Peyton Place Blu-ray Review

Superb small town drama still plays with a kick. 4.5 Stars

A tender, evocative small town drama with incisive character studies delivered by a clutch of outstanding actors has been somewhat miraculously extracted from Grace Metalious’ scandalous best seller in Mark Robson’s Peyton Place.

Peyton Place (1957)
Released: 03 Mar 1958
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 157 min
Director: Mark Robson
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Lana Turner, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy
Writer(s): John Michael Hayes (screenplay), Grace Metalious (from the novel by)
Plot: A peaceful New England town hides secrets and scandals.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Fox
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 37 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 03/14/2017
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 4.5/5

A tender, evocative small town drama with incisive character studies delivered by a clutch of outstanding actors has been somewhat miraculously extracted from Grace Metalious’ scandalous best seller in Mark Robson’s Peyton Place. One of the great Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s, Peyton Place has had a long life as a property on both the large and small screens, and this 1957 box-office winner laid the groundwork through gorgeous location shooting, meticulous casting in almost all of the key roles, and direction that makes the 2 ½ hours of the movie pass by fleetingly with never a dull moment.

Peyton Place is a small town in New England, friendly and pious on the surface but hiding a cauldron of personal problems which often bubble to the surface and threaten to tear the town apart. A group of graduating seniors in the class of 1941 are on the cusp of young adulthood and are eager to experience the world on their own terms. But parents with their own problems and hang-ups often get in the way. Valedictorian Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi) wants to be a writer but is blocked from experiencing the world by her demanding, sexually repressed mother Constance (Lana Turner). Allison’s best friend Selena Cross (Hope Lange) is hiding a terrible secret, being the victim of sexual abuse by her stepfather Lucas (Arthur Kennedy). Rich boy Rodney Harrington (Barry Coe) is attracted to flirtatious Betty Anderson (Terry Moore), but his martinet father (Leon Ames) thinks he can do better than the town tramp. Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn) wants to experience life and love but is under the thumb of his violently possessive mother (Erin O’Brien-Moore). All of them experience violent changes in their way of life with the coming of World War II and the revelation of some of the most closely guarded secrets in the town.

Screenwriter John Michael Hayes has magnificently boiled the essence of small town life from Grace Metalious’ book, kept only a bit of its salaciousness but instead concentrated on interpersonal relationships that go beyond the melodrama and hit at the tender and stirring souls of these characters, particularly the younger ones. It is nearly impossible to watch the film and not identify with one or more of the younger characters, striving as they all are for individual identities and a desire to find their ways in the world without interference from parents, friends, or townsfolk, especially the latter who in Peyton Place tend to mind not only their own business but everyone else’s, too. Director Mark Robson captures the seasons wonderfully throughout (gorgeous DeLuxe color cinematography by William Mellor), and he imbues real hometown spirit to everyday events in the movie with which many can identify: a prom and high school commencement exercises, Easter services, Labor Day picnics, birthday parties, swimming in the local lake. If the murder trial which climaxes the film seems a bit ill-constructed (the prosecution and the defense call witnesses alternately rather than in typical court procedure), it certainly affords several cast members the chance to emote quite passionately; little wonder that five of the movie’s nine Oscar nominations were for its performances.

Lana Turner has a real movie star lead as Constance MacKenzie struggling with frigidity and the fear of gossip and scandal, and this performance won her the only Oscar nomination in her long career. But Diane Varsi, making her screen debut as her daughter Allison, really has the leading role in the film and for a screen debut, it’s most impressive as she works her way from adolescence to young womanhood very convincingly. As her male counterpart whose sensitivity and naiveté in the ways of the real world mirrors her own, Russ Tamblyn is likewise very impressive as Norman Page especially in comparison to his character’s growth from the shy, repressed Norman in the film’s first half to the confident, expressive young man in the final scenes of the movie. Arthur Kennedy exudes dangerous instability and drunken crudity as Lucas Cross, and Hope Lange, the fifth Oscar nominee, offers a lovely, delicate read on Selena Cross hiding the secrets of her rape and subsequent pregnancy from a town all too eager to judge any impropriety. Fully worthy of an Oscar nomination that he didn’t get is Lloyd Nolan as town doctor Matthew Swain holding town secrets and watching as gossips and busybodies try to undermine the town’s roots and traditions. Terry Moore makes an alluring Betty Anderson, Leon Ames does his usual stalwart job as the prejudiced Mr. Harrington, Betty Field is a touching Nellie Cross, and Mildred Dunnock is solid and dependable as longtime teacher Miss Elsie Thornton. Three of the key male roles are acted only passably: Lee Philips as Michael Rossi, Barry Coe as Rodney Harrington, and David Nelson as Ted Carter.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The 2.35:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. It’s a sharp and often stunning transfer with excellent color (occasionally skin tones look a bit too brown) and with the film’s grain structure admirably respected. Black levels might not always be at their deepest (the rape sequence and later murder sequence, both in the Cross shack, don’t boast the inkiest blacks), but the transfer is blissfully free of any age-related problems with dust specks or scratches. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The disc offers two DTS-HD Master Audio tracks: 2.0 stereo and 5.1, and both offer excellent fidelity. I preferred the 2.0 track with more forcefully delineated directionalized dialogue and a nice sense of fullness to the sound design, but you won’t go wrong with either one. The dialogue has been recorded wonderfully and mixed with the gorgeous, evocative Franz Waxman background score and the expected atmospheric effects. There are no problems at all with any hiss or other artifacts distracting from the forceful emotional drama which is unfolding on the screen.

