Peyton Place (film)
original film poster
|Directed by||Mark Robson|
|Produced by||Jerry Wald|
|Screenplay by||John Michael Hayes|
|Based on||Peyton Place
by Grace Metalious
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Cinematography||William C. Mellor|
|Edited by||David Bretherton|
Jerry Wald Productions
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||162 minutes|
|Box office||$25.6 million|
Peyton Place is an exposé of the lives and loves of the residents of a small New England mill town, in the years surrounding World War II, where scandal, homicide, suicide, incest, and moral hypocrisy hide behind a tranquil façade. The film stars Lana Turner and Hope Lange, with supporting roles by Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan, and Diane Varsi.
In the seemingly idyllic New England town of Peyton Place, drunkard Lucas Cross (Arthur Kennedy) stumbles out of his house as his son leaves town. Lucas' downtrodden wife, Nellie (Betty Field) goes to work as the housekeeper for Constance "Connie" MacKenzie (Lana Turner), a local dress shop owner. The daughters of the two families, Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi) and Selena Cross (Hope Lange) are best friends and are about to graduate high school.
Following an argument about the merits of a good education, a stranger to the town, Michael Rossi (Lee Philips), is hired to be the new principal of the high school by the president of the school board, Leslie Harrington (Leon Ames), the owner of the local mill; the students' choice for the position is Ms. Thornton (Mildred Dunnock). This selection infuriates Lucas, the school handyman, and he gets drunk. Later, while picking out dresses for Allison's birthday party, Connie presents herself as a prim and proper sexually-repressed woman, and encourages her daughter not to invite Betty Anderson (Terry Moore) to the party, due to Betty's overt sexual conversations; ultimately, Constance reconsiders and allows Allison to invite anyone to her party. Betty arrives at the party with Rodney Harrington (Barry Coe), who turns off the lights and kisses Allison; the party is ended, however, when Connie walks in, embarrassing Allison by making a scene.
Later that week, Rossi arrives at the MacKenzie house to announce that Allison has been named valedictorian, and he asks Connie to chaperone Allison's graduation dance. Meanwhile, Harrington tells his son, Rodney, that he will not accept him going to the graduation dance with a girl with such a bad reputation, and forces Rodney to call Betty and uninvite her to the dance. Instead, Rodney goes with Allison, though Allison is in love with another classmate, Norman (Russ Tamblyn). When they get to the dance, Rodney splits off to make-out with Betty in his car, but she is angry at him for dumping her and refuses to have sex with him. Outside, after dancing with her, Rossi kisses Connie, but she again rejects his advances. Selena returns home, and is raped by Lucas.
Selena becomes pregnant, and when she goes to Dr. Swain (Lloyd Nolan) for an abortion, he refuses, and she confides in him that her step-father raped her. Swain confronts Lucas, and he is forced by Swain to sign a confession and leave town. Lucas chases Selena home out of revenge, and she trips and falls, causing her to miscarry. Swain operates on her and tells her family it was an appendectomy instead of the true reason. When Selina returns home, Lucas tries to rape her again, but this time she kills him in self-defense. She is then arrested and tried by the District Attorney (Lorne Greene) for murder: the truth about Selina's self-defense actions and other ongoings then come to light, and she is acquitted.
At a picnic for Labor Day 1941, Rodney and Betty reunite and go skinny dipping while Allison and Norman go swimming nearby. A town busybody sees and tells Connie, who explodes at Allison for causing rumors. They fight, and Connie tells her that Allison's father was married to another woman, and was not a great man like Connie had told her. Allison runs upstairs and finds that Nellie Cross has committed suicide by hanging herself in a closet. This shocks Allison, and she is confined to a bed for a time, until she decides to leave Peyton Place for New York City.
World War II erupts and the men of Peyton Place go off to war. However, when Rodney is killed in action, his father offers to take care of his now-wife Betty, and she is welcomed into the family. Meanwhile, Connie visits Rossi to apologize for being so dismissive of him, and when she confesses that she was a married man's mistress, Rossi decides to stay in Peyton Place and promises to always care for her.
