For Jacqueline Susann’s people… Once Is Not Enough.

Based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann, Once is Not Enough (1975) may not be as campy as the previous film adaptations of her best sellers, but scandalous lesbianism, Freudian daddy fixations and a loud-mouthed feminist character that more than resembles the opinionated author herself, means there’s still plenty about it to recommend.

What it’s all about: While his daughter recovers from a near fatal motorcycle accident, down on his luck movie producer Mike Wayne (Kirk Douglas) woos wealthy socialite Deidre Milford Granger (Alexis Smith).

After months of physical therapy in a Swiss clinic, Mike welcomes January (Deborah Raffin) home to New York. As they embrace at the airport, January comments that, “I hope nobody thinks we’re father and daughter. I hope they think you’re a dirty old man and I’m your broad.” They celebrate her return with champagne and caviar as well as a “Welcome Home” message spelled out on the Goodyear blimp.

Mike has another surprise in store and introduces January to Dee, her new mommy.

On a hill in Central Park, January tries to cope with the fact that the man she idolizes has a new woman in his life. “Do you even like her?” she asks.

“It’s difficult not to feel a little something for a woman with all that money, especially when you’re broke,” he tells her, detailing the arrangement he has with Dee. “So, we’re married.”

“You’re married… she’s between divorces.”

January visits her old pal Linda Riggs, “The oldest, the ugliest and the smartest girl at school.” At first she doesn’t recognize her former friend.

Linda quickly recites the laundry list of cosmetic procedures she’s had done. “My navel, I’m proud to say, was untouched.” As played by Brenda Vaccaro, Linda embodies the crass, no nonsense, sexually adventurous modern gal that January aspires to be. Shortly after reuniting with January, Linda proudly drops this feminist bombshell, “I’ve screwed every guy in this organization, literally and figuratively, and I gave the shaft to every woman who stood in my way. Now, at twenty-eight, I am the youngest editor Gloss magazine has ever had.”

Later that night, January agrees to a date with man-about-town David Milford (George Hamilton). After an evening spent at a chi-chi nightclub with the “beautiful people”, David makes his move, “Frankly, I’d love to sleep with you.” January puts a stop to the date immediately.

Linda can’t believe that her friend turned down the biggest stud in town. She soon realizes that the only explanation for January’s strange behavior is that she is (gasp!) a virgin. “You’ve got the guilts, it’s like cheating on Daddy,” she theorizes. The only way for January to cure her unfortunate case of virginity and gain some life experience is to get out from under Mike and Dee’s thumb. Linda gives January a job and gets her an apartment in her building. “It’s lucky for you that you’ve fallen into my hands. I’ll teach you everything – writing, screwing – everything!”

January’s second date with David ends back at his place, an unbelievable Matt Helm-style swingin’ bachelor pad. “I wanted it to look like a bordello,” he tells her as a pair of automated drapes reveal a circular bed.

“You’ve succeeded.”

After the deed is done (“I didn’t know men used hairspray,” she says, trying to run her fingers through his hair) they take a cab back to January’s apartment. “David, I wanted to fall in love with you, I really did,” she explains, “If the music, champagne and a round bed couldn’t do it…” Though romance may not be in the cards for January and David, Dee certainly enjoys her afternoon trysts with reclusive international film star Karla (Melina Mercouri).

Later, January and Linda meet astronaut Hugh Robertson (Gary Conway) and hard-drinking novelist Tom Colt (David Janssen). “Forgive me,” an inebriated Tom flirts, “But I can’t take my eyes off your ass.”

With a pick-up line like that, how could a girl possibly resist? Linda invites the guys home for a nightcap, but Tom only has eyes for the daughter of his mortal enemy, Mike Wayne. While Linda puts the moves on Tom, January innocently asks if there’s any man she won’t sleep with. “If there is, I haven’t met him.” To escape Linda’s clutches, Tom climbs out the window and up the fire escape to January’s apartment, where he entertains her with drunken platitudes and a semi-respectable kiss. A sappy lovers montage soon details their May/December romance, though taking into account the tremendous age gap (and our heroine’s name) perhaps it should be reclassified as a January/December romance.

The affair creates a rift between January and her father. Mike can’t understand what she sees in the guy. “I’m not looking for a wonderful guy like David, I’m looking for a terrible man like my father.”

“I hate what that man’s done to you.”

“And I’m not exactly crazy about what Dee’s done to you.”

