Welcome to Peyton Place, novelist Grace Metalious’s scathing indictment of 1940s small town America and the damaging effect its tacit moral superciliousness has on blooming young hormones. Main Street might be all picket fences, lavish Labor Day parades (with cake and watermelon, gee!), and freshly-scrubbed kids presenting inscribed deluxe gift dictionaries to their teachers. But behind the surface lies dirty rundown shacks teeming with child abuse, and overprotective mothers who still bathe their 18-year-old sons. This was hot stuff for the mid-1950s, though beneath the sleazy coating covering the entire film (camp aficionados take note) is an unabashed and moderately retrograde plea for community openness. However, moral turpitude is portrayed as lamentable, but still more preferable to emotional isolation and societal dishonesty (more so than the suggestions of incest and rape, this might have been responsible for the bluehairs’ outrage). Audiences responded accordingly, condemning the film even as they helped make it the biggest dramatic hit of the year. Auteur-for-hire Mark Robson, who could usually be counted on to add a dash of uniqueness to any project, be it The Seventh Victim or Earthquake, can’t quite reign in a bloated and episodic script (a television spin-off followed, naturally). And, considering how much Metalious seemed intent on spewing her contemptuous bile for her own neighbors by painting them as daughter-fuckers and whatnot, the elements and storylines that ended up watered-down are to the detriment of the film’s overall effect. But Robson manages a few winningly odd performances from the likes of Lana Turner, whose sex appeal is used against her character’s pathological frigidity, and Russ Tamblyn, whose character is the one who receives that unwanted sartorial helping hand from Mommy and who is wildly named Norman; an unwitting omen of movie history’s most famous mama’s boy.
The Studio Classics line has proven to be more hit than miss when it comes to spectacular transfers of older films. Peyton Place's widescreen transfer unquestionably falls into the former category, as it looks wonderful. Colors are bold and brash, and the print is predominately free of artifacts and dirt (although there are a few valence scratches and the film's final few minutes feature some dodgy splotches of faded color). The sound mix is also remarkably full and crisp, although the "stereo" sounds suspiciously "mono," most of the time. Nevertheless, Franz Waxman's sometimes poignant, sometimes kitschy score sounds great.
The bread-and-butter of Fox's Classic series is the "AMC Backstory." The series's entry on Peyton Place is a Ph-balanced formula of equal parts historical content, star worship, and backstage gossip (most of it centering around Lana Turner's real-life manslaughter drama and novelist Grace Metalious's social ostracizing and early death from drink). Less steady are the commentary tracks that accompany the releases. Sometimes you hit a treasure trove of cattiness and dirt (Celeste Holm's on All 'Bout Me), other times you get. well, Terry Moore on Peyton Place. As fun as hearing a film's star characterize her vehicle as the absolute zenith of film art, it only stretches so far. She shares the time with Russ Tamblyn (they were recorded separately and spliced together), who is a little more humble but is also pretty stingy with the gossip. There are also a pair of trailers and a double shot of Movietone newsreels. There's plenty here for the casual viewer, but fans might be upset to realize that this is actually one of the less stacked editions in the Studio Classics collection.
Since the straightjacket morality of the 1950s are ready to come back full-force, take a long look at what your bad, sinful self is up against.