"Return to Peyton Place" is certainly an obvious follow-up to a pop culture phenomenon, but it's also a peculiarly personal snapshot of author Grace Metalious' efforts to deal with the monstrous success that greeted her 1957 novel. However, the sequel book was hastily written within a month, and lacks the epic scope and internecine secrets that made the original such a dirty, guilty pleasure.
As film historian Sylvia Stoddard comments, 20th Century Fox also had trouble getting anyone associated with the first film to reprise their roles and duties; the actors stayed away, the director said no-way, and the production budget was scaled back when the original British locations for "Cleopatra" (later completed in 1963) started to erode Fox's solvency.
Stoddard's commentary track is generally strongest during the first hour, and she delivers some good facts regarding period film industry woes, small cast bios, and background info on Metalious' fragile career. Once through that, there's minimal material to keep the listener's ear tuned in to the very end. Footnotes regarding the TV series and TV movies reinforce the enduring appeal of the "Peyton Place" franchise, but a second commentator could have filled the gaps with more substantive observations on the novel's continuing impact on pop culture.
The dirty, small-town template of the first "Peyton Place" film may have inspired the David Lynch-Mark Frost 1990-91 phenomenon of "Twin Peaks," but the sequel's reprise of another courtroom finale perfectly sets up the 1964-69 TV series. Malice, murder, and assorted muck-racking were often sorted out between judge and townsfolk, and the mix of prejudices, liberalism, and starchy conservatism not only ensured the show's success, but arguably influenced later variations, particularly David E. Kelly's 1992-96 series, "Picket Fences."
The archived publicity newsreels are standard 'happy celebrity' fodder, though like the film, they markedly contrast the tragic tumble Metalious suffered when she lost fame, a financial fortune, and insult, even after her death, in 1964.
Fox's transfer is quite clean, and shows off the pretty CinemaScope photography (with lots of stock material from the first film), and Franz Waxman's rapturous score in true stereo. (The sequel also adds a theme song, with director Jose Ferrer's wife, Rosemary Clooney, crooning lyrics taken from Metalious' actual prose.)
"Return to Peyton Place" is a surprisingly faithful, albeit more compact, continuation of delicious small town smut, and really whets the appetite for the original TV series that starred Ryan O'Neal and Mia Farrow. Aired on ABC, that Fox-produced show is more than ready now for a deluxe DVD release.
A daytime TV series, "Return to Peyton Place" (1972), followed, along with a TV special, "Peyton Place Revisitied" (1973), and a pair of TV movies, "Murder in Peyton Place" (1977), and "Peyton Place: The Next Generation" (1985).
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan