Return to Peyton Place Review

Life in a small New England town. Yecch. Adapted from Grace Metalious’ epochal novel of the previous year, the original 1957 ‘Peyton Place’ starred Lana Turner and Hope Lange in a sordid story of small town hypocrisy; despite critical mauling, the film was a big hit for Fox so, Hollywood being what it was (and is), a sequel was bound to follow and, in 1961, it did, in the shape of ‘Return to Peyton Place’, directed by Jose Ferrer (one of eight the veteran actor helmed). Unfortunately unlike, say ‘Splendor in the Grass’ – released the same year – ‘Return’ doesn’t have the art or passion to make itself compelling, instead relying on a series of base, poorly constructed scenarios which drown quickly in melodramatic sap.

Young writer Allison (Lynley) has her first novel published, a thinly disguised portrayal of the sordid affairs in her New England hometown, Peyton Place. When the book becomes a hit, the local residents are outraged, doubly so when school Principal – and Allison’s stepfather – Mike (Sterling) refuses to remove the book from the school library. Matriarch Roberta Carter (Astor), is disappointed that her son Ted (Halsey) has chosen an Italian wife (Paluzzi), and her frustration finds expression when she arranges for Mike’s suspension. As Allison begins an affair with her married publisher (Chandler), a town meeting is called to address the issues raised by the publication of Allison’s book. Now, it seems, the real truth about Peyton Place is going to come out at last…

…namely that it’s a complete bore. Sorry, this one really did stretch my patience, at least as much as the appalling ‘Three Coins in the Fountain.’ One of the great things about the Fox Studio Classics series is discovering older films – often accompanied by extras that help place the film in some kind of thematic or social context – that one might not otherwise have come across; thank you, ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ and ‘A Letter to Three Wives’. The downside is unearthing films that are best left buried, and ‘Return to Peyton Place’ definitely falls into that category. It’s ostensibly about social bigotry, false morality and the widening gap between ‘kids’ and ‘adults’, but the societal mores upon which it’s based are impossibly dated, even now seeming to belong to the 50s rather than the 60s. The screenplay adopts the format of a daily soap opera – ‘Days of our Lives’ or somesuch pabulum – full of hysterical melodrama and inane meanderings, a garish parade of false sets and false breasts.

As for the cast, Astor, to her credit, is marvellous, bringing real anguish to her role as the tragic Mrs Carter, particularly in the climactic town-meeting scene. Jeff Chandler, with hair like a brillo pad and a personality to match, destroys every scene he’s in while Carol Lynley makes a cold and unsympathetic lead, with a brittle voice and an oddly immovable face. To be fair, I just think Lynley is miscast, not necessarily a bad actress – her odd quality was perfect in the disquieting ‘Bunny Lake Is Missing’, in which she played a woman whose sanity is called into question when the child who she claims has gone missing appears never to have existed. Come to think of it, something went very wrong in the casting here. Tuesday Weld, as the abused Selena Cross, is spirited and would have made a better Allison, I think, while Lynley’s eerie detachment would have been suitable for a woman who was raped by her stepfather as a girl.

I swear that I’m not getting carried away in my dislike of ‘Return to Peyton Place’, but something about the picture got on my nerves. I mean, basically it looks very good. ‘Return’ was shot in CinemaScope. For the DVD a new 35mm Interpositive was manufactured from the original camera negative, although judging from the restoration comparison, the original was in pretty good shape to begin with. It’s not the quality of the transfer, but something in the nature of the film itself looked cheap to me, a kind of worn out, starched, old rayon kind of look. Maybe it’s just the sets and wardrobe. Maybe it’s a testament to the restoration team that the film looks like what it is: trash.

The case says English Stereo and English Mono, which is normal for Fox Classics titles. However, there was only an English Stereo and Spanish Mono track on the disk reviewed. No real complaints though; Franz Waxman’s overwrought score comes across with teeth-grating clarity, although during the quiet scenes the level of background hiss is surprisingly loud.

Special Features
The Commentary, by film historian Sylvia Stoddard, is authoritative and comprehensive, but can’t compensate for the mediocrity of the material. There’s a lot of information about each actor and actress, the locations where the film was shot, the origins of the source material, background stories and so on. But when a commentary track starts talking about the time when a ski-lift was installed in a particular location, you know you’re short of stuff worth discussing. However, for fans of the film it’ll be interesting.

There’s two MovieTone News segments on the disk, Publisher Honors Author and Star is a short promotional piece featuring Metalious and Lynley and ‘Return to Peyton Place’ a Smash Hit is an equally short piece showing the premiere of the film, which is notable mainly for featuring a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of Robert Rossen, taking time off from making the great ‘The Hustler’. The Special Features close with the familiar ‘Restoration Comparison’ and ‘Theatrical Trailer’ and also four trailers for other titles from the Studio Classics series.

As you may have gathered by now, I found ‘Return to Peyton Place’ pretty tedious; in fact, at two hours I have to say I found it little short of torture to sit through. However, Fox has given the film a typically handsome DVD presentation, so I’m giving it a higher overall mark than I otherwise would, in recognition of their professionalism.

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