Sunday, 20 December 2015

'EMPRESS' BY SYLVIA WALLACE





In the early 2000 I discovered—what would become a goldmine of mine for the next decade or so—a gigantic used bookstore in downtown Ottawa. Called The Book Market, it held three floors of blast-from-the-past goodies verging from fiction to non-fiction.  So you can imagine the thrill I felt that first time around filling up my basket with many ‘80s glitz and glam novels; aisles and aisles of them; so much so that as of today many titles in my overflowed library are still unread.  EMPRESS by Sylvia Wallace (the other half of bestselling author Irving Wallace) isn’t one of them.  I picked it up quite early, and with good reasons.  It’s all about “a woman on a dangerous pinnacle of love and power” during her decadence days in Hollywood and beyond. And you all know by now how I feel about those types of heroines in those types of novels: Heavenly!


You also know that this feeling can easily turn on you when you least expect it, even when you’re on the verge of declaring the novel a champion.  Yes, dear readers, that’s exactly what this Sylvia Wallace’s creation has done to yours truly.  This story of an insecure movie star who naively marries a Middle Eastern Shah is such a grabber at first, filled with many delectable and even emotional scenes. Wallace's writing is vibrant as she introduces her colorful cast of characters via many flashbacks, which skillfully humanize her heroine. The discovery of the sham around her makes for an intense read. One can't help but root for her ability to fight back. And does she. Yet, ironically, that's exactly where the downfall of what was a truly unique reading experience begins: EMPRESS switches gears and becomes a serious political drama. The author tries hard to hold her readers through it, with a kidnapping, a shooting, a true love for oneself and for a country, but it’s already too late. The damage is done. The thrill of escapist fiction is gone, and EMPRESS ends up being just so-so. Perhaps Ms. Wallace should have been told that politics and light reading don't mix very well—in my case anyway.
 

The used bookstore where I got tons of mass market paperbacks like this one is no more.  It has closed its doors in 2013 after many successful years.  Another branch still exists but like EMPRESS it barely fills my heart with joy since it is as small as my reading room.  But I am so thankful of having discovered downtown Book Market because it led me to find other unknown writers whom I came to love and cherish still.  In the era of the digital publishing isn’t it fun to own a piece or two of forgotten gem that shouldn’t have been?

  

Until next post—Martin

US hardcover
 

 

Monday, 7 December 2015

'MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER' BY JUDITH KRANTZ




OK, let me start this review by saying that of course I adore big family-oriented sagas with many sins and oh-so many secrets. I'm always the first in line when any book resembling what is already mentioned comes out. So imagine my joy when picking up (thirty odd years later, mind you) the paperback edition of MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER by the lady of all lady writers, Judith Krantz.  The Judith Krantz who has made PRINCESS DAISY such a fun and addictive read. Not to mention the classic of all classics, SCRUPLES. Two great books which deserved all of their mega-successes. 

 
 
Well, dear readers, I guess the saying three's a crowd is true, for Krantz's third novel may have been another smash to many eyes, but not so much to yours truly. Don't get me wrong, all the melodrama is in there: the innocent yet bold heroine, the manipulative and abusive foe, the temperamental but loving hero, steamy steamy love scenes galore... well, you get my drift.
 

Despite those pluses, somehow Krantz failed to capture the essence of her first two novels. The desire, the need to tell a great story behind the glitz and glamour is there yet missing. It's as if a wall has been built up between Krantz's talent and deadline, and her need to stay on automatic pilot was her safest bet.
 

Indeed, in her third outing originality is out the door and replaced by a paint-by-the-numbers plot and tiresome descriptions of sceneries and cathedrals. Yes, Mistral is a painter and Krantz tries her best to be true to him, but the line between reality and fiction can only be saved by editing and, alas, in Mistral's Daughter, editing is in constant need.
 

That said, the novel is still better than many releases out there. Judith Krantz is at her best when she lets her imagination run wild, and there are parts in Mistral's that are pure Krantz. The bowl of fruit scene, for instance, where Maggie, dressed in nothing but painted fruits, struts her stuff (in pre-second World War II) for all the world to see. Krantz can easily make the unbelievable believable. Plus any scenes involving the character of evil Kate is pure delight. The last one in which she discovers she will no longer be needed is so perfectly told I was enthralled by Krantz's talent as a writer. If only these sparks of ingenuity could have been constant, MISTRAL'S DAUGHTER would have been another hit in my eyes as well.
 


 


 
Until next post—Martin


US hardcover


 


Sunday, 22 November 2015

'FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC' AND I




In the spring of 1981 a high-school friend of mine—who shall remain nameless (Sophie Viola)—had the paperback copy of FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC in her hands.  I asked her what it was about. “A girl who is possessed”, she answered.  Cool, I thought.  Since I had become an avid horror reader, I was thoroughly interested. I quickly got a copy of my own and plunged in.  Suffice to say, it was far from being what I expected. I also discovered soon afterwards that my friend was a pathological liar, which didn’t surprise me really since I seemed to attract those types of people at the time.  The last I heard of her she was living somewhere with someone while still owing me the 20 bucks I had loaned her for the Olivia Newton-John concert back in ‘82. 


Still, despite of my being conned about the novel, I devoured FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC.  In fact, I so couldn’t get enough of it that I jumped right into its sequels.  You could say that this newfound addiction was the beginning of what I now call my trashy period.  Because from then on I was glued, people, glued to this melodramatic world where good wins over evil and life can be peaceful and gay again.  Well, peaceful at least.  The gay thing would occur a couple of years later.
  

It was during the time I knew zilch about what supposedly makes a good novel, and to me, this one was the bomb.  Kids locked up in an attic, sex between a bro and a sis, a crazed grandmother…   How can you not love this?  Well, it turns out that a lot of people didn’t, calling it garbage, unreadable, a piece of crap.  And you know what?  Some 30 years later I still think they’re wrong.  The novel is far from being perfect, I admit, but pure crap?  No way.  It’s as engrossing as any “serious” piece out there, and that includes the work from those ill-mannered guys.  


Alas, the author died in ’86 and cannot defend her honor any longer.  But the Andrews clan can and did by simply continuing the VCA winning streak, using Andrew Neiderman to take over and ghostwrite other books.  He did a pretty good job finding the essence of the late novelist but lost me right after the Runaway series which became too YA for my taste. 



As of now, six adaptations have made it on screen, the latest being the last of the Dollanganger series, SEEDS OF YESTERDAY (a seventh is on its way with MY SWEET AUDRINA airing next year on the Lifetime channel).  Besides the theatrical 1986 release of FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC which I enjoyed somewhat (“eat the cookie!”), I admit I have yet to see them.   I don’t really intend to unless there’s nothing else on TV which rarely happens.  But if it does, I already have the films stored up on my DVD player just in case.  From what I have seen of the new FLOWERS, however, it looks shoddily-made.  But I could be wrong.  We’ll see.   



What I will always treasure though is the love I had and still have for this spotlight book and for the rest of the series.  It filled my days with joy, counterbalancing the hate I got for being different.  I may have abandoned the Andrews wagon but I will always remember the novels fondly.  And just so you know, I’m happy they turned out to be a whole different vibe from what my friend at the time thought them to be.  Imagine FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC being about a girl possessed.  Surely it would have been as forgettable as many of the horror novels published at that time.  So thanks for the tip, Sophie, wherever you are.  I still want my 20 bucks, though.

  

 


Until next post—Martin   



The author


 


 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Friday, 9 October 2015

BAD GIRLS CLUB: BETTE DAVIS IN 'BEYOND THE FOREST' (1949)





Ever since I heard how wonderfully awful 1949 BEYOND THE FOREST was I made my life mission to track it down.  But alas the journey to there has been far from easy since the DVD version of the film is MIA in North America; something to do with rights or some legal crap.   Anyway, to make a long story shorter, after years of coming up short I finally got my hands on a copy.  How?  I will never tell. ‘Cause if I do, I’d have to kill you.  And I would have none of that.  You guys mean too much to me.  But let just say that the find was unexpected and so worth it.   
 

The film stars the great Bette Davis.  In it she plays a restless aging small town doctor’s wife who sports not only a Morticia Adams black wig but has an Alexis Carrington bitchiness about her that makes you smile a lot.  Chewing the scenery whenever she can, she struts her tush aplenty, uttering kitschy lines like the infamous “what a dump” (regarding her modest house) to her amorous but impoverished hubby Joseph Cotton who mostly ignores her antics.  And just like Alexis, she uses her charms and cunning ways to get what she wants, most noticeably when hooking up with city-based business man Neil Latimer who promises her the world.  But when he doesn’t hold his end of the bargain Davis is humiliated and forced to settle back to a life she hates. 
 
