Peyton Place (1957)

“It’s about time you learned that girls want to do the same things as boys.”

When a new high school principal (Michael Rossi) arrives in the New England town of Peyton Place, he quickly expresses romantic interest in a local widow (Lana Turner) whose daughter (Diane Varsi) is dating a shy, mother-dominated boy (Russ Tamblyn). Meanwhile, Varsi’s best friend (Hope Lange) — whose mother (Betty Field) works as Turner’s housemaid — endures abuse at the hands of her alcoholic stepfather (Arthur Kennedy), and the local “loose girl” (Terry Moore) dates the son (Barry Coe) of a wealthy conservative (Leon Ames) who disapproves of his son’s relationship.


Mark Robson’s adaptation of Grace Metalious’s best-selling novel (loosely based on stories from her hometown) managed to avoid the scandalous soaper’s most controversial topics (i.e., abortion) while maintaining plenty of lurid subplots. Lange’s sensitive character (she gives a fine performance) and hideous home life are the easiest to sympathize with; however, the remaining ensemble narrative is simply filled with torrid melodrama focused on sexual repression, class snobbery, and parental dysfunction. Oscar-nominated Turner is as earnest and stoic as ever (you’d never know her personal traumas at the time rivaled those on screen), but it’s challenging to feel much engagement around her rebuff of her would-be suitor (Rossi), whose distinguished gray hair looks painted on and whose squeaky, high-pitched voice is a surprise each time one hears it. The best thing about the film is its gorgeous Cinemascope cinematography, much of it shot on location in New England. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book, though I’m not quite sure why.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Beautiful Cinemascope cinematography

  • Hope Lange as Selena

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its historical importance and erstwhile popularity.


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