Review and Recap of Notes on a Scandal

This movie is really relatable to me due to its themes of friendship, obsession, loneliness, abandonment forbidden desires, not feeling fulfilled, and betrayal.

Notes on a Scandal was based on the novel of the same name by Zoë Heller (which was published in America under the title of What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal).

Barbara Covett  (Judi Dench) is a sixty-something history teacher who teaches at the St. George’s which is a  comprehensive school in London. She lives a very solitary life; she’s never been married, and she has no children. The only real friend she has is her diary, which she uses to express all of her thoughts. She is a very jaded individual, and she has lots of contempt for most people, but above all, she is searching for a person to be her one true friend.

On the first day of the new term, Barbara meets Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), an art teacher. Barbara is immediately entranced by Sheba and concluded that “She’s the one I’ve been waiting for.”

One day, Sheba tries to break up a fight between a boy named Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson) and another boy. She struggles, but Barbara, who is much more experienced in teaching and dealing with students than Sheba is, manages to quickly shut down the fight. Sheba wholeheartedly shakes Barbara’s hand in appreciation, and the two women become close, spending a lot of time together in the school when not in the classroom.  This culminates in Sheba inviting Barbara to her house for lunch on a Sunday afternoon.  Barbara prepares for the lunch, making sure that she looks her best, and shows up.

The door is opened by Sheba’s husband Richard (Bill Nighy), and Barbara is shocked by how old he is; she thinks that she has the wrong house, but then she sees Sheba.  Sheba has two children: Polly (Juno Temple), a sullen teenager, and Ben (Max Lewis) who is free-spirited and friendly and who has Down syndrome.

After lunch, Barbara joins Sheba in Sheba’s art studio.  Sheba confesses that she feels so dissatisfied with her life, despite having a loving family.  Barbara expresses complete empathy.  The two women become closer than ever.

Sometime later, during Guy Fawkes Night celebrations at St. George’s, Barbara witnesses Sheba engaging in sexual intercourse with Steven Connolly who is only fifteen years old.  She is horrified, but she soon realizes that she can very well use this situation to her advantage.

The next day, Barbara calls Sheba to confront her over what she saw.  They later meet at a pub, and Sheba tells the whole story.  After helping Steven with with his art project alone, he began to follow her wherever she went.  She initially ignored him, but she began to be intrigued.  Combined with feeling little satisfaction with her life, and feeling the temptation to do something that is highly taboo and wrong, she began to accept Steven’s advances, and this culminated with the beginning of an inappropriate sexual relationship.  The fight Steven had with another boy was Steven defending Sheba against the boy’s inappropriate remarks about her.  When Barbara helped break up the fight, and she and Sheba became friends  immediately afterwards, Sheba had already been having sex with Steven.

Sheba is afraid that Barbara will tell, but Barbara agrees to keep it a secret on the condition that Sheba ends the affair with Steven. Sheba agrees, but shortly afterwards, on Christmas Day, Steven, who had been constantly texting Sheba, despite her not responding, shows up to her house; Sheba has a tryst with him in secret, away from her family.

In the meantime, things seem to be going well, but when Barbara learns that Sheba and Steven are still having sex, she gets angry and expresses feeling of betrayal.  Sheba finally ends all contact with Steven except in school.  Barbara is there to comfort Sheba in her devastation.

The two women grow closer and closer.  Barbara begins spending more and more time at Sheba’s house, and practically becomes a member of the family.  This leads to tensions.  On the day that Ben is perform in a school play as a wizard, Barbara shows up, asking for Sheba to accompany her to the vet so that her cat can be euthanized. Richard is angry to see Barbara, having gotten tired of seeing her at their house all the time.  Sheba refuses to accompany Barbara.

Some time after Barbara buries her cat, a colleague shows up asking if Sheba may be romantically interested in him.  Barbara replies by saying that she’s heard rumors of Sheba having sex with a student.  Before long, the school is informed.  Sheba is fired, and charged with statutory rape.  News journalists begin harassing Sheba.  Steven’s mother shows up and physically attacks Sheba.  Her husband kicks her out of the house.  Her son is sad to see his mother go.   Her daughter is disgusted that her own mother would have sex with a boy around her age.

Barbara takes Sheba in, feeling happy that Sheba is now isolated.  Sheba soon finds Barbara’s diaries, which reveal that Barbara was the one who exposed her affair with Sheba to the public.  This leads to a fight between the two of them, and culminates with Sheba reconciling with her family and returning home.

When the headmaster learns that Barbara knew about the affair, and that she waited months to tell someone about it, he forces her to retire early.  The headmaster also notes that Barbara has a track record of poor friendships.   She was once friends with a former colleague named Jennifer Dodd, but the relationship was very unhealthy on Barbara’s end; Jennifer eventually moved away, and she threatened legal action against Barbara if she tried to reach out to her again.

