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    Peyton Placement

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    “Peyton Place was one of the best-selling novels of all time and no one thought it could be made into a decent movie. The subject matter was so steamy it was feared that it might be truncated and done as a pale soap opera. But the pundits were mistaken,” Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross wrote in The Motion Picture Guide. “[Screenwriter John Michael] Hayes’ masterful adaptation of the book managed to keep all the stories going on such a high level of taste that the Catholic Legion of Decency gave it their ‘A’ rating, which means it was ‘acceptable to all.’ Filmed in the small town of Camden, Maine, it’s a terrific example of Hollywood’s professionalism on all counts. The lives of seemingly ‘ordinary people’ were examined in a suburban community and the result was a box-office smash as it became one of the biggest hits of the year. Set in the 1940s, it paved the way for a sequel, Return to Peyton Place, and a very successful TV series that was seen three nights a week in primetime.” One guy who thought the Grace Metalious book could become a great film was powerhouse Twentieth Century Fox producer Jerry Wald, and he was determined to channel the scandalous tome into effective mass screen entertainment, deftly engineering the casting, scripting and production processes to fit inside rigid Production Code norms set up by the Hays Office. In her 1981 chronicle Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious, Emily Toth recounts that screenwriter Hayes “kept most of the essential characters: Allison [newcomer Diane Varsi, whom Wald called “a scared, pimply little bunny. Exactly right.”], Connie [Lana Turner, whom “Wald claimed it took him and [director] Mark Robson five hours to convince…to play” by reminding her “that playing the mother in Mildred Pierce saved Joan Crawford’s career], Selena [Hope Lange], Mike Rossi [Lee Philips], Rodney Harrington [Barry Coe] and Betty Anderson [Terry Moore.] But he eliminated Kathy Ellsworth [Steffi Sidney] losing her arm in carnival machinery. Selena’s abortion became a ‘miscarriage;’ Allison did not have an affair with her New York agent; and Mike Rossi had no midnight swim with Connie Mackenzie.” The character of “little” Norman Page got quite the overhaul from Metalious’ original conception, Toth comments. “In Grace’s original manuscript, he enjoys being nude as his mother whips him; does not mind his mother giving him enemas; and cooperates with her in pretending to be an injured war hero – though he’s really been discharged as a ‘psychoneurotic.’ In the published Peyton Place, he still has his limp, his neuroses and his enemas, but he loses his nude whipping. In the film version, he loses his enemas, his neuroses, his false limp – and even his ‘littleness.’ As played by Russ Tamblyn, Norman joins the paratroopers and is obviously going to be something of a hero.” Other character alterations, some minor and others huge, befell the roles that would be played by Lloyd Nolan as town physician Matthew Swain, Arthur Kennedy as alcoholic school caretaker Lucas Cross, Betty Field as Nellie Cross and David Nelson as Selena’s childhood sweetheart Ted Carter. Despite the revisions from page to soundstage, audiences embraced the tastefully florid melodramatics and well-appointed Cinemascope production, making Peyton Place (1957) its year’s second-highest-grossing film, only behind The Bridge on the River Kwai. Though critical reaction was mixed, the Motion Picture Academy was greatly impressed to the extent of nine Oscar® nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actress (Turner), Supporting Actor (Kennedy and Tamblyn), Supporting Actress (Lange and Varsi), Adapted Screenplay (Hayes) and Color Cinematography (William C. Mellor). Much more has been written about what Peyton Place wrought. Try Clarke Canfield’s 50th-anniversary Associated Press piece on the movie shoot’s Maine imprint here: http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jun/15/entertainment/et-peyton15. Thomas Mallon’s 2014 revisit of the original book offers fresh insights here: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/09/books/review/whats-it-like-reading-peyton-place-today.html. Frank Miller’s TCM.com essay gives a thoughtful overview of the film here: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/85217|0/Peyton-Place.html. Derived from Fox’s 2016 4K restoration, Twilight Time’s 60th-anniversary hi-def Blu-ray provides Willard Carroll's new On Location in Peyton Place documentary, a vintage AMC Backstory: Peyton Place episode, a new Audio Commentary with filmmaker Carroll, a preexisting Audio Commentary with co-stars Moore and Tamblyn, Movietone Newsreel Excerpts and Franz Waxman’s gorgeous score on an Isolated Music and Effects Track. Unearth all the juicy secrets beneath the outward tranquility of Peyton Place March 14. Preorders open March 1.