Pros:very intense and eloquent at times
Cons:very long, lots of characters to keep track of
The Bottom Line: "A person doesn't always get what she deserves. Remember it. If there's anything in life you want, go and get it. Don't wait for anybody to give it to you."
Last month, my best friend received her Masters degree in Special Education, and afterward, I came over to her house to celebrate. The method of celebration she selected was watching the 1957 movie Peyton Place, in which the topics of education and graduation are most prominent.
This film takes place in the early 1940s, and the titular tiny New England town is hardly a haven from the war that is causing such turmoil in the world. However, it is an insular community, and at times it is difficult to remember that there is so much more out there than the often petty concerns of the townsfolk.
Diane Varsi stars as Allison Mackenzie, an intelligent and articulate but na´ve young woman on the cusp of adulthood. Her uptight mother Constance (Lana Turner) has hidden the darker details of her past from Allison, and this is only one of many instances in the town of secrets being kept for the sake of an appearance of propriety. In some cases, this white-washing has deadly consequences.
The town is populated with intriguing characters, including Norman (Russ Tamblyn), the cowed young man whose overinvolved mother wont let him get too close to Allison, and Michael (Lee Philips), the progressive new school principal who takes a shine to a resisting Constance.
Of the remaining teens, the most compelling is Selena (Hope Lange), a gentle farm girl who suffers horrific abuse at the hands of her alcoholic stepfather Lucas (Arthur Kennedy), while my favorite of the adults is Dr. Swain (Lloyd Nolan), an eloquent man whose position affords him the opportunity to unearth a few of the towns darkest secrets.
This is an interesting movie that contrasts the picturesque beauty of a tiny community with the ugliness simmering below the surface. The wartime setting gives it an extra punch as Allison and her classmates are forced to realize very quickly how big a world lies beyond Peyton Place. Parts of it are pretty edgy for 1957, though as I understand it, the movie tones down the novel a bit. As it is, this is not a movie for children, and it would probably bore them anyway.
At two hours and 40 minutes in length, Peyton Place is pretty long, and sometimes the pace feels pretty plodding. At its most intense moments, however, it is riveting, and it finishes very strong, with its final devastating indictment ringing in the mind long afterward. It may take a while to get going, but this movie is worth the journey.
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