Eventually, Sheba is sentenced to eight months.  Barbara sees a woman sitting on a park bench, reading a newspaper that has a headline about Sheba’s sentence.  Barbara says that she knew Sheba, albeit not very well.  The woman introduces herself as Annabel, and Barbara invites her to a classical music concert.

I’d been interested in this movie ever since I heard of it through researching Cate Blanchett.  I finally saw it a few years ago.  I was surprised by how much I could relate to Barbara.  Like her, I’ve been alone for the majority of my life, and I’ve never really had any close friends.  I suppose that no matter what makes us different, we can all agree that the majority of us want somebody that we can be close to.  In addition to being alone, I’ve had those friendships where things did not work out, due to all sorts of reasons.  At times, I’ve gotten too close, and I have driven people away due to apparently wanting more than the other person was able to or willing to give.

I think what this film says is that boundaries in relationships are important.  One must be sure to never cross them otherwise things just won’t end well.

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Review and Recap of Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B

Aaliyah is one of those singers who defines “Gone Too Soon.” At the time of her untimely death in 2001 at the age of 22, she had achieved so very much, and it seemed as though the sky was the limit for her.

As is the case of any famous person, it is inevitable that a biopic will be considered. However, biopics are a interesting thing. They can be done well. And they can be done horribly. Also, when it comes to comes to biopics, it must be emphasized that one can never please everybody. People will take issue with casting, artistic license, and so on.  Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B is one such biopic that failed at its goal.

The film begins with Aaliyah performing “My Funny Valentine” on Star Search at the age of ten, which was her first public performance.  She performs with her aunt Gladys Knight (who at the time was married to her uncle Barry Hankerson)  She is signed to a record deal, but she is not yet given the chance to prove herself.  Eventually, she creates her public persona, and starts recording her first albumAge Ain’t Nothing but a Number with the help of R. Kelly.  When R. Kelly gets too close to her, and they get married, despite her being under the age of 18, her parents force Aaliyah to end all contact with him, in both a professional and personal context, and they annul the marriage.

Aaliyah is reluctant to move on with her career without R. Kelly’s influence.  But she recognizes her own inner strength.  She collaborates with Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who give her second album, One in a Million  a new sound.  Aaliayah moves on to more things. She sings the song “Journey to the Past” from the movie Anastasia, and when it is nominated for an Academy Award, she performs it at the Oscars.

Aaliyah makes her film debut in Romeo Must Die, and later, she films The Queen of the Damned and releases her third album  Also, she becomes close with rapper Damon Dash, and the two become romantically involved.  The record label is concerned about the album’s performance, and they suggest that the song “Rock the Boat” be her next single.  She goes off to film it in the Bahamas, but not before she and Dash promise to each other, despite their careers, they will find time for each other.  There is then a post-script that says that Aaliyah died in a plane crash on the way back to America.

Last summer, Lifetime announced that they were planning a movie about the life and career of Aaliyah; it was called Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B.  They cast the actress and singer Zendaya (best known for her role on the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up) as Aaliyah.  The announcement of the casting received lots of criticism over the casting because many people felt that Zendaya did not look enough like Aaliyah, and that she was too light-skinned to play Aaliyah.  Aaliyah’s family, however, asked the public to not attack Zendaya.  Also, due to her family disapproving of the production entirely, and due to the fact that they controlled the rights to the majority of her music, Lifetime had to rely on the covers that Aaliyah sang, as well as the original songs that her family did not control.  Zendaya would depart from the role, citing the various issues with getting the rights to the music, among other complication of the production, and she was replaced by Alexandra Shipp.

The film finally premiered on November 15, 2014.  It was universally panned by critics and viewers.

According to Wikipedia:

Critical reception to Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B has been predominantly negative.[10][11][12][13] The New York Times heavily panned the film, criticizing it as “ham-handed” and “underwhelming” and writing “Condensing the singer’s life into such a short space requires a cruel knife and, in this case, a wildly imprecise one. A good film doesn’t show its seams. This one — based on “Aaliyah: More Than a Woman,” a biography by Christopher John Farley — is mostly seams. Much of the acting has dull edges, and the screenplay is aggravatingly stilted.”[14] The Wall Street Journal also criticized the film, commenting that the “overuse of the three and four-way split screen montages only enhanced the lack of material.”[15]

Viewer reaction for the film has been extremely negative and fans mocked the film on social media sites like Twitter,[1][16] using the hashtags #LifetimeBiopics and #LifetimeBeLike.[17][18][19] Viewers felt that Shipp was miscast as Aaliyah, that the late singer’s controversial relationship with R. Kelly was overly romanticized, and that the music covers did not properly do justice to the original songs.[20][21] Fans further commented on the film’s casting as a whole and many created pictures that overly exaggerated what they felt was extreme miscasting of many of the celebrities depicted in the film.[22][23][24]

All I can say is that, this biopic had numerous problems.  In my own words:

Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B is one that fans of the late singer would rather forget.  So many things just did not go right.