When she is expecting a child from her husband later on and on the verge of accepting her fate as a small-town citizen, Latimer reappears and announces that he wants her after all. Enthusiastic to say the least, Davis plans an escape route that involves the murder of her hubby’s BFF who wants to throw her under the bus; a quick trial; a self-imposed miscarriage by jumping over an embankment; and a trudge toward an awaiting train that ends up being one of the longest scenes in movie history.  In between you get an overall keen eye from director King Vidor, a wonderful score from famed composer Max Steiner (GONE WITH THE WIND), a definitive film noir look from Hitchcock’s fave cinematographer Robert Burks, and plenty of over the top moments from la Bette. 


Rumor has it that Davis was contractedly forced to make BEYOND THE FOREST and that she was less than a happy trooper.  Fights with the director and producers led to an unhappy set.  Still despite her overblown performance she manages to be quite effective as a long in the tooth crazed vixen.  The novel on which the film is based depicts the character to be much younger, but Davis makes it her own and gives the film an interesting twist.  There are times when you can almost feel her desperation.  Far from being perfect, BEYOND THE FOREST is certainly enjoyable.  This portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown will leave no one unfazed—whether you like your films campy or not.

 


 

Until next post—Martin
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

FAREWELL, JACKIE COLLINS





 

True story: when Jackie Collins succumbed to breast cancer on September 19th I had a dream that day that a different author had died: Judith Krantz of SCRUPLES fame. Woke up in a flash, all confused and tense, wondering why the heck I had dreamt about her passing.  Was this some sort of a premonition, an ESP kind of thing?  I immediately got up and hurried over to my PC to check if my prediction was correct.  It was not—thank God.  So I went back to bed, shaking my head in discouragement for having been such a drama queen—totally clueless to the fact that another grand dame of commercial fiction had just met her maker.
 
Yes, the queen of fluff is gone, kids.  And this sucks—big time.  Like many of you I had spent many hours reading her work, wishing that one day we would meet face to face.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  But I got the next best thing.  We became acquaintances online.  But to tell you the truth, I doubt she really knew who I was.  Because let’s face it, she had millions of fans like moi.  And between writing her many sizzlers and promoting them extensively, she barely had time to socialize with any of us.  Still it felt good getting a quick e-mail from her acknowledging a comment of sort; or being picked at a Q & A live stream during one of her book tours; or the best, having her retweeting me because I blogged about one of her titles or acknowledged one of her adapted films or mini-series.  We may not have been close friends in the real sense of the word but in my mind it felt like we were.  
 
Having been around the block a few times, I occasionally let myself be tempted by other genres (horror mostly).  But because of Collins I always return to my first love: glam fiction. It gives me the extra oomph I need whenever the world seems cold and distant.  And now that she’s gone, I need the escape more than ever. I’ll probably pick up her latest, but before I do that, tell me this: why do we always wait until someone has passed on to finally acknowledge all the good they have brought into our lives?  I mean I could have easily told her how I felt when she was around. I think it would have pleased her, even touched her. Then again, she probably knew it already. I just wonder if she really was aware of how much of an impact she had on people, especially on the gay community.  She was one of the few commercial writers who embraced the gay lifestyle in her work. She made no qualms about it and got a whole new readership in return. Whether this was coming from the heart or a simple use of business acumen (or both) barely matters.  What does is that she was indeed a kick-ass writer and I will miss her dearly.  So here’s to you, Jackie Collins.  Hope they make room for your steamy novels up there.  If not, I’m sure you’ll break the mold—as you always have done.





  
Until next post—Martin



Tuesday, 15 September 2015

OLIVIA GOLDSMITH’S 'FLAVOR OF THE MONTH'




The first time I ever came across an Olivia Goldsmith novel was when I purchased FLAVOR OF THE MONTH in hardcover. It was on discount and I just couldn’t pass it up. I mean look at that sleazy cover.   Right up my alley, I must say. The year was 1994 and I was living at my parent’s place after a row with a rat in my flat’s wall (don’t ask). I read many novels during that brief stay. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism for having returned home with my tail between my legs (wipe that smirk off your face). You see, I didn’t have the greatest relationship with my folks. Not that they are horrible people, au contraire; they have always been present whenever one of us kids was in trouble. But they just are not very demonstrative people. But that’s OK. I understand now, being older and all, that love is shown in many different forms, and being there is one of them.