Linda subjects January to some dime-store psychoanalysis, theorizing that her relationship with Tom Colt is simply a result of January’s daddy fixation. “I would be a lot healthier if you just got it over with and went to bed with your father. Why don’t you ask him?”

Linda’s prognosis is right on the money, but without the sexual tension between father and daughter there’d be no movie, so January and Tom head off to the Hamptons for a romantic weekend. Though January tries everything she can think of, it soon becomes clear that Tom has some… well, performance issues. But after a glimpse of January soaping up in the shower, Tom has no trouble rising to the occasion. “That’s the first time I’ve made it in years,” he tells her as they bask in the afterglow of their love. He then proceeds to tell January that, despite the loveless arrangement he has with his wife, he has no intention of getting a divorce.

When Tom is asked to adapt one of his books for the movies, it’s off to Hollywood they go. Their happiness is short lived when Mike bursts in on them and beats the hell out of Tom. Mike insists that January leave Tom and join him and Dee in Palm Beach.

While cleaning his bloodied face, Tom forces January to choose, “I’ve always had a hunch I was just a replacement, now I’ll know… It’s me or daddy, not both of us.”

As Mike flies back to Florida alone, he considers what he’ll have to do to win back January’s love and respect. The first order of business is divorcing Dee. “I married you and I lost her,” he explains as they make the civilized arrangements for the annulment of their marriage.

While in the middle of a mundane lovers quarrel with Tom, January receives word that the charted plane carrying Dee and her father has crashed. Linda, always the epitome of decorum, gripes, “I hate funerals, they depress the hell out of me.”

After dealing with her father’s death and inheriting a sizable chunk of Dee’s fortune, January learns that Tom has returned to New York without bothering to get in touch with her. In a crowded bar Tom gives her the brush off, “You gave a middle-aged guy his last pretense of being a stud.”

“We did have something special didn’t we?”

“We did once.”

“Well, once is not enough.”

Heartbroken, January returns to her apartment to find an inconsolable Linda. “First he laid me,” she wails after sleeping with her publisher, “and then he fired me! He said that I was a great lay but that I was a lousy editor!”

After calming her frazzled friend, January goes for a walk and considers the men that she has loved and lost. Cue the montage of happy moments with Tom. But those moments quickly fade to memories of the only man she ever truly loved, her father. A heavenly choir sings the sappy theme song as scenes from earlier in the film are replayed. The movie ends abruptly with January placidly walking through the pre-dawn city streets.

In conclusion: Author Jacqueline Susann was often involved (to varying degrees) with the page-to-screen adaptations of her best sellers, but it was no secret that she was seldom satisfied with the changes Hollywood made to her books. While Valley of the Dolls (1967) and The Love Machine (1971) remain true to the spirit of their source material, there were several cuts and alterations made for the big screen. Though Susann visited the set of Once is Not Enough, she was too ill to shoot a cameo (as she did for the previous two films) and passed away before the film’s premiere. It’s unlikely that she would have enjoyed this adaptation either. Several key subplots and character motivations were truncated, including that of the Karla character. In the film, Karla remains an enigma, appearing in only one scene. In the book, it is explained that Karla uses the money and expensive gifts from her many lovers to care for a handicapped daughter that she has kept secret for decades.

The end of the story was also changed. But as unsatisfying as the end of the film is, the alterations may have been for the better. In the book, after dealing with the death of her father, January gets high, participates in an orgy and tries to jump out a window. She then drives to the beach and disappears, the victim of a bad acid trip, a daddy induced seaside suicide or an alien abduction, it’s unclear which. Susann intentionally left the ending ambiguous, though it bears more than a passing resemblance to the ending of Yargo, a sci-fi novel that Susann had penned several years earlier. The manuscript for Yargo, which was quite unlike the glitzy tell-alls she was famous for, was discovered after her death and published posthumously.

Despite the end result, Once is Not Enough has perhaps the best cinematic pedigree of all the Susann adaptations. The legendary Kirk Douglas certainly adds to the patina of quality, as well as direction by Academy Award winner Guy Green. Green directed the Sidney Poitier film A Patch of Blue (1965) as well as the Yvette Mimeiux melodramas (and Cool Cinema Trash favorites) Light in the Piazza (1962) and Diamond Head (1963). The script was by Oscar winner Julius J. Epstein, the man who penned Casablanca (1945). Brenda Vaccaro, who isn’t usually high on the list of critically lauded actresses, won a Golden Globe for her role in Once is Not Enough. But even more shocking is that she got an Oscar nomination as well!


