Friday, August 5, 2011

30 Day Movie Challenge - Day 19

Day 19 - A Movie Made Before 1967

Confession time: I don't love old movies. Oh, they're fine and all. I'm a casual watcher. In fact, due to my Oscar goals, I've probably seen more old movies than your average, non-film student 23 year old. But I just don't love old movies; I like them as friends. On my Official Canonized List there are but two films made before 1967: Gone With the Wind, which you know and one other you probably don't.

Peyton Place (1957)

Maybe you've heard of Peyton Place as a book? It's a trashy little novel written by house wife Grace Metalious that went on to become one of the greatest selling novels of the 1950's. Oh, you haven't? Pity.

The titular place is a small New England town, seemingly normal and wholesome on the outside, but twisted and vicious underneath. Among the many inhabitants are Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi) a high school senior longing to be a writer, her mother Constance (Lana Turner), the sexually repressed dress shop owner who harbors a dark secret and Allison's best friend, Selena Cross (Hope Lange) a good girl from the wrong side of the tracks who has her own dark secret. Over the course of a year, Allison has a romance with awkward and sheltered Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn), Constance is seduced by the sexy new principal Michael Rossi (Lee Philips), and Selena is accused of murder.

Let's just put it on the table. I grew up in a small town so automatically I'm going to like this movie/book on principal. Also, Allison is an aspiring author who doesn't want to go to college and writes of experiences she has not yet known. She's also overly curious about sex. Let's just say I related when I first watched Peyton Place in high school. I will defend my hometown, however. I don't think anyone here is that fucked up...other than our science/math teacher and a pious sixteen year old student eating lunch together everyday behind a locked classroom door...ahem.

So Peyton's a good movie. I was shocked by how blunt it was, with it being a product of 1950's Hollywood and all. The word "sex" is even said several times. I didn't think that was kosher with the Hays' Code. Of course, lots of things are changed, notoriously The Abortion Scene. In the novel, the town doctor gives a character an abortion. But in the movie, she trips and falls and he must "assist her in a miscarriage".

One wonders what this movie would be like if it were made today, or at the very least, ten years later. Interestingly, director Mark Robson would go on to direct the similarly salacious Valley of the Dolls in 1967. (Still crushing on that movie!) While both are scandalous and torrid in places, Peyton Place was nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best fucking Picture. Part of the film's charm is its repression. You can tell it wants to go balls out, but like the town itself, must follow the proper codes of conduct and be a good little 50's movie.

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