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Peyton Place (1957)

Young love clashes with old secrets in this adaptation of Grace Metalious’s scandalous book. The bestselling novel was controversial due of its depiction of unmentionable scandals—including rape, abortion, and sadomasochism—and seemed unfilmable. But producer Jerry Wald had made a career of taming works considered too hot for the screen, like Mildred Pierce (1945). With the help of screenwriter John Michael Hayes, he transformed an abortion into a miscarriage, cut the suggestion that sensitive teen Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn) enjoyed his mother’s beatings, and placed the focus on the conflict between small-town values and malicious gossip.

Like the novel, the film dealt with three women trying to find themselves. Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner) has lived for years afraid of romance because she once bore an illegitimate child. Her daughter, Allison (Diane Varsi), wants to break free of her mother’s strict rules and become a writer. And Selina Cross (Hope Lange) wants to escape her impoverished background and an abusive stepfather (Arthur Kennedy) to find a better life.

Wald’s greatest coup was convincing Turner to play a woman with a grown daughter, which he did by promising the film would be her Mildred Pierce (it did bring her an Oscar nomination). He also found a cast of talented young actors like Varsi (in her film debut), Lange, and Tamblyn to embody the dreams of their small-town teenaged characters. All three were honored with supporting nominations. Varsi was too much the rebel to last long in Hollywood, and she eventually walked out on her studio contract. In only her third film, Lange was just at the start of a solid career. Tamblyn, who had made his film debut as a child in 1948, was the veteran of the group. He had been under contract with MGM through much of the ‘50s, but this was one of the first films to show what a solid dramatic actor he could be.

d. Mark Robson, 157 minutes, DCP

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios