DVD review: Peyton Place Part Two has me hooked

It’s weird how you can get hooked on a soap opera that’s more than 40 years old, and watch it avidly as if each day brings a new and intriguing episode. But that’s what I’ve been doing with Shout! Factory’s enormously welcome release of Peyton Place, whose Part Two DVD set is now new.

Yes, it was tough waiting for this one after I finished glomming Part One — and BTW, those numbers are because Peyton Place didn’t have true “seasons” the way most TV series did. Rather, it ran non-stop, every week, including summers, for years.

It is a bit strange that Part One had 31 episodes and Part Two has 33 (again, no extras), but then, there’s method to such mathematical madness, and here it is:

Part Two begins with a turning point: the return to the scandal-wracked New England town of Peyton Place by one of its less than favorite sons, Elliot Carson (Tim O’Connor), a man who served 18 years in prison for the murder of his wife — a murder he fiercely insists he didn’t commit. (And I believe him.) Further, it marks the departure, for now, of George Anderson (Henry Beckman), the washed up alcoholic salesman who’d become increasingly tiresome in his pathetic tirades, which were frustratingly frequent in Part One. Beckman played him well, but the script didn’t give him much to do beyond being miserable.

As for Elliot, there’s a lot more to him than even his murder rap, as you’ll soon see. And as always, this show delivers with strong screenplays and potent performances. Heck, even the photography and production design pick up a bit in the wintry Part Two.

After viewing its first disc, I’m again struck by continuing parallels between Peyton Place and another daring nighttime network soap opera which wouldn’t air for another quarter-century: Twin Peaks. Each has a sleepy little town which looks quaint and quiet on the surface but harbors more dark secrets than it should. Each has a single large business dominating the town. And with Elliot, each has an imprisoned man returning home in the middle of things.

Elliot’s dilemma also echoes the dramatic intensity of The Fugitive, which aired around the same time and involved another man desperately trying to clear his name after being convicted of his wife’s murder.

Peyton Place also has echoes of Irwin Allen, oddly. That’s because, like Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, it was produced at 20th Century Fox. It also had William Self (also of Voyage) as a producer, and the music sounds like it’s performed by the same orchestra that did Voyage’s theme.

And hey, as an Outer Limits fan I must point out the many OL veterans in Peyon Place’s cast, from Ed Nelson as Dr. Rossi  to Kent Smith as rival Dr. Morton to O’Connor. In fact, O’Connor even has a Peyton Place prison scene with Hari Rhodes, his OL co-star in the episode Moonstone.

Before I forget, dang if Mia Farrow isn’t enchanting in her youth — but not much more so than Dorothy Malone, who played her mother. Ryan O’Neal also impresses, and Part Two has an appearance by Mickey Dolenz soon before he became a Monkee. You might say he found a Pleasant Valley Sunday on ABC’s Peyton Place, too.

There’s simply so much to enjoy, including the lovely theme music. And the stories are truly powerful, while persuasively performed by an outstanding cast that keeps getting better.

Yes, I’m hooked. But I should spread these shows out. No telling when Part Three will be due, or even if sales will be high enough to keep ’em coming. On the upside, Part One emerged just two months ago, so Part Three, if it comes, could be out by mid-September.

Until then, this landmark nighttime TV soap is tops on my DVD player’s hit list.


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