Anyway, as I was saying, Olivia Goldsmith automatically became a must-read author after I finished FLAVOR OF THE MONTH.  The story centers around three gorgeous newcomers who make it big when their TV show becomes an instant hit (à la CHARLIE’S ANGELS but on motorcycles).  Just like the readers of this novel, they too get caught up into this fast-lane world of lovers, cheaters, users, back-stabbers, and soon all end up paying big time for fame (of course).  The one who suffers the most (at least I thought she did when I read it in ’94) is Texan Sharleen whose naïve streak makes her the most gullible of the three. Her sexual abuse on the Hollywood hills by a bigwig still resonates with me after all these years.  Of course the other two main ladies get plenty of page time of their own but that Texan chick is really what made me turn the pages quicker.

Narrated by a fictional reporter to the stars, the story does nothing but glide along smoothly with many secrets and sins peeled away and one whooper of a revelation that I came to figure out (being an old pro at the game even back then) which will unlikely happen to most of you. The author clearly has a ball keeping up the pace, and although it’s a big-ass book, not once did I feel the plot drag. Rarely comes a novel as perfectly tweaked and tucked as is this one. 
 
How I wish they would have made a miniseries out of it.  It could have been a spectacular two or three-night event à la LACE with lavish settings and costumes, not to mention hot mamas and papas.  But it was not meant to be.  But at least we got to see that same year Goldsmith’s debut novel THE FIRST WIVES CLUB hit the big screen with big fanfares.  10 years later she would pass away from cosmetic surgery complication (kind of ironic knowing that one of her main characters in FLAVOR goes from ugly duckling to swan after numerous procedures).  In addition to those two, she left behind nine more novels which were all grand in their own way.  I’m still trying to go through some of them (so many books so little time) but whatever read comes next, this spotlighted novel will always be held dear to my heart.  It made a big impact on me at that time and I’m sure it will do the same for you given half a chance. 
 

FLAVOR OF THE MONTH is available digitally from Diversion Books.

 

 

 

Until next post—Martin
 
US paperback
UK paperback


 






 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

'SCANDALOUS LIES' AND NIGEL MAY




They say the first rule to writing good fiction is to write about what you know.  Well, if that’s the case, UK author Nigel May is one heck of a dirty old man.  His third offering SCANDALOUS LIES is nothing but sex, sex, sex; sex in toolsheds, sex in hotel suites, sex in RVs...  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially when it’s as well-balanced as is the main plot—all about the disappearance of a curvaceous TV dancer and her hottie boyfriend.  Around it swirl a bunch of Hollywood biggies and British wannabees whose own stories mirror the ones found in every supermarket and online tabloids.  Drug addiction, fame addiction, and yes, sex addiction, nothing is spared.   And it’s fast-paced.  So much so that, sometimes, you almost feel as if the author needs to keep the ball rolling for fear of losing his readers.  But despite of that, SCANDALOUS LIES delivers.  It is as much fun as binge-watching every episode of a frothy prime time TV series.
 
 
 
And just like many of his characters, Nigel May may very well be on his way to superstardom. His first two novels were self-published until Bookouture snagged his third and released all three as digital books and softcovers.  Last checked, the man was doing really fine sales-wise.  I am not surprised.  He certainly has the flair for it.  Besides, we need another male author in this female-domintated field.  And who better than an already established TV personality (he’s the host of a home shopping program, among other things) with a passion for fluff, glam and smut.
 
