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Mark Robson
Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn, Terry Moore, Hope Lange, Diane Varsi, David Nelson, Barry Coe
Writing Credits:
John Michael Hayes, Grace Metalious (novel)

Based on Grace Metalious' best-selling novel, Peyton Place received an impressive nine Oscar nominations in 1957, including Best Picture. Lana Turner's acclaimed performance as Constance MacKenzie, the single mother of a beautiful teen (Diane Varsi), earned her a Best Actress nomination (Varsi received Best Supporting Actress consideration as well).

While Constance and the other parents in a picture-perfect New Hampshire town strive to keep their teenagers on the straight and narrow, scandals take place around them: A drunken school caretaker (Arthur Kennedy, nominated for Best Supporting Actor) traumatizes his stepdaughter, which prompts a murder, a trial and the revelation that nothing is as it seems in this beautifully photographed, spell-binding drama filled with top-notch performances.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$8.000 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 4.0
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 156 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 3/2/2004

• Audio Commentary with Actors Terry Moore and Russ Tamblyn
• “Hollywood Backstories” Episode
• Movietone News
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Peyton Place: Fox Studio Cassics (1957)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 17, 2004)

Back in the repressed Fifties, nothing sold like sex – carefully repressed sex, that is. You’ll probably not find better examples of the era’s sensibilities in the gently tawdry – and generally dull - Peyton Place, a long cinematic soap opera from 1956.

Set on the cusp of World War II in the New England town that spawns the flick’s title, Place comes with occasional narration from high school senior Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi). She sets up notions about the town and then we meet its characters. High school janitor Lucas Cross (Arthur Kennedy) beats his wife Nelly (Betty Field), lusts for his teen daughter Selena (Hope Lange) and drinks too much. This drives away his stepson Paul (Bill Lundmark). Nelly works as a maid for Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner), mother to Allison. Constance never dated after Allison’s father died about 15 years earlier.

After the death of their principal, the high school needs a new one. Allison and her classmates hope it’ll be their teacher, Elsie Thornton (Mildred Dunnock). Leslie Harrington (Leon Ames) runs the local mill – and the town by default – and he hires an outsider, Michael Rossi (Lee Philips), for the job. He meets Constance and clearly wants to be with her, but she resists, as she gave up on love after the demise of Allison’s father.

We also meet some of Allison’s classmates. Leslie’s son Rodney (Barry Coe) loves town tramp Better Anderson (Terry Moore), but his dad forbids him from seeing her, as he thinks she’s too slutty for him. Allison has the hots from Rodney but class nerd Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn) clearly pines for her. Unfortunately, his mother overprotects him, which makes their relationship slow to develop. Selena dates Ted Carter (David Nelson), who aspires to be a lawyer.

Matters develop slowly, but all hell breaks loose. I’ll leave these details for you to find out for yourself, as part of the movie’s appeal stems from its shock value. Suffice it to say you’ll find rape, suicide, and lots of overwrought drama.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make it work. This isn’t just because it all seems terribly unrealistic. An awful lot of bad stuff happens to an awfully small group of people in an awfully short period of time. This comes across as absurd, but it’s part of the soap opera genre, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

On the other hand, I can complain about the film’s insanely overripe dialogue. Much of that comes from the atrocious narration. Poor Varsi gets stuck with lines like “one by one, we knew the Monday morning of responsibility was at hand” and ““there was a fifth season – of love!” Who writes mush like that, and how does it actually get approved for the film? The movie comes laden with pathetic material such as this, and it bogs down a story that doesn’t seem very interesting anyway.

Although Place doesn’t offer graphic elements, it fails to leave anything to the imagination in other ways. It telegraphs its points to an absurd level and seems far too concrete. The film gets into the sordid underbelly of a prim and proper town and beats us over the head with that theme. It falls flat and just becomes annoying before long.

Peyton Place may have passed for steamy and scandalous 50 years ago, and those elements may have been provocative enough to make it entertaining in that era. However, in the 21st century, Place has little reason to merit a viewer’s attention. Awkwardly placed and with thin, uninteresting characters, the film simply seems dull nowadays. It’s too long and too boring to merit a screening.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Peyton Place appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. (The double-sided disc features the extras on the second side.) A few problems popped up during Place, but it mainly presented a satisfying picture.

In general, the sharpness appeared positive. Occasionally, wider shots came across as a bit ill defined and soft, but these occasions were rare and not excessive. Usually the image seemed distinct and detailed. No issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, but mild edge enhancement marginally marred a few scenes. Print flaws popped up on occasion. I saw occasional examples of specks, spots, blotches and marks. These didn’t seem heavy, but they caused periodic distractions.