  1. Many of the figures in Aaliyah’s life were played by people who hardly even look like them.  The actors portraying, R. Kelly, Missy Elliott, and Timbaland, look like fake versions of the the people they are playing.
  2. Since Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson owned her now defunct label, Blackground Records, and since he disapproved of the movie from the beginning (along with the rest of Aaliyah’s family), Lifetime did not get the rights to use Aaliyah’s music, and all they could do is use two of her cover songs, and two of her original songs that her family did not own; according to Wikipedia: “Four of her songs (two covers) were used in the film: the Isley Brothers‘ “At Your Best (You Are Love),” Marvin Gaye‘s “Got to Give It Up,” “Journey to the Past” and “The One I Gave My Heart To.”  If you do a biopic on a singer, you need to use their songs, and most of Aaliyah’s most famous song such as “Try Again,” “One in a Million,” and “Are You That Somebody?” are completely absent.
  3. The film is poorly written and put together.  There is a lot of telling and too little showing.  We are often briefly told things that Aaliyah did, and it seemed like the screenwriter was doing that because of having little to work with.
  4. The ending is anti-climactic.  It shows Aaliyah and her romantic partner, Damon Dash talking about how their careers leave them little time to be together, and they promise to spend more time with each other when Aaliyah returns from filming the music video for “Rock the Boat.”  We see her get into a car that drives off into the distance.  Then we see words on screen stating that Aaliyah died in a plane crash in the Bahama shortly after filming the video.  Seeing that made me feel like this was such a cheap ending.  I get that they did not want to depict the plane crash or even have it happen off screen, but it’s not a good ending to show two people making plans for the future, and then be told that one of them would die.

Review and Recap of Move Over, Darling

As I mentioned briefly about in a previous blog post, this movie was a second attempt at a production, as the first attempt was troubled, and it ultimately failed and was forced by a variety of circumstances to shut down.  Twentieth Century Fox wanted to make a remake of 1940 comedy My Favorite Wife called Something’s Got to Give. Marilyn MonroeDean Martin, and Cyd Charisse were to take the roles that were originally played by Irene Dunne Cary Grant,  and Gail Patrick.  However, filming was troubled due to Monroe’s frequent absences.  Monroe was fired from the film, but she was rehired because Martin refused to do the film without her.  However, she died before filming could resume.

Since Fox had already put a lot of money into the film, which was over budget, the decision was made to start over form scratch.  There was a new director, Michael Gordon, who replaced Jean Negulesco, who originally replaced George Cukor.  The new leads were Doris Day, James Garner, and Polly Bergen, taking over from Monroe, Martin, and Charisse.  The new title was Move Over, Darling.

Nick Arden is a lawyer whose wife Ellen Wagstaff Arden was lost at sea following an airplane crash in the Pacific.  It’s been five years since her disappearance, and Nick is in court.  He petitions a judge to have her declared legally dead; the judge is quite absent-minded, but grants the petition.  Immediately afterwards, Nick asks the judge to marry him and his fiancee, Bianca Steele, much to the judge’s surprise.

At the same time, Ellen returns to America.  A Navy submarine ship found her on a deserted island and rescued her.  Ellen wants nothing more than to call her family and let them know that she is alive and well, but when she is unable to make a call, she instead accepts a ride home.

Ellen gets home and she sees her two daughters who were only babies when she disappeared.  They don’t remember her, and Ellen does not tell them who she is.  Ellen later goes inside the house and shocks her mother-in-law Grace.  After Grace gets over the shock, she reluctantly tells Ellen that Nick has gotten re-married; Ellen is devastated by this news, but since he is on his way to Monterey, California, to the same hotel where he and Ellen had their honeymoon, she and Grace realizes that it’s not too late.

Ellen flies to Monterey.  Shortly  after she arrives, Nick and Bianca check into the hotel; the clerk offers him Suite A, but Nick and he insists upon any suite other than the suite where he and Ellen spent their honeymoon, and they are given Suite B.  As he and Bianca get into the elevator, he sees Ellen in the lobby, and he is quite shocked.  Nick makes an excuse to leave Bianca in their hotel room, he finds Ellen, and they embrace each other.  Ellen expresses disappointment with Nick, but he defends himself saying that they couldn’t search for her forever, and he tells her that they held a beautiful memorial service for her.  This touches Ellen’s heart, but she still insists that Nick tell Bianca about her.  Nick checks Ellen into the same suite where they had their honeymoon, which happens to be  next door to the suite Nick got with Bianca.

