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Return to Peyton Place
Fox Studio Classics

Return to Peyton Place
Fox Studio Classics
1961 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 123 min. / Street Date February 22, 2005 / 14.98
Starring Carol Lynley, Jeff Chandler, Eleanor Parker, Mary Astor, Robert Sterling, Luciana Paluzzi, Brett Halsey, Tuesday Weld, Gunnar Hellström
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke
Art Direction Hans Peters, Jack Martin Smith
Film Editor David Bretherton
Original Music Franz Waxman
Written by Ronald Alexander from the novel by Grace Metalious
Produced by Jerry Wald
Directed by José Ferrer

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Although there's nothing criminally wrong with Return to Peyton Place, it isn't Savant's idea of a movie you'd want to see twice, let alone a Studio Classic. I don't think we immediately think of it in the same company as Sunrise or All About Eve. The original Peyton Place isn't exactly a classic either, although it's certainly a major cultural event of the 1950s, "The Little Dirty Book That Could."

For this followup four years later (I'm sure Fox was already waiting for the day when the story could become a television series) all the original stars have checked out in favor of replacements of mostly secondary status. Some of the casting is interesting and some is pretty dismal. But nothing beats this sequel's basic non-story, which purports to dramatize the circumstances by which the book Peyton Place came to be. In a pig's eye, as they say.


Allison McKenzie (Carol Lynley) rushes off to New York for all-night editorial sessions with publisher Lewis Jackman (Jeff Chandler), to turn her subdued story of hypocrisy and bigotry in her small town into a salacious best-seller: You know, literature spelled with an XXX. Her mother Connie (Eleanor Parker) objects strenuously, as she believes that Allison has inherited her own weakness for falling for married men. Her stepfather, high school principal Mike Rossi (Robert Sterling) keeps mom at bay. Meanwhile, local boy Ted Carter (Brett Halsey) shocks his straightlaced mother Roberta (Mary Astor) by bringing home a new bride unannounced, Raffaella (Luciana Paluzzi). Roberta starts a concerted effort to sabotage the marriage by inviting the unjustly-accused local bad girl Selena Cross (Tuesday Weld) over. Selena instead falls for visiting Swedish ski instructor Nils Larsen (Gunnar Hellström).

Allison's "hot" book Samuel's Castle inflames the town's bluenoses, particularly Roberta Carter, by detailing most of the local scandals with little or no disguise. Selena freaks out because it forces her to remember the ugly rape by her stepfather. Connie is convinced that Allison is lying and is having an affair with Lewis, a married man. Roberta brings things to a head by getting Mike fired from the High School for putting Samuel's Castle in the school library. Can the youthful forces of truth and light overcome small-town bigotry?

Peyton Place really wasn't much of a class act but it shines next to this cut-rate sequel. I could be completely wrong, but besides some second unit work, a lot of the locations look more like Southern California, even the ski slopes at Big Bear.

Let's get the casting role call out of the way first. Carol Lynley is interesting enough as the new Allison, although she seems phony in her whirlwind Manhattan media blitz, inteviewed in one scene by oddball TV hosts Casey Adams and Bob Crane. Her only story function is to be melancholy and withstand some motherly abuse. Eleanor Parker is also given only a couple of scenes to put over the psychotic mother, the one who judges her daughter by her own weaknesses. Tuesday Weld can do no wrong, as usual, and manages to make a particularly tough character interesting - everything of interest about these characters already happened in the first movie. If the same actors were available, I think they would have padded the film with flashbacks!

Jeff Chandler has a bland role and gallantly tries not to overpower Ms. Lynley. Not much chemistry there, no matter how smitten Lynley tries to act. Mary Astor has the most screen time and spends it as a grinning evil bookburning type. She's very good but is asked to do too much, playing against actors that can't touch her. Let me explain.

