When Peyton Place came out, it quickly surpassed The Bible as America’s favorite book. And it was easy to see why. You had your white trash rapes, your repressed blonde hussies slapping their hormonal blonde hussy daughters, your sensitive male who had all the answers, and even World War II!
You also had the town tramp romancing the mill owner’s son against daddy’s wishes! Then you had a murder! And a miscarriage! And a murder trial! And an acquittal!
It takes The Bible, what, 25,000 pages to give you that kind of super-charged thrillride? When the dreammakers in Hollywood put their glossy paint job on it, they gave you all that and Lana Turner in just 2 1/2 hours!
But how to dramatize everything that’s great about this awesome land again? For starters they had author Grace Metalious write a sequel to her novel. If the first book was based loosely on her own experiences growing up in a sucky small town, then it would only make sense the next book would tell of her experiences since the conclusion of the first book.
Thus we are blessed with a book about what happens to the author when you write a book trashing everyone you know. Guess what? They get really pissed!
If Grace was the film connoisseur we all are, she would have known that from watching Clifton Webb in the Mr. Belvedere movie Sitting Pretty which shared the same plot and was made several years earlier. This proves the old adage that “those who don’t learn from old movies starring fastidious and confirmed bachelors are destined to repeat the plots of those movies.”
To which I say, thank God Grace didn’t learn anything because Return to Peyton Place is a return to greatness! It was so comforting to see the familiar characters that we’ve learned to care for during the last movie. Except for the fact that all the familiar characters don’t look familiar at all!
Lana Turner, Hope Lange, Russ Tamblyn, Lee Phillips and the rest of the original cast are nowhere to be seen! In their places (to varying degrees) are um, Tuesday Weld, and, uh, Carol Linley and, well, let’s see. Wait! Here’s a familiar face! Brett Halsey! Brett is well known for his roles in some of Lucio Fulci’s final movies such as Demonia and Touch Of Death! I feel better already!
Normally, the flow of things would dictate that I mention something along the lines of “the movie picks up five years after the first one ended” but Return to Peyton Place is one of those movies that confounds all expectations which is code for “huh?”
You see, we aren’t sure when this is taking place. The first one ended after Pearl Harbor got bombed and everyone went off to war, so it’s probably sometime in 1942 or 1943. In Return to Peyton Place, Ted Carter has just graduated law school and he mentioned in the first movie that would take him seven years. Assuming that he didn’t get out of the army until 1945, that puts us at 1952 or ten years after the first movie. Except that there’s no indication that the movie is taking place during any time except the then present (about 1961).
Though there is nothing explicit one way or the other, none of the characters look to be ten years older and in fact the character of school principal Michael Rossi has had his hair mysteriously go from silver in the first movie to greasy jet black in the second.
Let’s just pretend that Ted went to summer school and that the time period isn’t an issue. We’re really here to catch up with the problems of our favorite (and now unrecognizable) characters.
Ted is still having problems with his domineering mother. When he comes home married to an Italian girl, his mom is a complete ass and does everything in her power to break the two of them up.
Except that we never met Ted’s mother in the first movie. And the domineering mother was actually the mother of Norman Page in the first movie. And Norman fixed all that by joining the paratroopers and becoming a man.
Ted was the guy who was going to marry Selena Cross. In this movie they claim he was just a friend who supported her during her murder trial!
But what about Selena? She ends up involved with the local ski instructor who is just in from Sweden or someplace where it’s okay for guys to be named Nils.
Vast chunks of the film are taken up with Allison’s adventures in New York where she’s working with her hunky publisher to get her book, Samuel’s Castle, whipped into shape. The first thing that needs to be whipped into shape is that book’s title. Who the hell is Samuel and what’s up with his castle?
And I think I speak for all Peyton Place aficionados when I say that I’m here to see small town folks engaged in petty gossip and backbiting about the filthy lives of their fellow citizens, not get a crash course on how a novelist is turned into a celebrity by a New York publisher.
Once the book comes out, Ted Carter’s evil mom spearheads a movement to, brace yourself, have the book removed from the high school library! You can only imagine the drama that ensues since Allison’s stepfather is the principal who put the book in the library in the first place!
He gets fired over his refusal to remove the book and this leads us to the edge of your seat, climatic, town meeting! Sure, the first movie ended with a murder trial, but any old potboiler can do that! A town meeting where issues of censorship and new values clashing with old ones can be hashed out by having all the main characters give dramatic speeches is like a murder trial times ten!
The highlight of the movie though has to be what can only be called “the ski accident abortion scene.” I’ll let you savor that one on your own and say no more about it except that it was like the scene in the first movie where Selena rolled down a hill and had miscarriage, but with snow!
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