Nick tries to tell Bianca the truth about Ellen, all while Bianca is trying to consummate their marriage, but there are a variety of complications, including Bianca thinking Nick is rejecting her and acting hysterically.  Ellen loses her patience, and returns home.  Nick fakes a back injury so that he and Bianca will be forced to return home.  Back at home, Grace suggests that she tuck in her daughters into bed.  Ellen still does not tell them that she is their mother, but she sings them a song that she sang for them when they were very young.  They remember it, but they don’t remember where they heard it from.

The next day while the girls are at school, Nick and Bianca return home to see Ellen who is posing as a Swedish nurse.  After Ellen “miraculously” cures Nick’s “broken” back, she offers to give Bianca a massage, but the massage breaks out into a physical altercation, that Nick breaks up only to be distracted by the door bell ringing.

An insurance adjuster comes by, and he mentions in passing that Ellen was stranded on the island with a man named Stephen Burkett, and that they called each other Adam and Eve.  Nick is immediately jealous, and when he tells Ellen that he knows about Stephen, she tries to convince him that nothing happened, but he still refuses to believe her.  Ellen decides to go to a department store where she finds a meek and plain-looking man, and she asks him to pose at Stephen.  At the same time, Nick finds Stephen, a very attractive man, swimming a local hotel’s swimming pool and flirting with women.

Ellen introduces Nick to the fake Stephen; Nick asks them questions about their time on the island, and the fake Stephen states that they spent practically no time together.   After that, Nick and Ellen go out to lunch.  Nick suggests going to a hotel for lunch, knowing that the real Stephen is there.  Ellen confesses that she lied to Nick about the fake Stephen.  Nick starts to feel guilty about his plan to expose Ellen’s lies, and he insists they leave immediately.  Stephen then approaches them.  Angry at Nick’s deception, Ellen leaves and a wacky car chase ensues.

Back at home, Nick and Ellen are bickering when the police come.  They arrest Nick for bigamy.  Grace had called the police since he refused to settle the dispute on his own.  In court, Ellen is declared legally alive, Bianca and Nick’s marriage is annulled, and Ellen decides to sever all ties with Nick.  Stephen shows up in court proclaiming his love for Ellen, but Ellen attacks him, stating that he did nothing but harass her during the five years they spent on the island, and that she tried to spend the past five years staying away from him.

Back at home, Ellen is feeling dejected about the entire ordeal, but she is greeted by her daughters in the swimming pool, who call her “Mom.”  Nick is also swimming, and he invites her to join them.  Despite being fully clothed, Ellen enthusiastically jumps into the pool, embracing Nick and fully reuniting with her family.

I’ve been obsessed with this movie since last fall, though I saw it maybe in 2013.  It’s the just the dilemma.  You lose your spouse at sea.  You find love with somebody else.  You declare your spouse legally dead so that you can get re-married.  Then your spouse is is rescued and returns home.  What do you do?  This theme is so timely that this movie could be perfect for a remake today in 2015.

Another appealing thing to me is the theme of “coming back to life” (so to speak) and having a second chance with with your family who previously thought you were dead.  It has to be extremely hard to be away from your family for five years, to miss seeing your children grow up, and so on.  Also, it must be hard on your family to lose their loved one, and to not even be able to give them a proper burial, and to be a child who lost their parent as a baby, and who has to grow up never knowing their mother.

Despite these themes and the entertaining factor of the movie, there are some plot holes.   When Ellen returns to her home, and she sees her two daughters in the swimming pool, they, at the time of her disappearance, were babies, and they were too young to remember her.  Ellen greets her daughters, but they don’t recognize her.  I can’t believe that.  I mean, the only way this would be possible is if Nick had removed all photos of Ellen in their home, and never showed them to their two daughters.  It seems selfish for a father to never show his daughters any  photos of their presumably deceased mother.  Even if they don’t remember her, they could still feel the pain of the fact that (as far as they knew) their mother was dead, and that they would never know her.  Then again, the beginning shows Nick to be somewhat insensitive, in that he had Ellen declared legally dead, and married Bianca immediately afterwards; the judge was right to be shocked that a man would have his first wife declared legally dead and without waiting at all, marry his second wife.  Also, when Ellen poses as Helga, the Swedish nurse, Bianca does not recognize her either.  So, we are expected to believe that Nick removed all photos of Ellen, and never showed his new wife photos of his first wife whom he lost?

Despite these plot holes, I enjoy the film simply because of its humor and the themes it addresses.

Review and Recap of Judy: Beyond the Rainbow

This is yet another documentary that I repeatedly watched and re-watched on YouTube. The A&E (from the days before they aired Duck Dynasty and before they completely abandoned their original purpose, but I digress) documentary from 1997, as a part of their Biography series, tells the story of the incomparable singer and actress, Judy Garland. The documentary is told through narration, archive photos and footage, and interviews from numerous people who knew Garland.

Judy: Beyond the Rainbow focuses Garland’s life from shortly before her birth, to her death.