Not surprisingly, Place presented a fairly natural palette, and the colors mostly looked fine. At times the hues seemed a little muddy, but those occasions occurred infrequently. For the most part, the tones appeared concise and vivid. Black levels also were deep and rich, while shadows were nicely detailed and concise.

The Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack of Peyton Place also held up well. The soundfield seemed more ambitious than usual for a film of its generation. It featured a lot of directional dialogue, which became a strength and a weakness. Most of the time, the speech came from the appropriate places and moved accurately from one spot to another, but more than a few exceptions occurred. Some lines popped up on the sides for no apparent reason, and other dialogue didn’t appear logically placed. For example, the lines from a character in the middle of the screen might come from the left speaker. Overall, the localization worked fine, but these exceptions caused distractions.

Music demonstrated moderately clean stereo imaging. The definition was a little mushy at times, but it remained better than average for the era. Effects appeared accurately placed. They blended neatly. Surround usage remained light but decent. Mostly music came from the rear speakers, as this reinforced the track.

Audio quality was acceptable. At times the speech came across as a little edgy, but mostly the lines were fairly concise and distinctive. Music was generally full and lively. Highs sounded decent, and lows came across as fairly deep. Bass was somewhat loose on occasion, but I thought the track commanded a good impression in that regard for the most part. Effects also seemed a bit dull but they generally were tight and accurate. The audio for Peyton Place was flawed but ambitious, and it seemed satisfying enough to earn a “B”.

Like all “Fox Studio Classics” releases, Peyton Place comes with an audio commentary. We hear from actors Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore. Both provide running, screen-specific remarks, but done separately; the track edits together their statements. Moore speaks less and doesn’t come across with a ton to say. She provides some notes about her career and work on the film as well as about her impressions of her costars, but she largely just talks about how lovely and wonderful everything was. It doesn’t help that she comes across as woefully stuck in the past. Moore often tells us how certain scenes would be more graphic these days as she both implies and openly states that movies from her era were superior. She appears stodgy and out of touch as she does this. She’s correct to a degree, but she uses weird examples; for instance, she refers to 1978’s Halloween as a recent flick and also refers to it as a flick that left nothing to the imagination, even though Halloween featured exceedingly little onscreen violence.

Tamblyn proves to offer better information. Admittedly, he doesn’t concentrate all that heavily on the movie itself. He notes how he got the role and also discusses his costars and the shoot. Much of the time, Tamblyn chats about his career in general, which leads to some very entertaining showbiz stories. We hear about his friendships with Elvis Presley and Robert Mitchum, and Tamblyn tosses out many fun anecdotes.

Tamblyn’s stories help push the track for a while, but it definitely starts to peter out before long. The piece begins to sag around the Labor Day scene in the film, and it sputters the rest of the way. From that point to the end, we don’t hear much from Tamblyn; instead, we mostly get Moore’s declarations about how great Place is and her wistfulness for the good old days of movies. Tamblyn makes the commentary reasonably entertaining, but it nonetheless seems fairly spotty as a whole. Listen to it through the Labor Day sequence; you can stop there and you won’t miss much.

On Side B, we find an episode of Hollywood Backstories that discusses Place. It lasts 24 minutes and 55 seconds as it presents movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We locate comments from The Censorship Papers author Gerald Gardner, Inside “Peyton Place” author Emily Toth, producer’s wife Connie Wald, and actors Hope Lange, David Nelson, Terry Moore and Russ Tamblyn. They go over the roots of the book and its reception, its path to the screen, adaptation issues, casting and issues connected to the actors and characters, the film’s reception, the controversies that surrounded Lana Turner at the time, and the sad end to the novel’s author. The program provides a reasonably good examination of the production. Actually, we don’t learn a ton about the shoot itself, but we get nice coverage of the flick’s background and its important topics, so it offers a useful piece.

Next we get two Movietone News clips. “Celebrity Turnout Marks Premiere of Peyton Place” lasts 89 seconds, while “Photoplay Magazine Awards” goes for 56 seconds. Both offer perfunctory examinations of their subjects. We also get the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers.

Audiences ate up Peyton Place’s attempts at steaminess back in the Fifties, but I can’t imagine who would find this claptrap intriguing in the current era. The movie displays weak characters, slow exposition, silly dialogue and little sense of reality. Since its attempts at tawdriness come across as quaint these days, there’s nothing here to maintain a viewer’s attention. The DVD presents picture and sound that seem pretty good for a film of its vintage, and we get a decent set of extras, though the commentary comes as a disappointment. I can recommend this fairly solid release for fans of Peyton Place, but others should steer clear of this tepid melodrama.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2857 Stars Number of Votes: 21
3 3:
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