- Both Diane Varsi and Lee Philips made their film debuts in Peyton Place.
- The films also marked the first time that David Nelson had appeared separately from his family, Ozzie, Harriet and Ricky.
Less than a month after the book's release in 1956, producer Jerry Wald bought the rights from author Grace Metalious for $250,000 and hired her as a story consultant on the film, although he had no intention of actually allowing her to contribute anything to the production. Her presence in Hollywood ensured the project additional publicity, but Metalious soon felt out of place in the film capital. Horrified by the sanitized adaptation of her book by screenwriter John Michael Hayes, who was forced to contend with the Hays Code, and his suggestion Pat Boone be cast as Norman Page, she returned to her home to Gilmanton, New Hampshire. She eventually earned a total of $400,000 in profits from the film, which she hated.
The film was shot primarily in Camden, Maine, with additional exteriors filmed in Belfast, Rockland and Thomaston in Maine and Lake Placid in New York. It premiered in Camden two days before going into general release in the US on December 13, 1957.
Peyton Place was the second-highest grossing film of 1958, although in the first few months of its release it did not do well at the box office, until a real-life tragedy gave it an unexpected boost. On April 4, 1958, star Lana Turner's daughter Cheryl killed her mother's abusive lover, mobster Johnny Stompanato, and was placed in Juvenile Hall. The press coverage of the subsequent investigation boosted ticket sales by 32%, and the film eventually grossed $25,600,000 in the US. A coroner's inquest ruled the murder justifiable homicide, and the district attorney chose not to charge Cheryl with the crime, although he declared her a ward of the state and placed her in the custody of her grandmother. Turner feared the negative publicity would end her career, but it led producer Ross Hunter to cast her in the 1959 film Imitation of Life.
The film inspired a popular primetime television series that aired from September 1964 until June 1969.
While Peyton Place was a commercial hit, most critics noted that the most salacious elements of the Metalious novel had been white washed or eliminated completely. In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther remarked, "There is no sense of massive corruption here." Variety noted, "In leaning backwards not to offend, producer and writer have gone acrobatic. On the screen is not the unpleasant sex-secret little town against which Grace Metalious set her story. These aren't the gossiping, spiteful, immoral people she portrayed. There are hints of this in the film, but only hints." TV Guide said, "This is the kind of hypertensive trash that gives melodrama a bad name, cynically tempering its naughty bits with smug moralizing. The film was promoted as receiving an 'A' rating from the Catholic Legion of Decency, meaning it was deemed 'acceptable to all.'  But in actually, it was given an "A-III" rating, meaning appropriate only for adults.)
On the film's 40th anniversary in 1998, celebrations were held in some of the Maine towns in which the film was shot, attended by Hope Lange.
The film received nine Oscar nominations (and no wins), including four honoring supporting performances, which tied a record set three years earlier by On the Waterfront. That record would later be matched by Tom Jones, The Last Picture Show, and The Godfather Part II. The film's nine Oscar nominations without a win also tied a then-Academy Award's record for biggest shut-out (with The Little Foxes) That record was later surpassed by The Turning Point in 1977 and The Color Purple in 1985, both of which won zero of eleven nominations.
- Best Motion Picture: Jerry Wald, Producer
- Best Director: Mark Robson
- Best Actress: Lana Turner
- Best Supporting Actress: Diane Varsi
- Best Supporting Actress: Hope Lange
- Best Supporting Actor: Arthur Kennedy
- Best Supporting Actor: Russ Tamblyn
- Best Writing (Screenplay--based on material from another medium): John Michael Hayes
- Best Cinematography: William Mellor
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p251
- "Notes" on TCM.com
- Kashner and McNair, pp.248-51
- Kashner and McNair, p.253
- Variety review
- TV Guide review
- Kashner, Sam and MacNair, Jennifer. The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002., ISBN 0-393-04321-5
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Peyton Place (film).|
- Peyton Place at the Internet Movie Database
- Peyton Place at the TCM Movie Database
- Peyton Place at AllMovie