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Muir Maiden: Peyton Place 1957- Life is Not So Swell in Pleasantville

June 28, 2015

Peyton Place
This piece was originally posted at The New Democrat Plus

I don’t know any other movie that perfectly represents its time and is better timed and has a better plot than Peyton Place. I mean think about, think about what Peyton Place is about and when it comes out and when it takes place. In small town New England, where everyone looks the same, talks the same and acts the same, lives the same way. Or at least that is how it looks on the outside. Peyton Place, comes out in 1957, a time where mom stayed at home and dad worked. Where divorce, or single parenthood were considered sins. Where African-Americans, were considered servants of Caucasian families, especially Anglo-Saxon families. Where sex before marriage and even the talk of sex and how people being physically attracted to each other pre-marriage were considered sins.

Peyton Place and the 1940s, as well as 1950s America, perhaps especially in New England, are considered the Utopia of the Christian-Right and what I at least call the Traditional Values Coalition of America. And yet this is all just a façade. Peyton Place, is a movie where a single mother is raising her daughter. Her daughter’s father, dies early on, but she’s never actually married to him. Not only that, but this women played by the great Lana Turner, has an unplanned pregnancy with a married man. Again, adultery and especially adulterous sex, would be considered sins back then and in this community. And yet Constance MacKenzie, played by Lana, tries to come off as this better than now above it all person. Expressing the traditional values of Traditional America. Even though she’s lived a separate life where she expressed her true feelings.

Peyton Place, looks like a small town paradise in New England, on the outside. With good schools, good places to eat. Very friendly intelligent good people, things to do. And yet this is a town with a lot of the problems of a big American Northeastern or Midwestern city. Like Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, to use as examples. Where women have kids with men who are married to other women and without marrying the father of their baby and where the father doesn’t have much of a presence in their baby’s life. Where a girl, played by Hope Lange, is raped by her stepfather, played by Arthur Kennedy. And when her stepfather attacks her again, she kills him and get charged with the murder of her stepfather. Because no one believes that she was simply defending herself.

Peyton Place, is also a movie, where a women played by Lana Turner, learns to open up, socialize and even love again. From the principle of her daughter’s high school, played by Lee Phillips. Who teaches her that there’s nothing wrong with two people openly showing their affection with each other in public. Even in Peyton Place. And is also a movie where abortion, again in a movie that came out in 1957, but took place even further back in 1941, thirty years before abortion even became legal in America, where a doctor, played by Lloyd Nolan, performs the abortion on Selena Cross, played by Hope Lange. Because she was a teenager, whose stepfather is the father of her baby.

To say that Peyton Place was ahead of its time as far as the issues that it talked about, would be like saying the Empire State Building in New York, is a big tall building. This movie was a solid ten-years ahead of its time. That showed that 1950s and 1940s America, wasn’t all that pleasant and certainly not perfect after all. That they dealt with the same issues back then as Modern America deals with today. Only they weren’t as public and the attitudes about these so-called alternative activities and lifestyles, were kept in the closet and hidden. Kept outside of mainstream America. And it is a very good look inside a time that wasn’t as innocent as its been advertised.

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From → Classic Movies

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