Peyton Place (1957)

PeytonPlacePoster2Peyton Place is a laughably silly soaper that dates rather badly with its meager attempts to be risqué by frequently referencing how everyone in town constantly thinks about sex.

For instance, Lana Turner (Cass Timberlane, By Love Possessed) is a pent up cauldron of middle aged lust who just can’t admit that the progressively wimpy new high school principal is all that she needs to unleash her long repressed inner-hellcat. Her lover has been dead for something like sixteen years and she now believes (as she so eloquently put it during a shouting match with Principal Rossi in her kitchen) that men are all about pawing women and only want one thing. She also proclaims that men are “dirty” which is probably true since I thought that scene was pretty freaking hot!

For his part, Principal Rossi, incompetently portrayed by Lee Philips (acting tip for Lee: earnestness is not a substitute for charisma) is one of those guys who sees sex as merely a portion of a larger relationship. A healthy portion to be sure, but he tries to keep it in perspective.

He talks about how it just isn’t about bumping uglies, but also about worrying about one another, standing up for each other, and trying out new sexual positions (though this last bit is left unsaid, I think it’s understood).

Lana has a teenage daughter, Allison and if this nympho principal she’s dating isn’t hard enough on her chastity belt’s efforts to keep up the good fight, Allison is all over town doing stuff like kissing boys and swimming with them and getting mixed up in skinny dipping scandal. Luckily for Allison, the whole skinny dipping affair is pretty much forgotten about when she discovers that her maid has committed suicide by hanging herself in Allison’s bedroom!

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But why would someone with such an awesome job go and do that? Isn’t there always a better answer than suicide? Probably not when your liquored up school janitor husband rapes and impregnates your daughter! And even worse for mom (or at least her reputation), the upright doctor and town conscience finds out and confronts the step-father about his dirty deed!

The doctor cajoles a signed confession out of him and has it locked in his safe just in case he needs it for some surprise evidence at the murder trial you’re laying even money that the daughter, Selena, will be having before the movie ends. Then he orders him to leave town. (Until the third act of course!)

What more does a big screen soap opera need besides a murder trial hinging on the revelation of salacious secrets? World War II, that’s what!

It turns out that this senior year of Allison’s happens to be 1941, thus giving us some ready made and not truly earned tension as we watch the townspeople go through their seasonal events such as high school graduation and the Labor Day parade and festivities.

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Even as they go about their boring lives (really, does anyone care if Allison gets a job at the local paper or if the son of the mill owner marries the town tramp?), the prospect of war lingers in the air like a wet fart after an afternoon of Labor Day hot dogs and watermelon.

Selena’s step dad returns on a pass from the navy and tries to have his way with her again. But this time it’s a giant wooden club that has its way with his head. Eight times!

Eventually, Selena can’t keep it to herself any longer and confesses to Lana that she killed her step-father and that he is now buried in the sheep pen out at her house! White trash are nothing if not resourceful!

A murder trial ensues where Lorne Greene is brought in to prosecute Selena who refuses to tell anyone about the rape which could sway the jury in her favor. Finally, her doctor demands to take the stand and unloads all he knows!

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Naturally, he takes the opportunity to indict the entire town for being a bunch of no-good gossip mongers and that they need to start caring for one another instead being all up in everybody’s business. Hey, when the facts aren’t on your side, sometimes you just have to shame the jury into an acquittal. It’s why our system is the best in the world!

A story that is faux-racy and full of subplots that either go nowhere or aren’t that interesting (Allison moves to New York to get away from Mom! Lana opens up to Principal Rossi after she hears he might get a job in Portland! The town sissy joins the paratroopers!) combined with an astounding array of lead actors that can’t get the job done (Lana is in full Joan Crawford Mommie Dearest mode, Lee Philips sometimes acts like English is his second language and at other times comes off like he’s delivering a speech he memorized) make Peyton Place the place to be for fans of bloated, hammy epics of immorality and hypocrisy!

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