Cool Cinema Trash: The Love Machine (1971)

Cool Cinema Trash

love_machineThe waiting is over… The Love Machine is on the screen!

With elevator musak as her back-up, Dionne Warwick sings the theme song to The Love Machine (1971). As John Phillip Law walks through the streets of New York, the lyrics helpfully spell out his character’s psychological profile, “Where the winter winds have blown — Walks a man called Robin Stone — He will always walk alone”.

What it’s all about: A newscaster for the local IBC affiliate, it’s clear that Robin Stone (the love machine of the title) won’t be winning an Emmy anytime soon when he introduces a human interest story on spring fashion. “What’s it been like in New York today? Well, we’ve had our share of assorted disasters,” Like this movie perhaps? “and yet we’ve had our bright moments too.”

More musak accompanies a montage of designer outfits courtesy of Moss Mabry. It boggles the mind that clothes so ridiculously awful could have ever been considered fashionable. Robin flirts with a pretty blonde model in an onscreen interview. When he asks her name, ingénue Jodi Wexler replies, “Amanda…just Amanda, that’s all there is.”

“That’s all you need.” Clearly bowled over by his sparkling wit, Amanda goes home with Robin and sleeps with him.

When she attempts to leave in the middle of the night he smacks her around. “When you sleep with me, you stay with me. You don’t leave. Nobody leaves me. Nobody.”

The next day, while covering her bruises with make-up, Amanda tells photographer and gay confidant Jerry Nelson (David Hemmings with an awful beard) of her fabulous evening with Robin. “I can handle men so beautifully when I’m not involved. It’s different when you care. I’m in love with him Jerry.”

In a meeting with network president Greg Austin (Robert Ryan) Robin is promoted to anchor the evening news as well as run IBC’s news division. Office tramp and publicity gal Ethel Evans (Maureen Arthur), whose first entrance is appropriately preceded by the sound of a flushing toilet, suggests that Robin get some new publicity photos.

“Jerry Nelson will take care of that. Trouble is he only wants to shoot me in the nude.”

“Maybe I could hold the flashbulb.” she quips. He turns her down, making Ethel the only woman in the movie that he doesn’t sleep with.

As he rockets up the corporate ladder, Robin puts the brakes on his relationship with Amanda. When she gives him an ankh pinky ring he asks, “What comes next, a little gold leash?” Soon he’s back to his womanizing ways while Amanda receives the cold shoulder.

Convinced that his glossy news programs will make more money, Robin begins to make sweeping changes to the network schedule, much to the chagrin of programming head Danton Miller (Jackie Cooper). Determined to prove him wrong with some big ratings, Danton gives borscht belt comic Christie Lane (Shecky Greene) his own low-brow variety show.

As the spokesmodel for the show’s sponsor, Amanda stars in a commercial wearing a red vinyl trench coat trimmed with feathers. The ad is filled with psycadelic lighting and video effects as well as some more memorable Mabry fashions. “From Faberge, the fragrance of Amanda.”

“Xanadu,” Amanda whispers at the camera. Is that supposed to be the name of the perfume? The commercial is so vague and artsy it’s impossible to tell.

At an after party, Robin shows up with another girl. Distraught, Amanda agrees to go home with Christie Lane. With his new show a success, Christie promises to give Amanda anything she wants. What she wants is Robin Stone.

Unable to keep it in his pants, Robin unwisely beds Judith Austin (Dyan Cannon) his boss’s wife. While they’re screwing around, Greg has a heart attack. With her husband in intensive care, Judith has power of attorney. She decides that Robin will run the network while she and Greg are in Europe during his recovery.

Amanda’s toxic relationship with Robin has finally become too much to bear, she flips out and Jerry later finds her dead of an overdose.

With his good girl dead, Christie Lane sets his sights on bad girl Ethel Evans. When he questions her principles Ethel sums up her ideals with this simple statement. “When I ball a guy it’s because I dig him.” Imagine that catchphrase on bumper stickers across America.

After Robin hears of Amanda’s suicide he goes on a drinking binge and picks up a hooker in Times Square. When “Amazon woman” takes off her brunette wig revealing long, blonde, Amanda-like hair he’s turned off by the resemblance and changes his mind. When she questions his masculinity Robin flies into a rage and beats the crap out of her.

