A coming-of-age story set in the outwardly respectable New England community of Peyton Place. Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi, in a fine performance) is a high school student who narrates the story of her home town around the time of WWII, slowly revealing the moral hypocrisy, social inequities and class prejudices that are hidden under the idyllic facade of small-town America. A beautiful and complex film for the way it captured life values and issues, Peyton Place, directed by Mark Robson and based on Grace Metalious’ novel, was also a very daring movie for 1957. And the way it handled controversial subjects like illegitimacy, rape, sexual attraction and repression with tact and frankness at the same time makes it a great classic.
As for the rest of the cast, Lana Turner is good in her role of Constance MacKenzie, a woman with a hidden past, the high-strung mother of Allison. But there are a few others who stand out. Hope Lange delivers a splendid performance as the brutally victimized Selena. Russ Tamblyn makes a great role too as a teenager, Norman, harshly repressed by his mother. And there is Mildred Dunnock who beautifully portrays an aging spinster teacher who has to face the disappointment of being denied the position of principal at the high school she has taught all her life. Some of the many words of wisdom in the film come from her: “If there is anything in life you want, go and get it. Don’t wait for anybody to give it to you.”
photo: still from the movie captured for Classiq, from this DVD edition / credit: Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Wald Productions