Sunday 22 January 2023

Movie Review: Peyton Place (1957)

Genre: Small Town Drama
Director: Mark Robson
Starring: Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Hope Lange, Diane Varsi, Arthur Kennedy, Lloyd Nolan, Russ Tamblyn
Running Time: 157 minutes

Synopsis: The setting is 1941 in the New England town of Peyton Place. Emotionally cold widow Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner) is raising her 18 year old daughter Allison (Diane Varsi), who has her eye on quiet classmate Norman (Russ Tamblyn). Allison's best friend Selena (Hope Lange) is suffering abuse from her alcoholic stepfather Lucas (Arthur Kennedy). Batchelor Michael Rossi (Lee Philips) is the new school principal, and attempts to romance Constance. Businessman Harrington (Leon Ames) runs the local garment factory and does not approve of his son Rodney dating the school's sauciest girl Betty (Terry Moore). The level-headed Dr. Swain (Lloyd Nolan) knows everyone in town, and faces his biggest dilemma when a violent death shocks the community.

What Works Well: Director Mark Robson and writer John Michael Hayes deftly wrestle the Grace Metalious book into an era-suitable screen epic revealing secrets behind well-kept lawns. The characters are efficiently introduced, and Robson quickly teases out intertwined themes related to parenting, generational gaps, family secrets, abuse, and love and lust at life's various stages. The narrative threads are held together by the collective psychology of a one-industry small town, a great place to leave for any young person with ambition. Although billed in secondary roles, Hope Lange and Diane Varsi carry the dramatic load and excel in surfacing the complexities of growing into adulthood. 

What Does Not Work As Well: The running time is marginally excessive, padded by an unnecessarily long Labour Day country fair segment. Plucked into a major production for his first role, newcomer Lee Philips does his best but is far from bringing any heft or charisma to a starring role. Some of the climactic courtroom procedures appear to break basic justice system tenets.

Conclusion: Engrossing behind-the-curtain peak at the myriad personal challenges that constitute a perfectly flawed community.

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