Archive for the ‘Peyton Place’ Category

DVD review: Peyton Place Part Two has me hooked

July 22, 2009

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.

DVD review: ‘Peyton Place’ was ‘Twin Peaks’ before its time

May 21, 2009

An odd synchronicity is in the air. Just as Ryan O’Neal is seen as the love of Farrah Fawcett’s life as the ailing actress nears the end, and just after Mia Farrow stages a fast to draw notice to starving Sudanese refugees, both Farrow and O’Neal appear together, as their careers began, as a star-crossed couple in Peyton Place.

New on DVD from Shout! Factory, the ABC series’ first 31 episodes from 1964 reveal a still teen-aged Farrow — not long before she married Frank Sinatra — and an early-20s O’Neal as two youths in the quaint New England coastal town of Peyton Place, as modeled after a 1957 film and the original novel by Grace Metalious. Airing twice weekly at the time, Peyton Place was a quick hit for ABC, a network in need of credibility, and it stood out as the first prime-time soap opera.

Yes, the suds were flowing on this tawdry trailblazer, with unwanted pregnancy, illicit affairs and other secrets and scandals.

Of course, by today’s standards, many of those scandals were routine, including the series’ early love triangle involving rich boy Rodney Harrington (O’Neal), bookish “good” girl Allison MacKenzie (Farrow) and the fetching, grasping, lovestruck Betty Anderson (Barbara Perkins), who gave herself to Rodney over the summer and now finds herself with child. Or does she?

Others in the solid cast include Dorothy Malone as Allison’s mother, Constance, reportedly a widow but with a dark secret; Ed Nelson as the stalwart and moral new doctor in town, Michael Rossi, who has an eye for Constance; and Christopher Connelly as Rod’s younger, troubled brother, Norman Harrington.

Shot in So Cal, but using second-unit exteriors and strong sets to evoke a quaint New England village, the series boasted lovely theme music and a strong sense of atmospheric drama. Like most soaps, its narrative flows slowly, but considering it ran twice a week — not five times — it’s not too slow.

The young Farrow and O’Neal stayed with the show for two years — and I’m not calling them seasons, because Peyton Place had no summer hiatus, and no reruns. It simply ran nonstop, twice weekly, until veering to three times and then once weekly before ending in June of 1969.

In a way, the show’s setting and setup recall the initially sensational Twin Peaks of 1990, with a picturesque small town — charming and alluring on the surface, but disturbing underneath — in which one family tended to run things. Like Twin Peaks, Peyton Place was riddled with crises and misbehaviour, from impetuous teens to greedy middle-agers. And as David Lynch would love, Peyton Place — like Twin Peaks — was all about secrets, and those who either fail or succeed at keeping them.

I’ve screened almost the entire first set of 31 shows and can attest it’s a grabber and a keeper — an alluring serial which gets under your skin if you let it. And like Lost in its early stages, it does a fine job of unpeeling the onion to reveal characters’ back-stories, enticing even as it suggests and hides.

A relic? Maybe. An icon? Most definitely. Peyton Place went boldly where no prime-time show had gone before, and for that it deserves its place in television history.