The rest of the cast are Fox contract players that apparently had to be used, and a couple of foreign wild cards. Robert Sterling must have been kind of a hand-me-down; he'd end up as an unexciting lead player in the next year's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Brett Halsey was part of the young actor crowd but didn't show the promise that Weld did; Fox had already given up on him with parts in things like The Return of the Fly. Gunnar Hellström and Luciana Paluzzi might have been part of some kind of aborted foreign exchange program in what were the very last years of a studio-style actor's contract system. According to the IMDB this is Hellström's only American film as an actor and he was quite busy before and after in Sweden. But he has plenty of credits over here as a TV director, interestingly enough. Luciana Paluzzi eventually hit it big as Fiona, one of 007's more interesting femmes fatale in Thunderball. She'd been in European films since 1954 and worked with Fritz Lang and other big names in smaller roles.

Return to Peyton Place isn't much of a movie. It just plain cheats. Allison wants to be seduced by her publisher Lewis and there's both a telling fade out on a kiss and an attitude change that makes us think they've become lovers. Yet when Allison returns to town, we discover that the kiss was all that happened. As much as she wants the affair, the real Allison is a true blue type prone to tell cynical TV interviewers without irony that she loves America. The film also misleads us about Selena and Nils. Selena freaks out (a scene even Tuesday Weld can't pull off) over her past being aired in the book and hits Nils with a fireplace poker. We're waiting for the next big Peyton Place murder trial, when all of a sudden Nils turns up totally none the worse for wear. The strife in the Carter home leads the already not very believable Rafaella character to rush to the ski slopes to purposely have a ski accident to kill her unborn baby. We last see her in the hospital without knowing if she's lost the baby or will indeed die herself. Her husband is off delivering a self-righteous sermon against his own mother at the town meeting.

The logic is laughable. Just because the book Samuel's Castle isn't technically obscene doesn't mean it belongs in a High School library, so the big hazzarah over the firing of Mike Rossi doesn't make sense. Roberta and Connie's conservative prudery has to be exaggerated to make them into unfeeling villains, so the plot will work. Hardly anybody else seems to care.

Maybe they should care. It's ridiculous for Allison's book to have to be a salacious tell-all in order to be good literature, which seems to be the lesson that Lewis Jackman is pushing. The issue is not whether Allison told the truth, but the fact that she betrayed the confidence and privacy of her friends and neighbors. Selena is her best friend. Maybe today her sad story would not be a hindrance, but in the 50s the notoriety would indeed make Selena consider doing something like changing her name and leaving town. All so Allison can have a hot tale to tell in a book.

If it's meant to represent the truth about the publishing of Peyton Place, Return to Peyton Place is also a lie. The real author Grace Metalious was a frumpy and bitter housewife with writing talent, who concocted her book on her dining room table as a way of striking back at what she felt was an oppressive and bigoted community around her. She wasn't a green schoolkid with lofty dreams of literary passion. There's a good case to be made for the book Peyton Place as a timely hand-grenade to the smug tyranny of small-town conformists ... but this movie is phony and deceitful with its messages. It even ends with a town meeting that reinforces the strength of small-town society - "the essential unit of Democracy." Phooey. Small town politics are no more idealistic than any other kind. If it were so, then we'd have to call the small-town Klansmen 'harmoniously democratic' too.

José Ferrer's direction as usual, is fine. He really wanted a bigger directing career and should have gotten one. Curtis Harrington was an associate producer on this concoction, if the on-screen credits are to be believed. I wonder if he's gone on record about it ...

Fox's Studio Classics DVD of Return to Peyton Place is a fine enhanced encoding of the feature with clear sound for Rosemary Clooney's rendition of the title tune. For extras there's a commentary by Sylvia Stoddard. A couple of newsreels show the premiere ("A Smash Hit!") and Grace Metalious and Carol Lynley watching trucks leave the printers with copies of the Return to Peyton Place paperback.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Return to Peyton Place rates:
Movie: Good - (mostly for laughs, or twisted sociology)
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: newsreels, commentary by Sylvia Stoddard
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 24, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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