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Peyton Place: Fox Studio Classics

Shhh! Don't tell anybody, but 1957's Peyton Place is all about … s-e-x. And not just wholesome All-American making out in the back seat of Dad's new Buick sex, but also illegitimate children, rape, incest, abortion, and the many half-truths and lies that people in a small town will employ to protect their iron-clad reputations. The topic is interesting enough by today's standards — back in the '50s, Grace Metalious's novel caused a sensation, making a Hollywood film all but inevitable. Lana Turner headlines the sizable cast as Constance MacKenzie, a dress-shop owner and single mother in the New England harbor town of Peyton Place. Her daughter Allison (Diane Varsi) is concluding her senior year of high school, which has more than enough drama in store for the town's youth: Allison is stuck on Rodney Harrington (Barry Coe), the good-looking scion of the town's mill-owner, but Rodney's interested both in the smart, bookish Allison and red-headed Betty Anderson (Terry Moore), who is much more likely to put out. Meanwhile, Allison also strikes up a relationship with fellow student Norman Page, who seems a bit too much influenced by his mother. Across the town's railroad tracks, young Selena Cross (Hope Lange) is looking forward to graduation, and to moving out of her family's ramshackle house, where she often suffers at the hands of her alcoholic stepfather Lucas (Arthur Kennedy). And the entire town isn't sure what to make of the new school principal, Michael Rossi (Lee Philips), who has a lot of progressive ideas about education. He also falls for the eternally single Constance MacKenzie, but she won't have much to do with him — particularly when he thinks s-e-x is an appropriate thing to teach in public school. One might expect that a movie considered scandalous back in 1957 would be little more than unintentionally amusing by today's standards. Thankfully, while the subject matter of Peyton Place hardly brings a blush to the cheek anymore, it still holds up as a solid piece of filmmaking. Much of the credit must be given to scenarist John Michael Hayes — coming off a quartet of scripts he wrote for Alfred Hitchcock, his gift for dialogue is evident, and he layers the multi-character story with ease while skirting elements that were bound to cross the Hays Office. The seasonal location shooting in Maine by director Mark Robson fully exploits Fox's heralded CinemaScope in the small-town setting. The cast is uniformly good, with a few standouts: Lana Turner in her first middle-aged role (even though she was barely past 35), Lee Philips as the liberal-minded educator in a town of closed-off souls, and Arthur Kennedy in the thankless-but-crucial part as the vulgar, violent Lucas Cross. The ensemble's younger members are likewise appealing, with a young Russ Tamblyn playing the withdrawn mama's boy and Hope Lange as Selena Cross, whose private dilemma eventually strikes the town's conscience. David Nelson, fresh from his TV role on "Ozzie and Harriet," also appears as Selena's earnest boyfriend. Pretty newcomer Diane Varsi acts as the story's central character and narrator, but her career would not last as long as her colleagues — within a couple of years she would depart Hollywood, abandoning a promising future on screen. Fox's DVD release of Peyton Place features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35;1) with Dolby Digital 4.0 audio. Side A offers a commentary with cast members Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore — both are full of anecdotes, although it's clear that Moore has not seen the movie for many years. On Side B is the "AMC Backstory" installment on Peyton Place (25 min.), two trailers, and two Movietone newsreels. Keep-case.

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