The literary equivalent of hiding back issues of Playboy under your bed, author Grace Metalious' novel Peyton Place (1957) provided illicit thrills and sexual instruction for an entire generation of erotically curious teens during the '50s. Glued to the bestseller list for 59 weeks, its popularity all but guaranteed the story of passion, sex, incest and murder would be adapted to the screen; the only question was, how much of its racy content would remain? Producer Jerry Wald managed to work around most of the crumbling Hays Code restrictions while still putting out a firecracker of a film that not only found financial success but also earned nine Academy Award nominations to boot. The film revolves around the sheltered life of Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi), who finds the constrictive community of Peyton Place - and her own mother, Constance (Lana Turner) in particular - to be creatively and emotionally stifling. Curious about boys but barred from dating, she strikes up a secret relationship with another damaged teen, Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn), who shares her curiosity if not her courage. Meanwhile, life among the rest of the graduating class is also loaded with drama. Big man on campus Rodney Harrington is on the outs with school tramp Betty Anderson thanks to his father's meddling. Struggling Selena Cross (Hope Lange) harbors an awful family secret that threatens to make the town's penchant for juicy gossip boil over. And the adults don't fare much better in their own love lives as Constance rebuffs the affection of new high school principal, Michael Rossi (Lee Phillips), sheltering an embarrassing secret of her own that finally pushes Allison out of the nest. Most of Peyton Place's appeal comes down to peeking behind the "brown paper bag cover" of what really happens in every community. But for all the soap opera shenanigans and first-time sexual fumblings, there is a more powerful undercurrent of betrayal as "grown-ups" pass along their own inhibitions and dysfunctional hang-ups to a new generation. The moral savior in this case turns out to be WW2, which severs the ties - sometimes forever - between parent and child and reboots all their lives for better or worse. Later inspiring a sequel and prime-time soap opera, director Mark Robson's film goes to some pretty dark places. It's Selena's story, raped by her drunken stepfather (played with scary believability by Arthur Kennedy), which pushes the most buttons and leads to a courtroom drama prosecuted by none other than Lorne Greene. Viewed with modern eyes, there's nothing here that isn't pushed further in even the most timid Lifetime movie. But Robson's actors, particularly the young cast members, bring an honesty to their roles that hint at something bigger. While Lana Turner and the other adults wring their hands in old-fashioned Hollywood tropes, the next generation seems to feel a change is on the wind...and Peyton Place is only the beginning. Twilight Time's 3000-copy limited edition Blu-ray offers up a spectacular hi-def transfer of the stunning Cinemascope Maine landscapes and small town streets. The new presentation gives the film a spit-and-polish that makes it look and feel as modern as its content. Special features include an audio commentary with film historian Willard Carroll and another with actors Terry Moore and Russ Tamblyn. A Hollywood Backstories episode does a great job of condensing the film's genesis, reception and scandals in a scant 25-minutes. Finally, Julie Kirgo's liner notes go along with the original theatrical trailers and Fox Movietone Newsreels.
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