Jump to content

Recommended Posts

A very amusing piece of trivia occurs during the opening credits of "Peyton Place," the 1957 film of Grace Metalious' 1956 novel. As I was reading the credits, towards the end, up came: "CinemaScope Lenses by ... Bausch & Lomb" - I kid you not. It's probably a little less funny when you realize that Bausch & Lomb was founded over one-hundred years before that, in 1853! I doubt they were making contact lenses back then, but this is a prime example of a company adapting and surviving.

I guess most people have heard of "Peyton Place," but very few people know what it is, other than "some television series my grandparents talked about." It was a major franchise, and was a tale of life in small-town New England, complete with "dirty little secrets," and very tawdry, un-New England-like, skeletons in closets (tawdry for the time and locale, anyway). And, of course, it was also this 1957 film starring Lana Turner as Constance MacKenzie, along with a host of other name stars such as Hope Lange (as Selena Cross), Lee Phillips (as Michael Rossi), and Lorne Greene (as the District Attorney). It was a 2 1/2-hour-long film, and a somewhat high-budget affair at $2 million, but it grossed over a dozen-times that amount.

From the very first opening monologue by Allison MacKenzie (played by Diane Varsi), I was pretty much awestruck by the gorgeous cinematography, and instantly went to check to see if it had won any awards - sure enough, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography - if an amateur like me can tell that in the first minute of the film, that's saying something - the shots and the camera work are just beautiful. In fact, Peyton Place received nine Academy Award nominations (winning none, but that's still quite a feat).

The car Michael Rossi was driving looked older than a 1957 model, and the film had a clever way of revealing its time period when Dr. Swain (Lloyd Nolan) bent over to pick up his morning paper (just a few seconds later, a close look at the car's license plate says 1941).

Screenshot 2016-12-16 at 21.16.55.png

I also realize that, as huge of a name as Lana Turner is, I wouldn't have recognized her if she had walked by me on a sidewalk. I thought I knew what she looked like, but I guess I didn't.

I'm both pleased, and dismayed, to see a person of color 12:43 into this film. I'm sorry to introduce race into such an idyllic setting as Peyton Place (which is a town, not a street or mansion), but I'm keenly aware of such things - it breaks my heart that they stuck a token "darkie" (who may not even be black) in the back-corner of the classroom.

Screenshot 2016-12-16 at 21.36.43.png

I won't say anything more about this, as this film was released only three years after Brown vs. Board of Education, and that's just the way things were in this pathetic society. Onward.

My initial impression, after about thirteen minutes, is that "if you like "Pride and Prejudice," you'll like Peyton Place." Jane Austen's fine novel, published in 1813, has legions of fans, and an almost cult-like following - I think I may have read it twice, but I've certainly read it once, and this film has the same kind of "feel" )to it. 

A beautiful quote, that could not ring any more true, by Peyton Place High School teacher, Miss Elsie Thornton (Mildred Dunnock): "A person doesn't always get what she deserves - remember it. If there's anything in life you want, go and get it; don't wait for anybody to give it to you."

My question: What if you're unable to go and get it? I guess you're just out of luck.

An hour into Peyton Place, it seems very much like a soap opera, and I don't mean that in a bad way - it's definitely a "slice of life" movie so far, with lots of character development, and not much action or plot to speak of - at least, not yet. But it's very good at delving into its characters and their relationships, and that's enough to maintain my interest, although two-and-a-half hours might be a long time - we'll see.

This film means a lot to me, because a major sub-plot involves the Peyton Place High School class of 1941, and that's the year both of my parents graduated from high school as well, so the setting is exa)ctly contemporary to my parents in their youth.

Well, so much for the "soap opera" aspect - there is some *very* controversial subject matter dealt with in this film. I've never actually watched a soap opera, so I suspect there's some pretty racy subject matter dealt with in them, too - but this was 1957. Wow.

With about thirty minutes to go in the film, my guess - never having seen a soap opera - is that this is essentially a "racy soap opera" for the time. The fact that I like it so much shows how starved I am for films with actual character development - building people about whom I actually care, instead of waiting for the next zombie to jump out, or the next gruesome death to occur. Do I sound like an old fart pining away for the "gold old days?" Good, because that's exactly what I want to sound like (lily-white cast notwithstanding).

I don't know if this is a "good movie" so much as a movie that had some standards and some people working on it who cared about its characters - it sure *seems* like a good movie to me, at least in terms of character development. The old chestnut of "it ain't what it seems" has been used to death in the past 59 years, and I'm not sure how novel it was in 1957 (though it was certainly *a* novel in 1956 (I am sorry)), but it's a timeless theme, and it's well executed here. It's just *so* refreshing to see some people for 2 1/2 hours that I'm actually vested in, instead of bracing myself for the next stabbing.

Okay, I just finished watching Peyton Place. My entire life, growing up, I had heard the name "Peyton Place," and didn't know what it was - I assumed it was some lame TV soap opera (and it may have been). But this movie was *great*. If it wasn't nominated for a Best Picture award, I'd be surprised - in fact, I'm going to look right now:

Yep, it was nominated for Best Picture, exactly as it should have been. This was a truly worthy film - I'm not saying it was "better" than "Bridge over the River Kwai" (also a great film, which won the Academy Award), but it was at that level. If you haven't seen Peyton Place, *especially* if you've read "Pride and Prejudice" and loved it (I still think there are some vague similarities between the two), *watch this movie*!

What a wonderful film this was, and I'm so glad I finally saw it, instead of wrongly thinking the name was exclusively some vague, meaningless, daytime soap, which is what I've spent my entire life thinking.

Yep, the old fart speaks: They don't make 'em like this anymore. Even though there was only one darkie sitting in the corner of the classroom, who was the only person of color throughout the entire movie. What a shame. But, God, what a good movie this was.

Invest the two-and-a-half hours necessary to watch "Peyton Place," and please chime in here after you do.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I really enjoyed "Peyton Place." I was expecting something more tawdry--a "Valley of the Dolls" meets "The Stepford Wives," or something along those lines. I was pleasantlly surprised by this film.

The cinematography was stunning. It made me want to know where the movie was filmed, and it made me want to go there. The story begins in the early 1940s, an era that I love. I found myself thinking of my mother, who was 20 years old in 1941, just two years older than the characters in the film. I have photographs of my mom dressed like Allison, wearing saddle shoes with her below-the-knee fitted dress.

"Peyton Place" reminds me of my hometown. I grew up in a small, Mayberry-like community in Southern Illinois. Everyone knew everyone else's business, and parents took it upon themselves to watch out for other people's kids, whether we liked it or not.

I suppose the subject matter of "Peyton Place" was quite racy for its day, but by today's standards, there's nothing shocking. It is like a soap opera in that it involves beautiful people, scandal and love. But the acting, the storyline and the character development put it in a different category. I can't speak for the "Peyton Place" television show, which may or may not have been more like a soap.

Thanks, Don, for recommending this film. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...