Special Features: 4.5/5

Audio Commentaries: there are two on the disc. Carried over from the DVD is an edited track with comments from actors Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore, both with fine memories of making the film. But even better is film historian and Peyton Place fan Willard Carroll’s commentary track which does an excellent job detailing background on the movie’s production and stars and respecting key moments of the movie when he stops to let a key dialogue scene unfold before commenting on it.

On Location in Peyton Place (7:35, HD): Willard Carroll has traveled around Maine shooting the real-life locations used in the movie which are still in existence. You can watch his travelogue with just Frank Waxman themes on the soundtrack or with his optional audio commentary.

Hollywood Backstories: Peyton Place (25:06, SD): another in the excellent series of behind-the-scenes documentaries on the making of classic Fox films produced originally for AMC, this one offers vintage interviews with author Grace Metalious, Connie Wald (wife of the film’s producer), actors Terry Moore, Russ Tamblyn, Hope Lange, and David Nelson, censorship expert Gerald Gardner, and film expert Emily Toth.

Fox Movietone Newsreels (SD): two newsreels covering the film’s Hollywood premiere (1:32) and the Photoplay Awards for 1957 (0:58).

Two Theatrical Trailers (2:35, 0:41, SD)

Six-Page Booklet: contains some color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s incisive essay on the book and film.

Overall: 4.5/5

Peyton Place offers involving and illuminating drama about small town life that still plays as wonderfully well today as it did some sixty years ago. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

Published by

Matt Hough

administrator

5 Comments

  1. Another fine review Matt. I have seen the HD version,which I guess was taken from the same master as the Studio Classics dvd release. It looks pretty good. I have read that restoration work has been undertaken by Fox on this title- does it show noticeably in your opinion?
    Like you, I believe this was one occasion when an adaptation improved upon the source material and the censorship of the day did more good than harm. The novel is sensational and involving but not particularly well written. (I believe it was banned here in Australia for a time- a sure way to ensure best seller status at that time!). The screenplay by John Michael Hayes develops the characters in a sensitive manner and actually makes them more compelling and realistic. One change made for censorship was the way Selena’s pregnancy is terminated- in the book, the doctor performs an abortion, in the movie, Selena suffers a fall and loses the child (typical for Code-ruled Hollywood). The doctor covers up things somewhat so his heroism is retained,albeit in a lesser way. Nonetheless, this compromise does not harm the film.
    The cast is uniformly excellent (even the somewhat limited Terry Moore, who has a touching scene with Leon Ames after the death of her husband, Rodney Harrington, who was resurrected as Ryan O’Neal in the TV series). I believe Russ Tamblyn and the late Diane Varsi (who sadly did not live to old age) were worthier of the Supporting Actor/Actress Oscars than Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki, as good as they were in SAYONARA. In the pool at the Hollywood YMCA in 1981 I happened to meet a retired worker from Fox who went on location to Camden for PEYTON PLACE. He told me that Varsi and Tamblyn caused mayhem there. I visited Camden later on that US trip. The town seemed to have changed little. A cafe displayed stills from the movie. I went to a lookout spot which I felt sure had been used for the scene pictured above. Lana Turner did not go to Camden, thus the rear projection utilized at times when she is ‘outside’.( Her double went there, of course).
    The glorious Franz Waxman score has been described as showcasing one of the most exquisitely beautiful themes composed for the cinema.. I agree. It was not nominated for Best Score. Waxman resigned from the Academy over the non-nomination of Alfred Newman’s score for THE ROBE at the 1954 ceremony and few of his scores were nominated after this. A clear snub. (Johnny Green’s score for RAINTREE COUNTY was, in my opinion, worthier than the score which won the Oscar, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI by Malcolm Arnold)
    Lana Turner was initially reluctant to portray a mother but was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her outstanding work. Her disappointment at losing must have been swiftly forgotten as the murder of Johnny Stompanato took place on her return from the ceremony, if I am recalling correctly. (Later the basis for WHERE LOVE HAS GONE by the shameless Harold Robbins and filmed with Susan Hayward- one case where a pulpy novel could not be transformed into a better film). The child actor who portrayed Hope Lange’s brother (Scotty Morrow) was busy at Fox in ’57, he also appeared in AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER as an orphan Betty Field had previously worked with Hope Lange in BUS STOP in a totally different role. The sequel- also a Metalious tome- RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE, was not as good but was nonetheless interesting and utilized some footage from the first film. Eleanor Parker and Carol Lynley were capable replacements for Turner and Varsi and Mary Astor-as expected-steals he movie. I hope this makes it to Twilight Time in the near future. Thanks TT for bringing us another great CinemaScope movie from Fox’s golden age with a landmark score. (Can I make yet another plea for a CinemaScope blu ray of Philip Dunne’s PRINCE OF PLAYERS with a great Bernard Herrmann score? The panned-and-scanned Archive release is one of the biggest disappointments in recent years!)

  2. The very good commentary on the disc details the changes from book to film including some of the changes you mentioned, Lionel, and also changes to the characters of Norman and Rodney that made them more screen-friendly.

  3. Matt Hough

    The very good Willard Carroll commentary on the disc details the changes from book to film including some of the changes you mentioned, Lionel, and also changes to the characters of Norman and Rodney that made them more screen-friendly.

    Yep, excellent bonus material on this release.

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