 
 

Until next post—Martin
 
Nigel May

 

 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

'DYNASTY', SEASON FIVE (1984-1985)





The one thing I must bring up right away in regards to DYNASTY’s fifth season is the constant abuse of Fallon’s hotel name, La Mirage.  It is not La but Le.  If you plan on using a French pronoun, use it wisely.  Now on to other scandals: this is the season where we are introduced to Amanda, Blake and Alexi’s third child.  Yes, they have another one. What next, a black child?  Wait, Dominique’s already there so scratch that.  Amanda comes from London and wears a sad face—permanently.  I guess if you’ve been hiding away overseas after all these years you ought to be unhappy. Or is it just that she is bad acting? Anyway, Alexis refuses to acknowledge that she’s Blake’s child.  It takes a couple of episodes to confirm it.  In the meantime Fallon mysteriously vanishes and ends up dead in a plane crash—or is she?  In real life, actress Pamela Sue Martin wants out and big boss Aaron Spelling regretfully obliges.  Jeff, however, has a hard time handling this, Fallon’s disappearance I mean.   They were supposed to remarry and he is just devastated, devastated.  So against his better judgment, he sets out to find her.  But she’s gone damn it, she’s gone—or is she? 
 

Alexis and her red gown get out of the slammer after posting bail.  Remember, she is accused of pushing to his death Mark Jennings from a high rise balcony, but we have a hunch she’s innocent.  And right we are when the culprit turns out to be Neal McVane (VALLEY OF THE DOLLS Paul Burke) who has had a vendetta against Alexis for a couple of seasons now.  Imagine this: he dressed up as Alexis with the shoulder pads and all just so any witness (Steven in this case—whose drag radar is clearly off) would think it’s her.  I wonder if he used one of her wigs. I doubt it.  Like her clothes, she must put them under lock and key. I know I would. 
 

Blake refuses to believe that Dominique is related to him.  How wrong he is, for her mom banged his dad and voila, Dominique.  She has proof.  He wants none of it but comes to accept it later on.  Meanwhile all this nonsense puts a strain on Krystle’s pregnancy (yes, she’s with child) and she goes into premature labor, but don’t worry, the baby’s fine.  They even call her Kristina, the poor thing.  Let’s just hope that her mom doesn’t force her to have the same hairdo later on. Huh, wait...  On the other side of the mansion, Claudia and Steven have marital problems.  She wants him, he wants newcomer Luke (who wouldn’t?).   Luke wins.  Not before having to confront the wife which would shake any gay fellow.  Speaking of gay dudes, in comes Daniel Reece, played by the legendary Rock Hudson.  He is Sammy Jo’s dad, a millionaire.  He has the hots for Krystle and since Krystle is not too fond of Blake these days, she is tempted.  He kisses her one day and all hell breaks loose, off-camera mostly.  This is the controversial season where it is revealed that Mr. Hudson has AIDS.  Has Linda Evans contracted it too?  Not to worry, we learn that it is transmitted only through blood and semen.  Unless she banged the guy in between scenes, which I sincerely doubt, she’s just fine.  Mr. Hudson passes away a few months later.  Rest in peace, sir. 

This is also the season where guest stars pop up: from Hudson to MAHOGANY Billie Dee Williams to LOVE STORY Ali McGraw.  The latter plays a renowned photographer who wants Blake but ends up with Jeff instead.  She helps him deal with Fallon’s apparent death.  Just as Luke does with Stephen’s homosexual urges (yay it’s back on!).  But before we can say happiness the couples are torn apart by the Moldavian massacre (the what?).  Indeed, during the wedding ceremony between Amanda and her prince charming Michael (whom she has chosen over mom’s hubby Dex—don’t ask) armed revolutionaries invade the chapel and shoot everyone.  Who will live who will die?  That, dear readers, the next season answers.  In the meantime back in Denver, Sammy Jo is fuming over the fact that her inheritance from daddy Reece who, like in real life, has died unexpectedly, is managed by her aunty Krystle.  She plans her own attack for season six, which indirectly states the outcome of Krystle’s chance of surviving in Moldavia (but did we really have any doubt?).  The season also ends with the revelation that Fallon isn’t dead after all.  She just changed faces and accents.  Gasp and double gasp—not.  

 

Until next post—Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, 20 July 2015

UNTAMED YOUTH (1957)





Mamie Van Doren plays a groovy drifter in the low-grade but enjoyable UNTAMED YOUTH.  In fact, she is so groovy that even the slammer can’t crush her spirit.  That is, if you can count cotton-picking on a farm as a prison sentence.  Yes, she and her younger sis are stuck there for 30 days after some dumb cop found them frolicking in a pond with no clothes on. In between working like a dog and sweating like pigs, Mamie sings.  She sings a lot.  In fact, that’s all she does.  She barely talks.  And she has top billing.  But the film really belongs to John Russell who plays the crooked warden.  He, along with his two vicious Dobermans, parades around abusing anyone just for the kick of it.  He lies, he cheats, he even marries the town old judge—whom he obviously despises—just so he can get ahead.  She, on the other hand, worships the ground he walks on, until she finally sees the evil of his ways—with the help from her hunky good guy son and his soon-to-be girlfriend, inmate Lori Nelson, Mamie’s sis.  Following me so far?  Good.   
 

