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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Peyton Place (1957)

Connie: All men are alike. The approach is different, but the result is always the same. Sooner or later, we get around to this.
Michael: Look, if all I wanted was a woman, I could get one anyplace—in a bar, in a hotel lobby, on a street corner—
Connie: Or in my home?
Michael: I'm not going to let you make anything dirty about this!
Connie: And what do you call it?
Michael: I'm going to tell you the hard truth about yourself. It isn't sex you're afraid of—you can say yes or no to that. It's love—that's what you can't handle!

- Lana Turner, Lee Philips

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: August 13, 2004

Stars: Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn, Hope Lange, Diane Varsi, Betty Field
Other Stars: Terry Moore, Barry Coe, Leon Ames, David Nelson, Lorne Greene
Director: Mark Robson

Manufacturer: PDMC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexual themes, domestic violence)
Run Time: 02h:36m:57s
Release Date: March 02, 2004
UPC: 024543103264
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AA-B+ B+

DVD Review

Back in the puritanical 1950s, Peyton Place was incredibly hot stuff. Audiences hankering for a sultry soap opera got their money's worth, even if Mark Robson's glossy production severely watered down Grace Metalious' scandalous novel of small-town life. Still, this classic Hollywood potboiler bubbles over with taboo topics—incest, rape, teen pregnancy, abortion, premarital sex, alcoholism, murder, illegitimacy. That's quite a menu for a movie, even by today's permissive standards, but somehow Peyton Place tastefully depicts its sordid events. And for all of us closet voyeurs, it's a helluva lot of fun watching everyone's dirty little secrets spill out into the open.

Of course, plenty of moralistic speeches condemn the sleazy behavior, with some of the characters' heavy-handed orations more difficult to swallow than their lascivious acts. But that's the way American movies were made in 1957, and the preaching adds a quaint charm to the film. Screenwriter John Michael Hayes (Rear Window) cleans up Metalious' dumpy New England town and sanitizes many of its residents, transforming Peyton Place into a Hollywood version of a Norman Rockwell painting—bucolic, tranquil, seemingly idyllic—which makes all the seedy goings-on doubly shocking.

The saga of tangled lives and loves begins in the months before Pearl Harbor. War rages in Europe, but battles are brewing in Peyton Place, too, as rebellious teens fight to free themselves from their controlling, over-protective parents, as well as the community's judgmental attitudes and insidious gossip. As the seasons change (underscored by insipid narration from star Diane Varsi), the town, like its graduating high school seniors, comes of age, shedding its innocence and confronting its darker side. And, oh, what a dark side it is: cold fish Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner) hides a shameful secret from her daughter Allison (Varsi), while fighting off the attentions of the new school principal, Michael Rossi (Lee Philips); their maid, Nellie Cross (Betty Field), lives in fear of her violent, alcoholic husband Lucas (Arthur Kennedy), who lusts after his stepdaughter Selena (Hope Lange); Mama's boy Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn) struggles to escape his mother's strangulating domination; and rich playboy Rodney Harrington (Barry Coe) dallies with trampy Betty Anderson (Terry Moore), much to the displeasure of his upstanding father (Leon Ames).

Though Peyton Place's steam has dissipated over the years, it remains an entertaining period piece and a searing indictment of conservative rural values. Several scenes that once titillated now provoke merely titters, especially when punctuated by thunderous musical accents, courtesy of Franz Waxman. Director Robson also errs by transforming a hot-button soap into a full-blown epic. He beefs up trivial story elements, overdevelops characters, and spends far too much time creating atmosphere, thus bloating Peyton Place to a whopping 156 minutes.

Performances generally impress. Turner, in her first mother role, does a good job as the sexually repressed single parent, but is saddled with the wooden Philips as the man who stokes her dormant passions. Philips' nasal voice and stiff demeanor sabotage his earnest speeches, and douse any sparks that fly between him and Turner. Varsi and Tamblyn share some tender (and identifiable) moments as they awkwardly explore young love, but Lange steals the picture as the victimized Selena. With heartbreaking dignity, Selena endures an avalanche of misfortune and despair, yet Lange resists the temptation to overact, turning in a natural, emotionally affecting portrayal that resonates after the film ends. Lloyd Nolan, as blunt, level-headed Doc Swain, also shines, injecting welcome humor into his role, and giving the uppity Peyton Place residents the swift kick in the pants they so richly deserve.