It begins with Garland’s upbringing in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and focuses on her beginnings of stardom.  Her family moved to California when she was four, and she began performing publicly with her two older sisters.

Garland eventually auditioned with MGM at the age of 12, and she captivated the studio with her singing voice, which was much, much, much, much more mature than would be expected for a girl her age.

MGM struggled to figure out what to do with Garland because she was too old to be a child star, but too young to be an adult performer.  At a height of four feet and eleven-and-a-half inches, she was did not have the look of other tall, slender actresses at MGM, such as Lana Turner.  She was a “girl next door.”

Eventually, Garland was cast in her signature role, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  This film included her signature song “Over the Rainbow” which she would sing for the rest of her life.

Throughour the 1940s Garland became a big star; she also got married to Vincente Minnelli, and had her first child, Liza Minnelli, but there were lots of problems in her professional life.  Her dependency on drugs made it more and more difficult to keep up with the demands that MGM made of her.  She was fired from three films, and left MGM.

Despite this, she found renewed success on stage including, most notably on the Palace on Broadway.

Garland married again to Sid Luft, who, as her manager, was a big part in her success singing on stage.  They later had two children, Lorna and Joey Luft

Garland and Luft tried to make a comeback with the film A Star Is Born for Warner Bros., but the production was troubled.  Despite this, the film was very good and premiered to universally positive reviews.  Then Warner Bros. decided to cut about 30 minutes from the film, which caused outrage.  The film failed to make a profit, but Garland was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.  She was expected to win.  Since she had recently given birth, a camera crew was set up in her room to broadcast her acceptance speech.  However, Grace Kelly won for her role in The Country Girl.  The crew immediately packed up their equipment and left, without saying another word.

Through the rest of the 1950s, Garland performed on stage and on TV.  In the early 1960s she had her own show on CBS, The Judy Garland Show, but it lasted for only one season.

In 1969, Garland married her fifth husband, Mickey Deans in London, and they lived in the Chelsea neighborhood.  On June 22, 1969, Deans found Garland dead on the bathroom floor.  This ended the life of an incomparable singer, actress, and entertainer.

The documentary is one of my favorites because of the subject.  Garland was very talented.  But her talent was equally matched by the troubles of her life.  It was easy to see the triumphs and struggles of Garland’s life, and this was helped by the numerous amounts of archival footage, narration, and interviews with several the actors, musicians, and filmmakers that worked with Garland.  I really recommend this documentary to fans of Garland and fans of classic cinema.

 

 

 

Recap and Review of Boys (Original Title: Jongens)

Boys (originally called Jongens) is a Dutch film.  It was released on TV in the Netherlands in February of 2014.  It was so popular that it was re-released in theaters (that would never happen in America, where most TV movies are considered to be average at best, if they’re not on HBO).  It was later sold to other countries.  I saw it on Netflix.

The film is about a fifteen-year-old boy named Sieger who lives with his widowed father, Theo, and his rebellious older brother, Eddy.

Sieger and his best friend, Stef, are on the track team.  They both perform so well that they are chosen to join two other teammates, Marc and Tom, in an important relay race.  Sieger begins to form a bond with Marc who is free-spirited and quirky.

One day after practice, the four boys are riding their bikes when they decide to swim in a nearby river.  They decide to race to see who gets in the water first.  Marc rides his bike into the water while fully clothed.  The others find it hilarious.

After spending some time swimming, Sieger, Stef, and Tom, decide to leave to go home.  Marc begs Sieger to stay, but Sieger declines.  While riding his bike with Stef, Sieger waits until Stef is out of sight, and he return to the river.  Sieger and Marc spend time skipping rocks and swimming; all of this culminates with Marc kissing Sieger, and Sieger kissing Marc back.

Confused, Sieger denies being gay, to which Marc says, “Of course you’re not.”

Over time, the two boys begin spending more time together.  Sieger meets Marc’s family, and they grow very close.

But there is a hitch.

Sieger and Stef begin dating two girls, and Marc starts to feel jealous, especially when Sieger tries to ignore Marc in public.

One day, Sieger and Marc make plans to swim one evening so that they can catch up with each other.  However, the plans are interrupted when Theo informs Sieger that Eddy is nowhere to be found (Eddy clashed with Theo over various issues such as Theo taking away Eddy’s moped for punishment of Eddy’s various indiscretions), and so Sieger searches for his brother.

Sieger finds Eddy.  Eddy refuses to return home, but he gives Sieger a ride home which is interrupted when Eddy almost runs over Marc.  Sieger gets out of the car to confront Marc who demands to know Sieger never showed up to swim.  Sieger pushes Marc, out of fear of their relationship being exposed, and he gets back in the car.  Feeling guilty, Sieger, gets out of the car after Eddy refuses to stop.

