In 1956, Grace Metalious was a housewife, and mother of three when her first novel, Peyton Place became a bestseller. It sold 60,000 copies in the first ten days of release, and remained on the New York Times best seller list for 59 weeks. The scandalous story of life in a small New England town, filled with the then taboo subjects of incest, rape, abortion, alcoholism, and illegitimacy had everyone talking. Considered by most, ‘a book that could not be filmed,’ producer Jerry Wald (Mildred Pierce) had other ideas. Watered down as it was, the glossy, sexy, soap opera had audiences flocking to the theater, and found popular acclaim, even as critics dismissed it.
In a movie where visual, and verbal innuendo is a constant, director Mark Robson (Valley of the Dolls) and cinematographer William C. Mellor envelop the viewer with several wide shots of the bucolic, small New England town, quickly establishing that the locale, hiding secrets and lies beneath it’s pretty veneer, is as central to the forthcoming story as any one of the characters.
In the spring of 1941, new high school principal Michael Rossi (Lee Philips) arrives in town, with a Ph.D and “advanced” educational” ideas. While Rossi soon finds himself attracted to dress shop owner Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner), he can’t understand why she continually turns down his advances. A rather cold woman, she is hiding a shameful secret from her daughter Allison (Diane Varsi), a sweet girl who doesn’t understand her repressive attitude. Allison’s best friend Selena Cross (Hope Lange) is a girl from “the other side of the tracks,” forced to fight off the sexual advances of her alcoholic stepfather Lucas (Arthur Kennedy). Rich boy Rodney Harrison (Barry Coe) is genuinely attracted to flirtatious. Betty Anderson (Terry Moore), but his hard driving father thinks he can do better than the town tramp. Shy Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn) clearly wants to experience the ups and downs of first love, but his relationship with his violently possessive mother (Erin O’Brien-Moore) has made that nearly impossible.
High school seniors are making the transition to adulthood, and are sexually curious. The parents, apparently having forgotten their own youths are suspicious, and the old folks are meddling gossipers. Seems ‘ol Grace had a point. Rip the thin layer of good values, Spit, and polish off any small town in 1950’s America, and you would discover issues and secrets the citizenry were loath to acknowledge. Sex scenes aside, it’s little wonder millions flocked to read the novel. While the film still makes for a fun watch, at a whopping 157 minutes, it’s too long. Peyton Place is a soap opera, not Lawrence of Arabia!
Performances are generally impressive. In her first mother role, does a good job as a sexually repressed single parent. Unfortunately, her love interest is the wooden Lee Philips. His stiff demeanor only magnifies the lack of chemistry between he and Turner. Not surprisingly, Philips later found greater success as a television director. Varsi and Tamblyn share a few tender moments, but it’s Hope Lange as Selena Cross who truly shines. As a victim of sexual abuse, Selena suffers terribly. However, credit Lange for never over playing the part, or sliding into hysterics. Instead, she turns in a realistic portrayal that resonates. Lloyd Nolan as the no nonsense Doc Swain, who gives the residents of Peyton Place a much-needed dose of reality, also shines.
Presented in the 2.35:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio, this is a solid 1080p transfer. The image looks sharp throughout, and colors are appropriately vibrant. Skin tones look slightly brown on occasion, but it doesn’t mar the overall viewing experience. Black levels aren’t always at their inkiest (a rape sequence comes to mind), but the transfer itself is free of any age related issues, scratches, or dust.
The disc offers two DTS-HD Master Audio tracks: 2.0 stereo and 5.1, and both offer excellent fidelity. The 2.0 stereo track sports a more delineated and directionalized dialogue, resulting in a fuller sense of environment. While both tracks sound fine, my feeling is that Peyton Place, released in 1957, is better suited to the simplicity of the 2.0 track. There are no hisses, crackles, or other anomalies apparent on the track. Dialogue is clean, and clear throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentaries: There are two. One is new, and one has been ported over from the 2004 Fox Studio Classics DVD.
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Filmmaker and Historian Willard Carroll: in this straight forward, but enthusiastic commentary, Carroll provides all sorts of information regarding the production, and compares the novel to the film. The guy knows his stuff when it comes to Peyton Place! Definitely worth a listen for fans of the film.
- Audio Commentary with Actors Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore: Recorded in 2004, this screen specific commentary has the actors sharing their memories of the film. Tamblyn goes off subject at times, instead discussing his friendships James Dean, Elvis Presley, and others.
- “Hollywood Backstories: Peyton Place” (SD, 25:06) Part of a series originally produced for AMC in 2001, the segment includes interviews with author Grace Metalious, Connie Wald (widow of the film’s producer), actors Terry Moore, Russ Tamblyn, Hope Lange, and David Nelson, censorship expert Gerald Gardner, and film expert Emily Toth.
- NEW! On Location in Peyton Place (HD, 7:35) Willard Carroll shot this footage of the small Maine town where the film was shot. He takes us back to many of the real-life locations, still in existence. You can watch this with just Frank Waxman themes on the soundtrack or with his optional audio commentary.
- Fox Movietone Newsreels (SD) two newsreels at the film’s Hollywood premiere (1:32) and the Photoplay Awards for 1957 (0:58).
- Two Theatrical Trailers (SD, 2:35, 0:41).
- Six-Page Booklet: Contains some color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and Julie Kirgo’s insightful essay.
Those interested in purchasing it should go to either https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/ or https://www.screenarchives.com/to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies
Movie title: Peyton Place (1957)
Director(s): Mark Robson
Actor(s): Lana Turner , Hope Lange , Lee Philips , Diane Varsi , Arthur Kennedy , Lloyd Nolan
Genre: Romance, Drama