Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 21, 2005)
1957ís Peyton Place became a huge hit and started its own little cottage industry. Based on Grace Metaliousís 1956 novel, the movie led to another book along with a sequel, a TV series, and other iterations even after those. Unfortunately, the original Place wasnít a good movie, which meant that I didnít have high hopes for my screening of 1961ís Return to Peyton Place.
Return picks up on the story of writer Allison MacKenzie (Carol Lynley) as she waits for an important communication. Eventually she hears from New York publisher Lewis Jackman (Jeff Chandler) about her first novel, which he wants to publish. Jackman predicts her book will be an enormous success. Allison needs to head from the little New England town of Peyton Place into New York even though itís only a couple of days before Thanksgiving.
We re-encounter other residents of Peyton Place such as Allisonís mother Connie (Eleanor Parker) and high school principal stepfather Mike Rossi (Robert Sterling). Connie runes a small shop at which Allisonís former classmate Selena Cross (Tuesday Weld) works. She once had a connection with another classmate, Ted Carter (Brett Halsey), whoís gone on to law school. His mother Roberta (Mary Astor) warns Selena to stay away from Ted when he comes back for the holiday.
Matters complicate more when Ted shows up at his motherís house with his new bride Raffaella (Luciana Paluzzi). Roberta had no idea that Raffaella existed, much less that Ted got hitched. Roberta displays obvious resentment about this threat to her hegemony and tries to manipulate matters. Another complication comes from the revelation that Raffaellaís pregnant.
Essentially, the movie follows three threads. We watch Allison spar with Jackman as they edit the book and possibly get romantic although heís married. We also see the antagonism and eventual love affair between Selena and new ski instructor Nils Larsen (Gunnar Hellstrom) as well as the battle between Raffaella and Roberta for Tedís affections. In addition, the flick covers the fallout when Allisonís book - a thinly-veiled discussion of events that really happened in Peyton Place - hits the shelves.
Is it a bad sign that none of the actors from the first flick come back for the sequel? Probably, though I canít say Return is any worse than the original. Donít interpret that as a sign itís any better than its predecessor, however, as it provides yet another silly and overwrought experience.
Return displays pathetically awkward story telling. As with 1954ís Three Coins in the Fountain, the filmmakers display no comprehension of how to smoothly blend three tales. It concentrates on one element at a time and jerks between them awkwardly. This makes the movie flip from one issue to another willy-nilly, and it lacks flow and cohesion.
Goofy time-related discrepancies also occur. Jackmanís touting of Allison as a talent moves ridiculously quickly, and it appears that they edit the book and get it on the shelves in days. Actually, the movie doesnít do much to convey a sense of time, but we see them issue Allisonís novel and have it become a huge hit all before Raffaella shows even the slightest hint of her pregnancy!
Never mind the movieís absence of much continuity. At one point, Selena acts surprised to learn that Nils is a skiing instructor. Why does this startle her? He told her that when they first met!
None of this really seems any worse than the nonsense in the first movie, but Return goes for a less daring tale. The original flick shoehorned in all sorts of outrageous situations like rape, suicide and incest. Return doesnít shoot for nearly as much drama. At one point, Raffaella displays a willingness to abort her baby - via skiing! - but thatís about as controversial as things get.
Ironically, the lack of spicy material makes Return more believable than the original. Not that Iíd call it more realistic, but at least it sort of exists in the actual world, whereas the first flick packed in an awful lot of scandal for such a small town. Still, at least Return bears some resemblance to the real world.
Of course, the movie does attempt some provocative moments, in a very ďPGĒ-rated way. For example, Raffaella tries to get a rise out of Roberta when she tells her new mother-in-law that she and Ted will only need one bed. Thatís about as scandalous as things get; even the sputtering affair between Jackman and Allison never goes much of anywhere.
Granted, a lot of that stems from the atmosphere of the era, as one canít expect a 2005 sense of raciness from a 1961 flick. Nonetheless, it seems weird that it tames things so much after the success of its predecessor. This oneís more of a romance with some slightly tawdry complications, while the scandals dominated the original movie.
We also find a badly dated view of women, one that curiously comes endorsed by the filmís females! Connie thinks men know business better, and Selena calls herself a ďbad woman driverĒ. Of course, a lot of this reflects the concepts of the era, but given that the movie features so many successful females, it seems like a weird attitude.
As for the acting, itís all over the place. On the negative side, Lynley offers a simply terrible performance as Allison. Sheís terribly stiff and emotionless. She makes Allison oddly impudent and thatís it, as she displays virtually no range in the part.
On the more positive side, Astor does a pretty solid job in the thankless role of Roberta. She doesnít make the role seem human, of course, but thatís not the point. She creates a coolly hissable villain who communicates her disdain and haughtiness in an appropriately quiet and restrained way. Itís a strong performance thatís easily the best part of the movie.
Not that Astor has much competition, as Return to Peyton Place is a consistently crummy flick. When I started my review, I stated that I didnít think Return was superior to its predecessor. I take that back: I like Return more because itís about half an hour shorter. Thatís good enough for me; the less time I spend in Peyton Place, the better.