Lydia and I have often had conversations broaching the idea of recasting movies we adore on a strictly ‘if you had to’ basis, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is one that’s come up often due to the large ensemble cast. Made in 1970, BtVotD’s (as it shall be referred to from here out) tells the story of an all female rock group and their misadventures in being ‘discovered’ in Hollywood at the tail end of the ‘free-love’ era. The film was auteur Russ Meyer’s first studio production in a two-picture deal with 20th Century Fox. Originally planned as a sequel to Fox’s 1967 hit Valley of the Dolls, the film was forced to distance itself from Mark Robson’s picture after author Jacqueline Susann was appalled by the prospect of a ‘soft-core porn’ director making a sequel to her original story. This, and an X-Rating courtesy of the MPAA, did not stop the film’s pulling power at the box office, however, grossing nearly ten-times it’s $900,000 budget upon it’s release. To this day, according to screenwriter Roger Ebert, BtVotD has grossed over $40 million in theatrical and video sales to date.
I learned a long time ago that nothing in Hollywood is sacred. If there is money to be made with a remake, then you bet it will get made. When I think of BtVotD however, I can’t imagine it ever being remade. The original was so completely outrageous that I think even if it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be made today. That itself made the ‘fictional’ task of re-casting the movie for a modern remake problematic for me. Not only do I hold the film very dear to me, but also I just can’t see it ever happening. For me this is like being asked to re-cast Twin Peaks. You just couldn’t do it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not citing BtVotD as Citizen Kane here; far from it. The performances are very hit and miss at best and I’ve never been a huge fan of Russ Meyer’s editing technique. However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest that no other movie exists that can compare to BtVotD. As a motion picture it is a wholly unique experience – which is something I can only say of maybe a half-dozen movies. It’s a musical, comedy, horror, drama, thriller! All it needs is some aliens and an animated sequence and you’ve nearly got all bases covered. How many movies can you name that tick as many boxes? Above and beyond all of this, the film is remarkably entertaining. Despite the pitfalls and dangers that come with fame and excess lifestyle the characters soon become entangled in, I still gaze upon the ‘fantasy’ Hollywood and almost cartoon-like characters as created by Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert with envious eyes.
All that said, it has still been my task to cast a fictional remake of the film. So with a gun to my head, here are my casting choices, were I to direct Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
Kelly Mac Namara (Dolly Reed) – Isla Fisher
Isla Fisher has that perfect blend of girl next door with a dash of firecracker to make Kelly work in a modern remake. Plus, I can easily see her as the lead vocalist of the Carrie Nations. It wouldn’t be her voice of course, for that I’d hire Florence Welch.
Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers) – Jennifer Lawrence
Like Cynthia Myers, Lawrence oozes sex appeal without having to do or say very much at all – this is pretty much the essence of Casey. Her failure to adapt to the excess lifestyle makes her the ‘tortured soul’ of the group – something I think Jennifer Lawrence would own, given her God-given acting ability.
Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) – Rosario Dawson
I’m a huge Rosario Dawson fan and loved her in everything I’ve seen her in. She has the looks, the attitude and the style to bring Pet to the 21st century. She would be my Russ Meyer/Quentin Tarantino nod for the film.
Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John Lazar) – Cillian Murphy
This was a bit of a no brainer for me, and perhaps the easiest to cast. Now, I don’t take John LaZar’s performance as Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell lightly, as he’s without a doubt my favourite character, but I just can’t see ANYONE else in today’s talent pool delivering the line “You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!” better than Cillian Murphy. Plus, I think he’d really enjoy calling someone a ‘buggery knave’.
Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett) – Dolph Ziggler
Here is my wild card casting for the film. For those unfamiliar, Dolph Ziggler (real name Nick Nemeth) is a professional wrestler for World Wrestling Entertainment. Those who ARE familiar will get exactly why I’ve cast him. The character of Lance Rocke is pretty much the character of Dolph Ziggler. He not only has the looks and the body to carry out the role, but the calibre of performances Ziggler delivers on Monday Night Raw every week are no further a stretch than that played by Michael Blodgett in original movie. Except for the gold digging part. Not much of that in pro-wrestling.
Harris Allsworth (David Gurian) – James McAvoy
James McEvoy has an annoying quality of being instantly likeable in whatever role he’s in. What’s interesting about the idea of him playing Harris is that his character seesaws throughout the story – we like him, we hate him and then BAM! He can miraculously walk again and we all cheer. I’d love to see McEvoy handle this type of character.
Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams) – Christina Hendricks
Christina Hendricks is THE quintessential ‘Meyer girl’ for the movie and who better than her to fill the crocheted dress of Ashley St. Ives? Who wouldn’t pay good money to see Hendricks as a hyper-sexed porn star? Mad men, I tell you. MAD MEN! *Sorry!
Roxanne (Erica Gavin) – Liv Tyler
This casting was based solely on who I could see paired up with Jennifer Lawrence in the more intimate scenes between Roxanne and Casey. After a couple of Empire Records flashbacks, I settled on Liv Tyler. She has a very sultry and almost tender nature that would be key to the seduction of Casey. I think the chemistry between her and Lawrence would be off the chart.
Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis) – Sherylin Fenn
Who didn’t fall in love with Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks? Raise your hands… I see no raised hands. Point proven. This one is a bit of indulgence casting. I was on a bit of a Peaks revival while writing this and well… Fenn could do this role with her eyes closed. Although I wouldn’t ask her to do the role with her eyes closed. That’d just be weird.
Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page) – Columbus Short
Naturally if I was doing this in the mid-90s, the role would have gone to Alfonso Ribero, but now that he’s older, I just picked someone I figured could A) tame a rock n’ roll Rosario Dawson and B) convincingly not stand a fucking chance of winning a fight against Randy Black – although when you see who I cast as him, that pretty much could have been anyone…
Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod – Bill Murray
It’s Bill fucking Murray. End of discussion.
Randy Black (James Iglehart) – Terry Crews
At first I considered another wrestler for this role –even changing the character to a professional wrestler rather than a heavyweight boxer (Randy Black being based on Mohammed Ali). Then it dawned on me that this guy, in this day and age would be a cage fighter and the body that Terry Crews is rocking, hell, you’d believe he could beat up the Moon! Not really a difficult decision here. With Crews’ dynamic personality to boot, he’d own the role of Randy Black.
Baxter Wolfe (Charles Napier) – Kurt Russell
Despite the fact that I love Kurt Russell and want to see him in more stuff, I’m going with the Meyer ‘square-jaw’ trait on this one. Kurt Russell is a man’s man. And if anyone was going to step into the boots of Charles Napier, it’d be Snake Plissken… Or R.J. MacReady… Or Jack Burton… Or Stuntman Mike… Or Dean Proffitt.
Otto (Henry Rowland) – Udo Kier
Seriously, who the fuck else?
Paul Davis is a writer and filmmaker from London. His short film Him Indoors starring Reece Shearsmith and Pollyanna McIntosh is finally available to watch online and his next short The Body is currently in production.