Worried about his friend, Jerry attempts to get to the root of the problem. “I know that what happened to Amanda must have had a terrible effect on you. Why in God’s name did you have to go out and beat up a hooker?”

Law finally musters up a certain degree of emotion and answers, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.” In exchange for an alibi, Jerry asks Robin for a personally inscribed slave bracelet.

A slave bracelet? How very chic… well, chic for 1971.

Greg and Judith return from Europe. She’d like to resume her extramarital affair but Robin brushes her off like all the rest. Late one night she finds him frolicking with not one, but two girls in the shower. Deciding to get mad and get even, Judith sets fire to his bed.

When Greg wants to resume his presidency of the network, Robin throws a Diva fit. “I’ve been calling every shot around here for a long time. I’m not going to start asking your permission for every move I make. If that’s what you want, get yourself a boy.”

The action then shifts to the West coast. Robin runs into Judith at the Hotel Bel-Air. Deciding it’s in his best interest to make amends, he invites Judith to accompany him to a party that Jerry and his boyfriend are throwing. Later that night after all the guests have left, Judith finds Jerry’s special bracelet. After reading the inscription, she plans to use the gossip that Jerry and Robin are lovers to exact her revenge.

“I’m gonna see to it that you are totally unemployed, off the network, out of television completely and I’m the one that can do it. Oh boy, won’t the scandal sheets love knowing about the two of you.”

Jerry shuts her up with a well deserved bitch slap and, in an attempt to get the bracelet back, a hilarious fight breaks out. Kicking, biting and hair pulling. As they chase Judith around the house every prop and piece of furniture becomes a projectile weapon. Not even the Three Stooges could’ve come up with something this zany.

All the ruckus brings the police to their door and everyone is hauled down to the Beverly Hills Police Department. When they’re released they go their separate ways, including Robin who walks away… alone.

Suddenly, in what looks like leftover footage from the start of the movie, Robin is walking along New York’s lower east side. Did he walk all the way back to the east coast? Did he lose his job? Is he working for a new network? Fox News perhaps?

The end credits roll as Dionne Warwick starts up with that theme song again.

Robin Stone… he’s moving on…

In conclusion: Author Jacqueline Susann was quite unhappy with The Love Machine despite the fact that she agreed to a cameo and her husband also produced the movie. She disliked most of the casting choices with the exception of Shecky Greene and Robert Ryan.

Three weeks into shooting The Love Machine, original leading man Brain Kelly (TV’s Flipper) had to be replaced after a serious motorcycle accident. Production resumed when Law was miscast in the part of Robin Stone. His wooden screen presence wasn’t helped by the fact that the studio wouldn’t pay for new costumes. Law, who was several inches taller than Kelly, had to wear his ill-fitting suits.

BM Love Machine

Cool Cinema Trash: Valley of the Dolls (1967)

Cool Cinema Trash

valley-of-the-dolls-movie-poster-1967-1020195649The motion picture that shows what America’s all-time #1 best-seller first put into words!

In an amusingly bitchy article, Look magazine once accurately described Valley of the Dolls (1967) as, “The gargantuan saga of three girls and the nasty, cheesy, show-bizzy world they live in”.

Truer words have never been said. It simply doesn’t get any nastier, cheesier, or show-bizzier than this.

What it’s all about: “I wanted a marriage like mom and dad’s,” Anne Wells (Barbara Parkins) tells us in the opening moments of the film. “But first I wanted new experiences, new faces, new surroundings.”

Before you know it, she leaves her picturesque New England hometown for the glamour and promise of New York City. Once ensconced at the Martha Washington Hotel for women, she goes on her first job interview. Theatrical lawyer Henry Bellamy (Robert H. Harris) is wary of her good looks, “I’ll just get her broken-in and some insurance salesman will waltz up and marry her.” He gives her a job anyway. Her first assignment is to deliver some contracts to one of the firm’s clients.

That client happens to be brassy Broadway gorgon Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward). When Anne comments on the lovely voice of one of the chorus girls, Helen immediately demands that the singer be fired. “The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show, is Helen Lawson… and that’s me baby, remember?” She sends Anne away, refusing to sign the new contracts, “Until Bellamy ties a can to that little broad’s tale.”

That “broad” is young, starry-eyed Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke). While rehearsing her song, she’s told that her only number has been cut from the show. Bellamy masterfully manipulates the situation until Neely finally vows, “I’ll leave this stinkin’ show, with dignity.”

When Anne meets dreamy Lyon Burke (Paul Burke) over a tube of lipstick, it’s love at first sight. Lyon becomes even dreamier in Anne’s eyes when he lands Neely a spot on Joey Bishop’s Cystic Fibrosis Telethon. Neely belts out “It’s Impossible”, the first of the movie’s gonzo showbiz ditties. Duke’s interpretation of a stage performance is a sight to behold. With vocals by Gail Heideman, Duke tries desperately to “sell” the song, but it’s no use. Even her jewelry is working against her. At one point, her beaded necklace amusingly outlines her breasts.

To celebrate Neely’s boffo performance, they head to a chi-chi nightclub to see Tony Polar’s (Tony Scotti) lounge act. Scotti doesn’t fare much better than Duke in the performance department as he warbles another of the film’s priceless tunes, “Come Live With Me”. While singing the subtly titled song, he makes goo-goo eyes at busty showgirl Jennifer North (Sharon Tate).

During it’s out of town try-out, Helen Lawson’s new show opens with a dozy of a production number. While standing in the center of a constantly rotating psychedelic mobile, Helen belts the showstopper, “I’ll Plant My Own Tree”. Wearing a ridiculous ponytail wig and lip-synching vocals that couldn’t possibly be her own, Hayward gives it all she’s got.

Anne and Lyon applaud wildly from the front row. Only in the wonderfully warped world of Valley of the Dolls could this spectacle be considered quality entertainment. A few drinks after the show eventually leads to our heroine’s deflowering. In her hotel room, Anne demurely drops her towel while Lyon turns off the lights. They make love in tasteful silhouette.

In a lively montage, we watch Neely rehearse, marry her boyfriend Mel (Martin Milner), take her first “doll”, and become a smash on the nightclub circuit. “Younger than springtime – And twice as exciting” a headline in Vogue raves. When the entire cast assembles for the signing of Neely and Tony’s first Hollywood contracts, there are two important people missing.

On the snowy east side, Tony and Jennifer share a romantic rendezvous on a park bench. “My mother says I should’ve held out,” she jokes, “and made you marry me.” He proves to be quite susceptible to the power of suggestion. Tony sends a telegram to his sister, Miriam (Lee Grant) telling her that he has eloped.

The disgrace of “giving in” without benefit of marriage has Anne wondering if Lyon will ever make an honest woman out of her. “How do I think I feel slipping out of your apartment at four o’clock in the morning?” Marriage is the furthest thing from Lyon’s mind when he visits her at her childhood home. Anne cannot shake the shame, “Do you really think I could sleep with you here, in this house?” and asks him to spend the night at a local inn. When she arrives the next morning, a Dear John letter is waiting for her. Lyon has gone to England in search of himself.

Anne doesn’t have time to mope. She is soon discovered by cosmetic king Kevin Gilmore (Charles Drake). In yet another wonderfully mod montage, Anne is swept into the glamorous world of modeling. As the “Gillian Girl”, she promotes the company’s brand of make-up in a series of funky ads.

The years pass. At home in Hollywood, Tony, Jennifer and Miriam watch one of Anne’s ads on TV. After the commercial break, they watch Neely modestly win a Grammy. She graciously accepts her award and manages to plug her latest film at the same time. Tony, on the other hand, hasn’t made it quite as successfully. He informs his wife and sister that the studio has dropped his contract.

Jennifer pays Neely a visit in hopes of getting Tony some work on her next picture. But, all she gets is an earful of marital discord from the temperamental star and her ineffectual hubby. Hopped up on dolls and her own ego, Neely tries to put an end to the fight by saying that she has an appointment with chi-chi designer Ted Casablanca (Alex Davion).

Mel becomes upset because she’s, “Spending a lot more time than necessary with that fag.”

“Ted Casablanca is not a fag,” Neely argues, “And I’m the dame who can prove it.” With those words, she wins the fight and ends her marriage.

After a chance meeting, Anne rekindles her relationship with Lyon, who has returned to the U.S. While Dionne Warwick croons another verse of the film’s theme song, they walk along the Malibu shore and make love in her beach house.

When Tony collapses after an evening at the theatre, Miriam must finally tell Jennifer the Polar family secret. Tony has an incurable degenerative nerve disease and must be hospitalized. To pay for her husbands extended stay in the sanitarium, Jennifer meets with a French “art” film director.