The rest of the film focuses on the kids partying after a grueling day in the field. Tiredness is out of the question.  They need to loosen up and fast.   So much so that you’ll wonder if someone has secretly put something in their drinks just so they can mimic the overzealous dance routine in REEFER MADNESS.  One thing I must make clear right away: though it is a prison film, no drugs or alcohol is involved with this bunch.  They are as clean and proper as any PG-13 prisoners can be.  In fact, they are so goody goody in their ways that you almost wish someone would decide to get down and dirty with Mamie; put her in a mud wrestling competition for instance.  But no such luck. What we get instead is a bitch slap scene between Nelson and some other female con and that’s it (“Don’t hit me in the mouth again.  You’ll break my dental plate.”)


Warner Brothers had high hopes to cash in on Van Doren’s sex kitten appeal, and it did pay off despite her minimal talent.  Had I been a straight teen back in those days I would have drooled over her as well.  I mean, look at her.  All the right forms in the right places… She definitely is the epitome of a wet dream.  And that pointed bra.  She could easily yank an eye out with them puppies.  But thankfully she spares everyone, including fellow inmate and teen fave Eddie Cochran.  Too bad his career was short-lived (car accident), for he really rocks as the dude who refuses to be called a Cotton-Picker (the name of the song which, strangely enough, is very catchy). 



If having a big rack or belting out silly songs isn’t good enough for you, the film also features two guys dancing with each other.  Yes, two guys, swinging and swiveling while Mamie and other chicks just stand around looking happy as a clam. Or is it just that they are too dimwitted to notice?  In any case, the film was way ahead of its time, and I applaud director Howard W. Kosch for it (who subsequently became this big producer of glittery dramas such as TV’s HOLLYWOOD WIVES and ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH with Kirk Douglas). I even found myself looking for those same boys later on and almost spotted them dancing again, but got fooled by a short-haired girl. 



As expected, the critics panned UNTAMED YOUTH but the film did please some moviegoers.  It is now hailed as a semi-camp classic (as many other Van Doren vehicles, for that matter) and I can see why.  As much juvenile as the whole thing is, it does have a certain charm.  Blame this mostly on the B-grade star power Mamie has, or on the film’s ability to entertain despite its cliché-ridden plot.  Who really knows?  But the one thing I am sure: big pointy melons can do wonders for a male audience (and for some female too).   I say check out UNTAMED YOUTH.  You’ll either laugh at it or cringe.  Depends what rocks your boat.   
 
 



 
Until next post—Martin
 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

'CROWN SABLE' BY JANICE YOUNG BROOKS




As any vintage book lover, I’m always on the lookout for the next title to add to my list.  So this means a lot of searching online or in actual used book stores (yes, some do still exist).  But what’s most rewarding is when you find the one book that you’ve been dying to read; like this reviewed title, CROWN SABLE by Janice Young Brooks (Onyx Books 1987), better known today as mystery writer Jill Churchill.  At first glance CROWN SABLE looks like the perfect summer read.  You know, a gripping tale amidst a lot of fluff and scandals.  Well as it turns out, the book is more a serious period piece than expected, thus less rewarding.  But still an enjoyable read.
 

The story takes place in America at the turn of the 20th century and revolves around a poor Russian immigrant lost in the Big Apple and who desperately wants to make something of her life.  For this particular storyline, sewing (what else?) is what makes her motor going.  Enter an older fashion king who sees big talent and revenue in her, and under his tutelage she becomes a great seamstress of fur (PeTA loyals beware) but with a faux background to fool the snobs.  In between keeping up with the charade, she gets married, sends for the rest of her Russian family, separates from her hubby; welcomes a lover… Ever since the success of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE, copycat novels like this one have filled the market, and why the heck not.  If it ain’t broken…
 
The best thing about CROWN SABLE is the same thing that ends up in a way hurting it: its narrative.  Strong and rich, it flows rather breezily without any flaws apparent.  One can even be in awe at its sheer efficacy.  The downside to all of that perfectness, however, is that it reaches even its main character, which comes about being just too clean and proper for my taste.  Even though she suffers immensely like any great heroine should, the overall effect is not as dramatic as it should be had she been more flawed.  Still, I say go for it if you want to try this author, especially if you’re into Danielle Steel.  They have the same vibes.  I just don’t think I’m impressed enough to go on with her backlist. 