The next day, Sieger meets Marc at the relay race; he tries to apologize, but Marc refuses to listen.  The team, nonetheless, wins the race.

Back at home, Sieger and Stef celebrate with Theo, who reconciles with Eddy and returns to him his moped.  Sieger, however, feels that something is missing.  He takes the moped, and the film ends with Seiger and giving Marc a ride on the moped, as they ride into the distance.

I thought that this movie was rather sweet.  It had beautiful cinematography.  And it shared a sweet story of how a type of relationship unfolded.  I really like movies that are somewhat intimate and are primarily about two people who get close with each other.  Whether the relationship is between lovers, family members, or friends, I am drawn to depictions of a type of intimate relationship being played out on screen.  What I want most of all is feeling close to somebody.

Sieger was an engaging character.  It was easy to empathize with him.  Lots of people struggle with self-discovery and an evolving sense of self, and of learning to be open about who they are.

Marc was also a great character.  He is one of those characters who shows you how to embrace all of the things that make you unique, all without making a big deal about it.

 

Review and Recap of Valley of the Dolls

In the summer of 2012, I discovered Valley of the Dolls on Netflix (I am sad to say that it not available on Netflix anymore, as of this writing; I found that out yesterday when trying to re-watch it for the umpteenth time.). I watched it, and enjoyed it greatly. This movie has been popular for nearly fifty years, and it considered to be one of the great cult camp classics.

The film was based on the novel of the same name by Jaqueline Susann. Susann wanted to become a famous actress, although her mother predicted that because of her high score on an IQ test, she would become a famous writer. Ever since Susann graduated from high school, she tried to become an actress, but never was successful, only getting small roles. She did have her own talk show on the now defunct and mostly forgotten early TV network, DuMont, called Jacqueline Susann’s Open Door, but it was short-lived.

In the 1960s, Susann drew upon her experiences in Hollywood, and she wrote her very first novel, Valley of the Dolls.  It became a huge hit, and in 1967, Twentieth Century Fox made it into a movie.  The movie was one of the top-grossing films of the year.  But it was universally panned by critics who called it poorly-written and acted and trashy.  Nonetheless, it has endured as a so-bad-it’s-good cult classic.

Valley of the Dolls tells the stories of three women dealing with the professional and personal struggles of stardom.

Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) is a ingenue from the small New England town of Lawrenceville who moves to New York City to start a new life and gain new experiences; she wants most of all to find out who she is what she wants from life.  Anne begins working as a secretary in a law firm for singers and actors.  While delivering contracts to egotistical Broadway veteran Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), who is preparing for a new musical, she meets and befriends Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), an up and coming actress and singer with a small role and single musical number in the show, and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), a showgirl who is quite sexy, but has no real talent and who is a backup dancer in the production.  In addition, in the office, she meets and begins a romance with Lyon Burke (Paul Burke), the nephew of one of the firm’s founders.  Their relationships run into trouble due to Lyon’s unwillingness to ever get married. Lyon leaves Anne to go to England to research a book he plans to write.  After this, Anne is offered a chance to be the face of a line of beauty products called Gillian’s by the company’s head, Kevin Gillmore (Charles Drake), due to her refined, natural, relatable, and elegant beauty.  Anne becomes a nation-wide celebrity known as the Gillian Girl and eventually becomes engaged to Kevin.  At the height of her fame, Anne has a chance encounter with Lyon and reunites with him, ending her engagement to Kevin.  In meantime, she attempts to support Neely and Jennifer throughout their struggles.  After learning that Lyon is cheating with Neely, she begins using dolls to cope, but soon she gives them up, leaves him, and returns home to Lawrenceville, realizing that it’s the only place where she can thrive.  Lyon begs her for forgiveness and asks her to marry him, but she turns him down, while suggesting that she might change her mind in the future.

Neely O’Hara is a talented young singer with a single number in a musical on Broadway, but Helen Lawson, the star of the show demands that her one song be cut from the show, as she fears being upstaged by Neely.  Despite this setback, and with the help of Lyon, Neely sings in a telethon, gains prominence, and decides to make it big in Hollywood.  With the support of boyfriend-turned husband, Mel (Martin Milner) and dolls—amphetamines to be alert throughout the day barbiturates to sleep at night—Neely becomes the biggest star in Hollywood, but Hollywood changes Neely for the worse, making her abrasive and egotistical.  Mel realizes that Neely is no longer the woman he married and leaves her; after their divorce, Neely marries Ted Casablanca, a fashion designer, but, the dolls and the pressures of stardom become too much to handle.  Ted leaves her for another woman due to her drug dependency and workload making her too tired to have sex.   Neely’s addictions cause her to become unreliable, and she is replaced by another actress on her latest movie.  To get away from everything, Neely travels to San Francisco.  While in a bar she plays one of her songs on a jukebox, and while singing along to it, a man insults her.  Angry, Neely throws her drink in face; he tries to attack her, but he is restrained, and Neely leaves the bar.   She walks among the city’s strip clubs and adult entertainment and sees a theater marquee advertising a pornographic film that Jennifer appeared in.  The next morning, Neely wakes up in a motel to a strange man stealing her money; distraught, she overdoses and wakes up to Anne and Lyon who checked her into a sanitarium.   Neely recovers and attempts to find new success on Broadway.  However, her egotistical behavior causes Lyon to quit being her manager.   Shortly before the premiere of her new musical, Neely takes dolls and drinks alcohol, leaving her in no condition to perform. Her understudy is sent to go on in her place.  The understudy is a sensation, and Neely walks around an alley and breaks down, realizing that she has lost everybody and everything in her life.

