A chronicle of life before, during and after World War II in the picture-perfect New Hampshire town of Peyton Place, seen through the eyes of aspiring writer Allison Mackenzie, who lives with her overprotective single mother Constance, climaxing with a murder trial that brings out several nasty secrets.
Whenever Oscar season rolls around, it's worth remembering that back in 1957 this long, trashy, demure adaptation of Grace Metalious's longer, trashier dirty novel was taken seriously and thought to be a potential classic.
After a sequel (A Return to Peyton Place), a long-running TV series and the co-opting of its basic plot structure by Stephen King for 'Salem's Lot, it's hard to see what steamed people up about this pastel-coloured soap in which nice people suffer nobly and the rotters all come to a bad end.
The plot weaves through the eponymous small town, taking in illegitimacy, drunkenness, incestuous rape ('when I say "child abuser", I mean it in the worst possible way'), prostitution, abortion, neurosis, frigidity, a murder trial and the scandal that sweet Allison has written a best-seller exposing the community's seamy secrets. Graduating to ‘mother roles’, Turner plays a queenly slut without changing her expression for fear of wrinkles, while a cast of starchy second-stringers (Hope Lange, Lee Philips, Lloyd Nolan, Russ Tamblyn, Terry Moore) revolve around her and only Arthur Kennedy, cast as the worst man in town (the drunken school janitor who rapes and impregnates his stepdaughter then gets bludgeoned and buried in the woodpile), manages even a fraction of the ham needed to get by.
Flatly directed by Mark Robson, who brings so much less to the material than Douglas Sirk did with equally silly stuff, this is utter tosh ... and yet, like the novel, it has a certain page-turning fascination and qualifies as a guilty pleasure.
Effective melodrama with some satisfying emotional confrontations, particularly from Lana Turner.