Return To Peyton Place, 1961. 7/10

Not nearly as well-regarded as its 1957 predecessor, Return To Peyton Place features Mary Astor as Bette Davis-style domineering matriarch Roberta Carter. She comes between her son Ted (Brett Halsey) and his wife Raffaella (Luciana Paluzzi). Carol Lynley’s Allison narrates the story; on her side of town are her stepfather Mike Rossi (Robert Sterling), his wife and Allison’s mom, Connie (Eleanor Parker), and married lover/publisher Lewis Jackman (Jeff Chandler).

Allison goes a little too eagerly about town with the news of her novel’s (aka Peyton Place’s) acceptance. Ted pulls up to the family mansion with his new wife, Raffaella. Mom immediately shuns her. “How are you going to explain that I’m pregnant?” says Raffaella, since Ted told his mom that they were just married the day before. Mom/Roberta invites Selena (Tuesday Weld) over with the obvious intention of sowing some discord; it works, since Selena was an old flame of Ted’s. She can’t stand Roberta anyway, and actually crashes after splitting. Nils (Gunnar Hellstrom) mocks her a bit, but helps out. This stuff is supposed to be funny; that’s only because both Selena and Allison act half their age. It makes me glad that Roberta is creepy.

Lewis pretty much could be her grandpa. Not only that, he cuts her down by carving up her novel like he’s a detective. “Act like a writer, not a schoolgirl!” is just one of his blasts. Of course, this ‘editing’ process is the movie’s justification. I doubt that a big shot like Lewis would actually do any editing dirty-work himself, but we need to kindle the embers “It takes two to make a love affair.” Correct.

Lewis’s pad is super-cool mid-century chic. Except for what looks like a stuffed dog in the middle of the living room. So far, he’s more of a jerk than Roberta. If he’s not hounding Allison, he’s patronizing her. Thankfully, we’re soon back to Ted and Raffaella. Why can’t they just leave? “I think you made him marry you” Mother-in-law tells daughter-in-law; Raf’s retort isn’t bad: “You want him for yourself!” No pulling punches with these two.

The other (incipient) couple, Nils and Selena, literally bump into each other again, and then again. The pendulum swinging back to Ted and Raf, Ted milquetoasts his way into talking about taking his wife back to Italy, or, at least, to a lodge, but wimps out. He’s got to stop wearing an ascot, a very faux-trendy sophisticated look.

What does keep this moving is alternating the scenes among the couples; poor Allison is really trashed by a slick journalist, and gets challenged by TV interviewers. “Isn’t she enchanting?” says a smarmy host. Then a party–featuring all kinds of fake admiration, and stuffiness. She is definitely getting attention; professional, and intimate (with Lewis). Her mom thinks that, thanks to Lewis, the book has become “cheap and vulgar,” She’s probably right, at least in the sense of how it’ll be perceived. She also intuits that Allison and Lewis are into an affair.

Meanwhile, Roberta can’t help throwing one of her several wrenches into the book by getting it banned from the local high school library. That puts Mike, the school principal, in the hot seat. At least Nils likes the book, but not Selena. The problem is, she’s featured in the book as a murderess. To amplify that point, she flashes back to taking a poker to her stepfather’s head when she was thirteen. It’s a confusing scene, because it looks like she really hits Nil; it’s probably a glancing blow, as he appears fine enough later. Anyway, she goes missing for a while.

Good time to revisit Ted, Raf, and Roberta. Actually, break-up time, as Roberta insults her one too many times, and Ted doesn’t stand up for Raf. She tells him off adroitly with “You’re free to go all the way back to being a boy!” Raf is so upset that she deliberately tries to miscarry by having a skiing accident. Nils tries to stop her, but she does tumble badly. Now, at least, Ted tells her that he’ll take her away–after her recovery.

After accepting an award for her book, Lewis tells Allison that her stepdad got fired over that same book. At least she’s in love with grandpa–sorry, with Lewis. Connie is really bent up by Mike’s misfortune, which is indirectly Allison’s doing, of course, not to mention the bigger deal, her affair with Lewis. Mike has another card to play, as the Selectmen have the final say about his job. Sounds kind of like the Salem witch trial, with constables, no less.

It’s borderline ominous. Nils has the best point by stating the obvious; that the book is about locals anyway; ‘outsiders’ had nothing to do with the characters hypocritical actions. Now Roberta gets her comeuppence from Ted. Selena appears: to remind everyone what her ‘sin’ was, killing her stepfather because he raped her. It’s a variation of Hester Prynne’s compromising situation in The Scarlet Letter. That heroine was wronged and stigmatized (literally). But that was in the 1690s. In any case, in 1961, Selena–and by extension Allison–win out.

Allison’s “whole world is changed.” Lewis is still giving her speeches, but at least she figures out, all of a sudden, that she doesn’t need him. That was the only postscript needed, as all the other relationships are tidied up already. At least that long denouement leaves room for Ted to eject his mom, and Selena and Nils to pretty much announce their engagement; with Mike’s future cleared up, the Rossis are good too.

This was quite a bit better than I expected. In my making the connection to Hawthorne’s novel, it’s strange to think that not more than sixty years ago, things hadn’t changed very much morally from Puritan days. It’s clear, however, that Roberta’s holier-than-thou stance is already out-moded, or at least no longer taken for granted. Entertaining and worth watching.

Man, did Farmermouse dig Ted’s Mercedes 300SL and Lewis’s ’61 Imperial. He’ll have to be happy with scale models, which he’ll build with Nils’ help: seven hot cocoas. 7/10.

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