The blockbuster success of Peyton Place (which earned nine Academy Award nominations) spawned countless imitations, and laid the groundwork for TV's durable daytime dramas. The original, though, still holds our interest, and reminds us how far we've come—socially, politically, and sexually—since the movie was first released. Few would term Peyton Place a great film, but its classy presentation, solid acting, and salacious subject matter make it the most iconic melodrama of the 1950s.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Peyton Place deserves a lush, sumptuous transfer, and Fox delivers with this superior widescreen anamorphic effort. Minimal debris mars the smooth, vibrant image, which bursts with beautifully saturated hues and excellent contrast. Much of the film was shot on location in Maine, and renowned cinematographer William C. Mellor (A Place in the Sun, Giant) captures the depth and detail of the country scenery with an unerring eye. Fleshtones stay true and stable throughout, and light grain enhances the story's sultry tone. Bold black levels add luster to night scenes, and any digital tinkering remains invisible. Fans of the film will be delighted with this top-notch presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
3.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The DD 3.1 track (listed as DD 4.0 in the menu) possesses fine presence and depth, and remains free of any annoying imperfections. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and Franz Waxman's romantic (if, at times, bombastic) score nicely fills the room. Stereo separation is difficult to detect, and bass frequencies are mild, but subtle details come through well, especially the crunching fallen leaves when Lucas chases Selena through the woods.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by actors Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Fox Movietone News clips
Extras Review: Fox spruces up the 16th volume of its Studio Classics series with some noteworthy supplements on a double-sided disc. Side 1 includes the film, and a scene-specific audio commentary by Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore. The two actors make some noteworthy points, but have trouble sustaining interest over the course of such a long film. Unfortunately, Moore sounds as if her comments were recorded at the bottom of a well, and during one considerable (and annoying) stretch, she talks with her mouth full of food! Moore recalls how Turner's lover at the time, the notorious Johnny Stompanato (more about him below), would stand behind the camera and intently watch the actress during her scenes with Lee Philips. She remembers Stompanato as "tall and very handsome, in a very Italian-stallion way," while Tamblyn notes, "He looked like trouble to me, and he was trouble." Moore admits to worshipping Turner, and gushes over her beauty, style, and talent to excess throughout her commentary. She also lists being named the number one pin-up girl during the Korean War as "the greatest thrill of my life."

Tamblyn often strays from discussing Peyton Place, regaling us instead with stories about his career, and friendships with Elvis Presley, James Dean, and Robert Mitchum. He calls Philips "stiff, stodgy, and arrogant" and "not a great leading man," and discusses Diane Varsi's stimulating rehearsal methods. Both actors speak with special fondness about the fun and camaraderie on the set, and what a wonderful time they had making the film. Toward the end, lengthy gaps in the commentary make listening a chore, but admirers of the movie will surely want to check out at least a portion of Tamblyn and Moore's memories.

Side 2 kicks off with an installment of AMC's always fascinating Hollywood Backstories series, which chronicles the production of Peyton Place through film clips and interviews with cast members Hope Lange, Russ Tamblyn, Terry Moore, and David Nelson. The 25-minute program (which originally aired in 2001) includes rare footage of outspoken author Grace Metalious discussing her book and its adaptation on a 1950s talk show. It also addresses the novel's notorious reputation, and the slippery censorship issues producer Jerry Wald confronted during the project's transition to the screen. The episode pays plenty of attention to the explosive scandal that engulfed Lana Turner just days after the 1957 Academy Awards, when her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, supposedly stabbed to death Turner's lover, mobster Johnny Stompanato, during a violent domestic dispute. (A brief clip of an overwrought Turner testifying at Stompanato's inquest enhances the segment.)

Two Fox Movietone News clips chronicle both the glitzy parade of stars attending the Peyton Placepremiere, and the top stars of 1957 (Deborah Kerr and Rock Hudson among them) receiving Photoplay Gold Medal awards. The original theatrical trailer for Peyton Place shows substantial wear-and-tear, making us appreciate the marvelous remastered transfer all the more, while a brief, text-only teaser hypes the film's imminent release.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Sexy melodramas have certainly evolved since Peyton Place, but this 1950s classic set the standard for the genre. Though it seems rather tame today, Mark Robson's film remains an engrossing (if overlong) saga distinguished by sterling performances and glossy production values. Fox salutes the drama with a first-class transfer, solid audio, and entertaining extras. Recommended.

 


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