“French subtitles over a bare bottom doesn’t necessarily make it art.” But despite her misgivings, she takes the job.

After a busy day of raising hell on the set, Neely pays her former pal a visit. “Neely,” Anne chides, “You know it’s bad to take liquor with those pills.”

Neely ignores her and bellies up to the bar. “Sure I take dolls, I gotta get some sleep! I gotta get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and Sparkle Neely, Sparkle!” Duke may have won an Oscar for The Miracle Worker (1962), but her infamous portrayal of Neely O’Hara proves to be just as memorable, if not more so. From this point on, it’s one classic bad movie moment after another as Duke chews the scenery with a ferocity that is a joy to behold. “I need a man to hold me,” Neely whines. “I need Mel…I mean Ted.”

She hurries home to find Ted swimming in the buff with a young lady friend. “Alright faggot, start explaining,” she snarls, standing in nothing but her underwear and a wig that’s jacked up to heaven.

“You almost made me feel I was queer.”

“I catch you red-handed with a naked broad in my pool and you sermonize me?!”

“That little whore made me feel nine feet tall.”

“You can go to hell,” she shouts, tossing an empty bourbon bottle after him, “Go to hell you bastard!”

When booze, pills and her diva-like tantrums earn her a reputation for being difficult, Lyon urges Neely to dry out in a sanitarium. Before they can ship her off, she make a quick getaway to San Francisco. Neely hits rock bottom and pathetically croaks along to one of her hits playing on the jukebox in a dive bar. While stumbling along the Bowery, she passes several topless bars and adult theaters, one of which is playing a Jennifer North picture. “Boobies, boobies, boobies,” she immortally declares, “Who needs ‘em? I did great without ‘em.”

Later, she finds herself in a sleazy hotel room with an equally sleazy John who takes all her cash. When she awakens from a drug-induced haze, she finds that her friends have forcibly entered her into rehab. “Anne, I am not nutty. I am just hooked on dolls.”

In a darkened screening room somewhere in France, Jennifer and her director watch their latest masterpiece. On screen, a lace curtain billows over the bodies of Jennifer and her onscreen lover. They languidly wax philosophic in a wonderfully pretentious recreation of French New Wave filmmaking. We assume that it’s meant to be a laugh-out-loud parody, until the lights come up and Jennifer offers her honest assessment, “Well, it’s by far the best we’ve made.”

Anne and Lyon visit with Neely at the sanitarium where she recounts her certifiably crazy adventures in the loony bin. From extreme therapy techniques to attacks by the other patients, nothing can top her tale of performing for her fellow inmates. With accompaniment provided by the asylum pianist, Neely begins to sing “Come Live With Me”. Soon, she is joined in song by a drooling, near catatonic Tony! He wheels himself forward and finishes their duet, much to the delight of the other patients.

Jennifer returns to the States. On the eve of her mastectomy, she worries that without her body, she won’t be able to find work. “How am I going to keep Tony in the sanitarium?”

Anne tries her best to offer support. “Lyon will find you a job. I know he will.”

“Anne, honey, let’s face it. All I know how to do is take off my clothes.”

After a difficult call to her mother, whose only concern is about Jennifer’s shameful art house past, she decides that there’s only one choice left. While remembering happier times (clips from earlier in the film) Jennifer takes a handful of pills. With Tony’s echoing vocals to “Come Live With Me” and a melodramatic violin playing on the soundtrack, Jennifer climbs into bed to await death. The moment is maudlin and exploitative, but it is also poignant. Tate is heartbreakingly effective in what might me the film’s only genuine moment. When Jennifer’s body is taken away the next morning, author Jacqueline Susann plays one of the reporters who mob the scene.

After the death of her friend, Anne receives another shock when she discovers Lyon’s affair with Neely. Betrayed and despondent, Anne turns to dolls. She makes her own clumsy attempt at ending it all in the sparkling waters of the Pacific. After a face full of seawater and yet another verse of the theme song, she snaps out of it and returns to her New England roots.

When Neely crashes a press party for Helen Lawson’s new show, the fur begins to fly in one of cinemas most legendary catfights. In the ladies lounge, they trade acidicly bitchy barbs. “Look,” Helen brays, telling it like it is, “They drummed you right out of Hollywood. So you come crawlin’ back to Broadway. Well, Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope.”