Jennifer North is a showgirl who despite having considerable sex appeal, is rather untalented.  Her jobs in the show business world consist of showing off her body.  She meets Tony Polar (Tony Scotti), a nightclub singer and begins an affair with him; despite the objections of his half-sister and manager Miriam (Lee Grant), Jennifer and Tony get married.  They move to Hollywood so that Tony can begin acting, but his success is limited.  Shortly after a studio drops his option, Tony suddenly has difficulty walking and forgets who Jennifer is; Miriam tells Jennifer that he has a  genetically-inherited disorder called Huntington’s chorea (now called Huntington’s disease) which is incurable and causes a person’s muscular and mental functions to gradually decrease.  Miriam explains that she and Tony had different fathers, that Tony’s father had the disease, and that she didn’t tell Tony because she was uncertain if would ever happen to him, and she knew it would distress him; the disease was the reason why Miriam objected to him getting married and why she put Tony and Jennifer on a strict budget because she needed to save as much money as possible for when he inevitably has to be committed.  Jennifer who is pregnant with Tony’s baby decides to have an abortion out of fear that the child will inherit the disorder.  Tony is committed in a sanitarium (which would now be called a psychiatric hospital) and to support him, Jennifer decides to appear in “art films,” which are actually soft-core pornographic films, in France; she hates the entire ordeal because when she married Tony she gave up doing jobs that require the exploitation of her body.  After making the films, Jennifer returns to America and finds that Tony’s disease has progressed to the point that he doesn’t remember who she is.  Shortly afterwards, Jennifer is diagnosed with breast cancer and must have a mastectomy, which distresses her because she has no talent and would no longer be able to use her only asset, her body, to earn a living and keep Tony in the sanitarium.  Feeling as though she has lost everything in the world that she has ever had, she commits suicide by taking an overdose of dolls.

Valley of the Dolls is a favorite of mine.

I do find it watchable, and I do not think it’s too bad.  But it has some major flaws.

One of them is hammy and forced and stilted acting.  Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara does not act some dramatic scenes well enough, and they come across as almost comical.

Bad dialogue.  My favorite line in the film is the scene where Jennifer North is attending a screening of an erotic film she starred in, and her character’s husband says in French after she reaches orgasm and knocks over a bottle of wine and two glasses on the floor, “Gabrielle, the wine almost fell in my shoes.”  Nobody says stuff like that.  Another gem in that scene is this exchange:

Jennifer’s character Gabrielle: If you were not my husband, I would be crazy about you.

Gabrielle’s husband: I will get a divorce tomorrow.

Undeveloped storylines: Late in the film, after Lyon Burke, Anne Welles’s boyfriend accompanies Neely back to New York for her planned comeback on Broadway, they begin an affair.  Anne is devastated and begins using sleeping pills to cope.  But she realizes that she is going on the same path of destruction that Neely and Jennifer (who by that point in the movie had taken her own life), and she gives up the pills and returns to her New England hometown.  The Neely/Lyon affair comes out of nowhere.  I didn’t even notice it the first time I watched the film.

Regardless, I enjoy the film because the story and characters always remain interesting.  What draws me to the film is its depiction of Hollywood and stardom.  It is not all fun and glamour.  People try to destroy you in order to avoid being replaced by you.  You are exploited just because you are sexy, and not because of any talent.  People make impossible demands of you, and they forget that you are a human being and not invincible.  Film shoots often do not go as planned.  While the film did not do the best at addressing these issues, due to how disjointed it is, it was fascinating to watch she challenges unfold on the screen.

Review and Recap of the Documentary, Marilyn: The Final Days and the Film, Something’s Got to Give

Multiple times on YouTube, I have watched and re-watched the documentary Marilyn: The Finals Days.  It focused on the final days in the life of iconic actress, Marilyn Monroe, and they were as tumultuous as many of the other moments in her life.

Monroe signed on the do the film Something’s Got to Give for 20th Century Fox.  It was directed by George Cukor, and it co-starred Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse.  The plot of the film was as follows: Ellen Arden has been lost as sea for five years.  Her husband, Nick Arden, has her declared legally dead, and he marries his second wife Bianca Steele Arden.  The same day, Ellen is rescued and returns home.  This leads to complications as Nick must tell Bianca the truth of Ellen’s rescue, but he becomes jealous when he learns that Ellen was stranded on an island with a man.

The production of the film was very troubled.  Cukor was reluctant to work with Monroe after her unreliable behavior on the set of Let’s Make Love.  In fact, Monroe was very difficult to work with.  Nearly every film she did was over budget and behind schedule.  She often was absent and late on the set due to mental conditions, physical aliments, emotional issues, among other struggles.  And Fox had even bigger worries, their film Cleopatra was even more behind schedule and even more over budget.  Something’s Got to Give was intended to be released by October 1962 so as to help raise desperately needed money for the studio.

In addition to the the studio’s financial woes and Monroe’s reputation for unreliability, the film had no finished script, and constant re-writes put the film over budget before any footage had been shot.

Filming was scheduled to begin on April 16, 1962, but Cukor chose to delay filming by a week to April 23, 1926, and Monroe traveled from Los Angeles to New York City, to go over her role with the help of acting coaches Lee and Paula Strasberg at The Actors Studio; Monroe had been studying there and with the Strasbergs for several years in order to improve her acting skills, so that she could show the world that she is more than just a dumb blonde sex object.  When she returned, Monroe became ill; she had caught a cold from Paula, which developed into something far worse.

On the day filming was to begin, Monroe called in sick, and the studio doctor said that she has sinusitis; it was recommended that filming be delayed by one month so that Monroe could fully recover, but the studio refused.  Cukor re-organized the schedule to shoot scenes without Monroe.

Monroe reported for work for the first time on April 30, 1962.

Monroe was frequently absent from work because of her illnesses which included sinusitis, bronchitis, fevers, and headaches.  This pushed the film behind scheduled and even more over budget. but soon, the cast and crew were getting tired of her.   Many felt that she was not really sick at all.  They so no evidence of her being unwell.  The film fell ten days behind schedule. When time came for her to sing at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday gala in New York, the studio did not want her to go although she had been given permission to attend before filming started.

Monroe went anyway, and this was an iconic moment in her life, when she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”

Fox was furious.  But Monroe attended work regularly during  the next several days.  And she filmed her iconic nude scene which helped give the film more publicity, and it put the her back in the studio’s good graces.

On June 1, 1962, Monroe turned 36.  The crew wanted to celebrate as soon as she arrived on set, but Cukor insisted that they wait until the end of the working day.  After a simple celebration, Monroe attended a Muscular Dystrophy benefit at Dodger Stadium.

The following Monday, Monroe called in sick yet again.  The cold weather on the night of the benefit caused her to get a fever.  Fox had enough.  They fired her for breach of contract.  All of the cast and crew were suspended.

There were plans to replace Monroe, but Martin refused to do the film without Monroe.  Monroe and Fox came to a new deal.  Monroe would be paid one million dollars to do two films for Fox, and Fox agreed to replace Cukor with Jean Negulesco whom she had worked with on How to Marry a Millionaire  Monroe also agreed to not have her acting coach, Paula Strasberg on the set.  Strasberg was unpopular because many of Monroe’s directors felt that they had less control over Monroe than Strasberg did.  The contract was signed on August 1, 1962.  The film was to resume production in October.

On August 5, 1962, Monroe was found dead of an overdose.  The film was shut down.

The documentary then mentioned Monroe’s unforgettable legacy, and the impact she has had on countless people since her death.

(It is mentioned that eventually Fox, started over from scratch and remade the film as Move Over, Darling, starring, Doris Day, James Garner, and Polly Bergen.)

What I found fascinating about the documentary was the struggles that were depicted.  The struggles that Monroe had personally, and the struggles of the studio were very clear discussed.  There were numerous talking head interviews from several people who knew Monroe, such as Cyd Chrassise, producer Henry T. Weinstein, the Strasbergs’ daughter Susan Strasberg, Monroe’s internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, among others, who gave their own insight about Monroe and the film’s troubled production.   And there was plenty of archival footage and photographs

The next part of the documentary is a reconstruction of Something’s Got to Give.  Most of the footage was unseen for many decades until for the documentary, it was restored and edited into a 37-minute segment, which served to give people an example of what it may have looked like, had it been released as planned.

It’s hard to review the film.  On the one hand, it feels unfair to criticize a movie that was never finished.  However, with all things being considered, it was not very bad.  With what few scenes were completed and edited together, it seems very interesting.  There are funny moments.  And despite there being many gaps in the narrative, everything is coherent, and it ends with a resolution of a kind.

The documentary can be seen here, with the film immediately following:

The film can bee seen by itself here:

And you can see some raw-unedited footage here.