Written by: John Michael Hayes, based on the novel by Grace Metalious
Directed by: Mark Robson
Starring: Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Diane Varsi, Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy, Hope Lange, Russ Tamblyn, Terry Moore
- Running audio commentary by Actors Tamblyn and Moore
- Documentary: “AMC Backstory: Peyton Place”
- Two Movietone News Newsreels
- Theatrical Trailer
Released by: Fox
My Advice: Rent it.
[ad#longpost]Peyton Place is the picture perfect New England town. Everyone goes to church, everyone shops in the town square, and all the citizens seem upright and happy. But a picture can only capture the surface…and there’s a lot going on below the surface. Is prim and proper Constance Mackenzie (Turner) just being a good mother to her daughter Alison (Varsi) or are there dark reasons behind her prudish ways? Can new high school principal Michael Rossi (Philips) break through her icy demeanor? How tight are the mother’s apron strings that stop Norman Page (Tamblyn) from pursuing Alison and will they ever be broken? Is local ‘bad girl’ Betty Anderson (Moore) giving herself to Rodney Harrington (Barry Coe) simply because his daddy owns the town mill or is there more to the relationship? And how will town drunk Lucas Cross (Kennedy) act on his unnatural lusts towards his stepdaughter Selena (Lange)? The answers to these questions have been buried but with the tumult of war and death, they will be revealed. And the townsfolk of Peyton Place will never be the same again.
One of the most popular and controversial books of its time, Peyton Place dealt with subjects no one talked about in the 50s: sex, incest, abortion. How could a studio make a movie from this book that wouldn’t have the Hayes Office (the Hollywood censorship board at the time) call out the National Guard on the production? It was obvious that most of the more racy elements had to be toned down, but the director amplified up the Rockwellian aspects to compensate. With scenes of the town going to church on Sunday, the Labor Day picnic, and all the best New England had to offer, what did get through the Hayes Office seems even more scandalous by comparison. The film takes full advantage of the Cinemascope screen to surround us and draw us into this town at its best and its worst. The director also lets the audience’s imagination fill in what isn’t on the screen. And as we all know, our imagination can come up with someâ€¦ interesting images. By shooting some of more intimate conflicts in shadow when Constance resists her love for Mike Rossi, we can sense the passions that are buried. When these passions are released, for instance when Selena finally deals with her stepfather, we see it all in the light.
The two women that are the focus of the film give standout performances. Lana Turner took a chance playing her first “mother” role, but she gives a stellar performance playing the wanting but fearful Constance. Known for playing sexy bombshells, she puts that lusty energy under tight control and lets it explode at the right point, making it even hotter. It’s a shame that her love interest played by Lee Philips doesn’t seem to provide enough passion to warrant her transformation. Diane Varsi, in her first role, keeps right in step with Turner as the innocent child who wants to experience life and resents her mother for standing in her way. It’s that mix of naivetÃ© and strength of will that makes Alison what she is and Varsi brings that to the screen effortlessly.
Veteran character actors Lloyd Nolan and Arthur Kennedy also give good performances as the worldly-wise Doc Swain and the drunken bully Lucas Cross. The rest of the cast is decent, but considering their limited screen time, it’s hard to judge the merits of their acting.
The DVD comes with several special features. There are a couple of MovieTone News film shorts, one featuring the movie’s premiere and one featuring it receiving several Photoplay Magazine awards. They don’t really add anything and seem more like filler to make the disc seem fuller. There is an interesting documentary that talks about not only the making of the movie, but the uproar caused by the book and the real-life scandal when Lana Turner’s daughter killed Lana’s younger boyfriend and part-time mobster. The show gets a little too wrapped up in the scandal around Peyton Place, but you definitely get a better idea of the context surrounding the film.
There is also a commentary by two of the actors, Terry Moore and Russ Tamblyn. Both give their recollections about the cast and the filming of the movie. Each actor was recorded separately–while this prevents the actors distracting each other while they talk, it also prevents the actors helping each other to remember.
Russ is more conversational, retelling anecdotes about the trouble he got in when he thought he was “off the record” with a reporter when he was complaining about the Army. He also talks about how everyone at the location shoot enjoyed the Massachusetts shore and the famous lobsters. Moore’s commentary is more wistful, remembering those who have passed on. For instance, Diane Varsi was very insular, reading constantly and not interacting with the cast and crew much. Moore just comments a great deal on how much better things were at the time this movie was made, especially in terms of the amount of violence and sex on screen. Regardless of she has a point or not, it gets quite repetitive. Both agree that Peyton Place helped films grow up a little and handle subjects that are painful and repulsive, but need to be addressed to resolve them.
The film is interesting enough both on its own and from a historical sense and the features assist to make this whole thing definitely worth a rental.