More may never have been less than in the new five-hour, yes five-hour, CBS production of "Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls," the kind of undertaking that inspires the mildly tantalizing question: How good could it have been even if it had been any good?
The leaden and laborious remake, at 9 tonight and 8 tomorrow night on Channel 9, supposedly "updates" Susann's 1966 novel and the 1967 movie of it, but the '80s Hollywood in which the film is set is one where no one seems to have discovered cocaine and everyone in the film business is running around making movie musicals, which died even before Susann did.
It's still basically the tale of three ambitious little girls in the big bad valley of the dollars, though in the five-hour version (Five hours! I still don't believe it!), it seems like forever before anybody pops a pill, which is what the "dolls" refers to, isn't it? Well isn't it?
Writer Laurence Heath and director Walter Grauman apparently meant this as a kind of pale shadow cast by the first movie, which seemed lousy enough in its day but which looks like truth, beauty and your favorite easy chair compared to the remake. For five hours we're supposed to worry about whether or not rock star Tony Polar, played by talk-show hobo Bert Convy, is going to turn into "a vegetable." Bert Convy should be so lucky! This movie is so unforgivably false that when he does turn into a vegetable, he looks more like, oh, a mineral.
The three dames at sea are smart-cookie lawyer Ann Welles, played as a combination of Miss Fixit and Tweetie Pie by Catherine Hicks ("Marilyn" in last season's ABC movie bio); that not-very-together chick Neeley O'Hara, played whimperingly by Lisa Hartman; and Jennifer North, who doesn't have the heart to tell Tony Polar he's going to turn into a vegetable so she goes to Paris and has a lesbian affair with a sculptor but returns to America and is told she has cancer and must undergo a double mastectomy and kills herself with sleeping pills in the Malibu Beach house of cosmetics magnate Kevin Gillmore (Gary Collins, another talk-show cipher), who lost his first wife to cancer, too. Jennifer is played by Veronica Hamel, of "Hill Street Blues," and shame on her.
Nothing much happens in the first two hours, except that all the characters pair off in mutually predatory teams immediately upon being introduced to one another (Hollywood -- so wicked) and ultra-insipid David Birney, as movie director Lyon Burke, gets to recite a deeply ironic lamentation about the scarcity of young talent and the dominance of plastic-wrapped entertainment. It's like listening to Charles Manson call for law and order.
But in part two, some of Susann's more lustily blustery scenes are restaged. Neeley again flushes down the toilet the wig of aging star Helen Lawson, played by a still attractive Jean Simmons. This is after Neeley has been seduced by Teddi Casablanca, a crafty hairdresser (is this a reference to Barbra Streisand and Jon Peters? Oh, who cares?) who takes over her life until she catches him smooching another cutie. Neeley: "You're a liar!" Slap! Teddi: "You pig! You slob!" After that, it's only a hop, skip and a slump to the roof of Nelley's hotel, from which she is coaxed out of jumping by Ann and Lyon.
Lyon: "Is he that good, Neeley? Is he that good in the sack?" Neeley: "He's not bad."
In the ambulance, Lyon offers her the Hollywood gospel: "You're going to have to start to love yourself, ya know?" Later, Neeley freaks but good and is sent off to Crazy Acres where she runs into The Vegetable, whose girlfriend has by this time had a session with a not-very-comforting gynecologist played by Kathleen Nolan (in her better days, Kate of "The Real McCoys").
Besides Simmons, the only performer who can walk away from this wreck with head held high is James Coburn, who plays Henry Bellamy, boss of a show-biz conglomerate; Bellamy doesn't go to bed with any of the women in the cast until part two. Since everyone else has made straight for the hay posthaste, you wonder what's wrong with Henry. Is he gay? Coburn perhaps took this role as the ultimate test of his dignity.
Dionne Warwick, who sang the title tune for the first movie, sings a new, and naturally inferior, title tune for this one. Costume designer Jean-Pierre Dorleac has a cameo as himself. The executive producer is Susann's surviving husband, Irving Mansfield.
In September, 20th Century-Fox broke the glad news that CBS had expanded its order from four to five hours for a new "Valley of the Dolls." Producer Renee Valente was quoted as saying, "CBS deserves a lot of credit for making this rare move instead of cutting the heart out of the film" and "We needed the extra hour to stay true to the story we wanted told."
These people actually think they are in the entertainment business! They actually believe they are telling stories with hearts in them! You watch something like "Valley of the Dolls" and you wonder how much more dehumanized and dull pop pulp can possibly get. It is a shivaree of the living dead.