Peyton Place was filmed in a Maine town, surrounded by stretches of seacoast and forest and country roads. The streets are lined with little white houses, and the shack by the railroad tracks is rather picturesque. To fit these settings, Hollywood has turned Mrs. Metalious' honestly dirty best-seller into a tepid idyll.
Several of the book's horrible happenings are preserved in the movie, most of them made good in the end. The murderess (a nice girl really) is acquitted, the illegitimate girl is reconciled with her mother, and the nude-swimming couple are really in love and get married. Essentially, the movie is about normal love and family relationships. But Peyton Place is so pretty, its homes are so full of healthy, handsome, well-dressed, good-hearted youngsters, its air so thick with platitudes, its ending so obviously destined to be happy, that it is hard to believe that all the goings-on really matter.
The citizens of Peyton Place are performed with a variety of accents and speech defects. Diane Varsi seems uncertain as the illegitimate girl, a sensitive-type child who reads books and listens to classical music. Hope Lange is adequate as her friend the murderess, and Terry Moore is well-cast in a low-cut dress. Lana Turner reverses her field to play a woman afraid of love, and does so in a professional manner.
Mildred Dunnock gives the film's best performance in a small role as the old maid schoolteacher without whom no small town is complete. But there is much to be said for Arthur Kennedy as an unfortunate rapist ("I never had nuthin' I ever wanted"), and for Lloyd Nolan as the town doctor. Others involved are Russ Tamblyn as Miss Varsi's boy friend and Lee Philips as Miss Turner's. They maintain the film's standard without exceeding it.
The film has a few effective moments, but its chief charm is its scenery. When that palls, there are stretches during which Peyton Place seems like a thoroughly dull little town.