 
 
 
Until next post—Martin


UK edition
 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Monday, 22 June 2015

JACQUELINE SUSANN’S VALLEY OF THE DOLLS “1981”





I’ve been waiting eagerly for the release of the  JACQUELINE SUSANN’S VALLEY OF THE DOLLS TV remake on DVD, but still no such luck.  And I’m not talking about the forgettable ‘90s late-night soap opera that starred Sally Kirkland and her  hair but about the two-parter mini-series event that came our way in 1981 via the CBS affiliates.  The one executively produced by Susann’s hubby Irving Mansfield. I was a young teen back then. I had already seen the original on TV with my mom (I talk about it here) and I just couldn’t believe I might experience that same camp appeal all over again.  Because let’s get this straight: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, whether the film or the novel,  is by far the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, and just the thought of settling myself in front of the TV screen for this new version gave me goosebumps all over.   

From the moment Dionne Warwick What Becomes of Love cues in at the start of the mini-series, I knew I was in good hands.  Not only is the piece as catchy as the title song from the original but also just as syrupy; so much so that many like moi still wish the song was available somewhere (hint, hint, Ms. Warwick).  But moving on, of course the whole plot is about the same:  good girl gets caught up into the world of show business and suffers greatly.  And orbiting around her is a whole bunch of colorful but ever-so troubled characters. The difference in this one, however, is that most appear a little less one dimensional. Take Ann, for example.  She’s not just a victim of her bad choices but a survivor as well.  She does not retreat back where she came from to mend her broken heart or rely on drugs and alcohol as the character did in the 1967 version.  She faces her problems head on, as do many others throughout the mini-series five-hour run.   
 

Like in the original, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS “1981” brings to light a big chunk of melodrama found in the Susann novel, not to mention some extra goodies since this TV presentation is also based on material omitted from the book.  But all the characters you’ve come to know are there, from Ann to Jennifer to non-gay (!) Ted Casablanca.  And if you look quick enough you’ll even see a young Nathan Lane as a stage manager (reminiscent of the small role Richard Dreyfuss had in the original). The part of Helen Lawson is played by silver screen beauty Jean Simmons.  She really nails down the role of the jealous fading star, from her hard facial expressions to her dismissive gestures.   Susan Hayward would be proud.  Wish the same could be said for Lisa Hartman Black’s performance as crazy-ass Neely O’Hara.  As much as she’s lovable on screen, her portrayal of an insecure, pill-popping songbird is a little bland.  Don’t get me wrong, when she goes ape shit she does it in a big way (that includes the infamous wig throwing in the bathroom stall) but the end results are not as rewarding as they should be.

The whole production is very ‘80s kitsch, from the cheesy song numbers (most interpreted by Hartman) to the casting choices (Bert Convy, Gary Collins, David Birney…).  But at times its budget seems far less generous (though I may be wrong on this) as certain scenes look awfully restrained, in need of some pizazz. The acting overall is quite decent, the most noteworthy being Catherine Hicks and Veronica Hamel as Ann and Jennifer respectively. Both bring a certain depth otherwise missed by Barbara Parkins and Sharon Tate in the original.  As much as I wanted to dig this version, I got to say that it left me a little cold.  Perhaps it was the constant comparison I made to the 1967 film every time anyone appeared onscreen.  It never succeeded in making me forget the original, and that’s where the faults lie mostly.  That said I’d still indeed get this well-made mini-series if it officially ever came to DVD.  Why shouldn’t I?  Fool of me to ever pass up the chance of owning part of a legacy taken from the Jacqueline Susann library.  I barely think she’d have hated that version like she supposedly did the first one but she would have wanted someone else to take another shot at it, I’m sure.  Hence Fox’s megahit EMPIRE which has a Susann story of its own and may very well be discussed here in the near future. 

 

 

 

Until next post—Martin