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Review: Peyton Place

Auteur-for-hire Mark Robson can’t quite reign in a bloated and episodic script.

Peyton Place
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Welcome to Peyton Place, novelist Grace Metalious’s scathing indictment of 1940s smalltown 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 in the mid-‘50s, but beneath the sleazy coating covering the film (camp aficionados take note) is an unabashed and moderately retrograde plea for community openness. Still, 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 just about any project, be it The Seventh Victim or Earthquake, can’t quite reign in a bloated and episodic script (a television spinoff 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 from her novel that ended up watered-down are to the detriment of the film’s overall effect.

Robson, though, 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 wildly named Norman and receives an unwanted sartorial helping hand from Mommy, is an unwitting omen of movie history’s most famous mama’s boy.

Cast: Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn, Diane Varsi, Terry Moore, David Nelson, Barry Coe, Betty Field, Hope Lange Director: Mark Robson Screenwriter: John Michael Hayes Distributor: 20th Century Fox Running Time: 156 min Rating: NR Year: 1957 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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