A scuffle ensues and Neely snatches Helen’s wig. After trying to flush it down the toilet, Neely tosses the hairpiece over the stall door, where it lands on the floor with a splat. As Neely makes a run for it, the restroom attendant tells Helen that there’s a back exit she can use. Instead, Helen regally removes the scarf from her neck and covers her matronly shock of white hair. “I’ll go out the way I came in,” she nobly declares, exiting through the front Ladies room door.

Backstage at her own show, Neely has come full circle and demands that a talented chorine be fired. “I don’t have to live by stinkin’ rules set down for ordinary people. I licked booze, pills and the funny farm. I don’t need anybody or anything!”

When curtain time arrives, Neely is too doped up to perform and the understudy goes on in her place. After spending the evening at the bar across the street, Neely returns to the theatre expecting to find her adoring fans, but everyone is gone. Stumbling along a filthy back alleyway, Duke emotes like mad as Neely calls out to the people that she’s betrayed. Try and keep a straight face when she looks to heaven for God’s help, but takes her own name in vain!


Lyon travels back to Anne’s childhood home and finally pops the question. Her answer? Anne puts on her mink, says good-bye and walks out the door. While strolling through the picturesque (and perpetually snowy) countryside, Anne seems renewed. With new, self-aware lyrics, Dionne Warwick sings the final verse to the title track, “This is my world, here it is, this is where I’ll start again”. Though hardly unscathed, Anne survived her trek through the Valley of the Dolls. Thanks to her journey, bad movies will never be the same.

In conclusion: Jacqueline Susann was less than thrilled with the big screen adaptation of her international bestseller. The author’s memorably strong reaction during the film’s cruise ship premiere is recounted in one of the Valley DVD featurettes. If she loathed the changes made in the 1967 version, it’s a good thing she didn’t live to see Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls “1981″, a television mini-series that further altered the plotlines of her beloved novel. This tacky TV version featured Catherine Hicks, Lisa Hartman and Veronica Hamel in the three lead roles. In one scene, after her wig is ripped off at an awards show, Jean Simmons (as Helen Lawson) accepts her lifetime achievement award by giving a speech that’s entirely about her gray hair! Sadly, it isn’t yet available on DVD. But if you’re a diehard Dolls fanatic, this version occasionally runs on cable. Check your local TV listings.

The two disc special edition DVD of Valley of the Dolls is packed with enough juicy extras to keep anyone (novice or longtime fan) coming back for more. The film is beautifully presented in all its cheesy widescreen (2.35:1) glory. Barbara Parkins and Hollywood gossip columnist Ted Casablanca provide the audio commentary.

Several documentaries cover every conceivable aspect of the film. Gotta Get Off This Merry-Go-Round: Sex, Dolls and Showtunes explores the camp aspects of the film and why it has become a cult movie favorite. The Devine Ms. Susann shines the spotlight on the best-selling author; while AMC’s Hollywood Backstories gives a behind the scenes look at the making of the film. It’s in this episode of Backstories that we get our only glimpse of footage featuring the troubled Judy Garland, who was originally cast as Helen Lawson. The briefly seen wardrobe tests featured in Backstories are presumably all that is left of Garland’s brief time with the production.

Two vintage television specials are also included. Jacqueline Susann and The Valley of the Dolls details the genesis of the novel as well as the film. The special contains terrific footage of the glamorous author. Watching Susann hold her own against a conservative radio host is just one of the highlights. Valley of the Dolls: A World Premiere Voyage is a wacky piece of Hollywood promotion that follows the cruise ship premiere as it makes several glamorous ports of call. On board interviews with the cast are featured, but none are as odd as Tony Scotti serenading the host with his own rendition of the film’s theme while gliding along the canals of Venice in a gondola.

Also included are overflowing photo galleries, follow the bouncing doll karaoke, the complete soundtrack and an amusing Trivia Overdose that pops little nuggets of trivia onscreen while the movie plays. Vintage screen tests are also part of the well-rounded extras. Once you’ve seen Barbara Parkins tackle Neely’s big “Sparkle, Neely Sparkle” scene, you’ll never be the same.

The filmmakers behind Valley of the Dolls didn’t set out to make a cult classic. For all intents and purposes, their big screen adaptation was a serious project. How could they have known that the end result would become an all-time camp masterpiece? Valley of the Dolls is the perfect culmination of bad music, bad dialog, bad costumes and bad acting.

In other words, sheer cinema trash bliss.