Judge Lacey Worrell thinks this sequel is scandalous—scandalously poor.
"This engaging follow-up to Grace Metalious' best-seller is a study in big-time ambition and small-town narrow-mindedness."
Picking up where the soapy Peyton Place left off, Return to Peyton Place finds young Allison McKenzie (Carol Lynley) anxiously awaiting about whether her novel will be published. When the call finally comes, telling her that the publisher is indeed interested, Allison is beside herself with joy, and sets off to the city to make her mark on the world. The other residents of Peyton Place, however, are not so thrilled when they find that Allison's novel is a thinly-veiled exposé of their town's more salacious side. The book has a domino effect of sorts, affecting Allison's loving stepfather most of all. He, as the school principal, allows the book on the library shelves. Because of that, his livelihood is placed in jeopardy, thanks to a disapproving school board anxious to preserve the crumbling reputation of the town.
In the meantime, Allison finds herself falling for her dashing older publisher, who becomes her mentor throughout the book editing process. Unfortunately, he is married, setting up an obvious conflict between their desire for one another and their adherence to social standards. Elsewhere in Peyton Place, Mary Astor plays Roberta, a mother-in-law from hell who makes life miserable for her newlywed son and Italian daughter-in-law, who are living with her. Roberta hates her daughter-in-law, putting the living situation and the new marriage in jeopardy. The story culminates, appropriately enough for mid-20th century small-town America, in a town hall meeting, where Allison's stepfather's fate as school principal is ultimately decided.
Although this over-long film is not half as compelling as its predecessor, the cinematography is beautifully done, conveying the wholesome, small town exterior so vital to the plot. The colors in the restored picture are vibrant and beautiful, and the set design and costuming are effective as well. It is always interesting to watch old movies and see women who clean house in silk dresses and crinolines, men who walk down the street in Fedoras, and married couples who sleep in chaste twin beds.
That said, Return to Peyton Place comes across as over-long and drawn out. Whereas the first film drew viewers in from the first few scenes, viewers of this sequel may find themselves glancing at their watches, wondering when it will be over. There is a sense that everything will work out just fine in the end, negating the necessity of seeing the film through to its completion. Carol Lynley comes across as vapid and unsure, and isn't strong enough to carry the film on her own.
The selection of extra features here has become standard for the Fox classic releases. The trailer is interesting, if only from the standpoint of seeing how different the trailers of the early 1960s were compared to those of today; it is far more melodramatic and gives away a great deal of the plot. The commentary, so often missing on older releases, is very helpful in terms of placing Return to Peyton Place in its proper perspective.
Carol Lynley went on to appear in Under the Yum Yum Tree, and even showed up on Fantasy Island. Mary Astor, already a prolific screen actress in the very early days of film, was "Marmee" in the 1949 production of Little Women. And Tuesday Weld, of course, went on to be seen in the camp classic Pretty Poison. Director Jose Ferrer helmed State Fair a year after Return to Peyton Place, and was not above guest-starring on shows like The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote. Interestingly enough, Ferrer was married to Rosemary Clooney, who sings Return to Peyton Place's theme song, "The Wonderful Season of Love," and is the father of Crossing Jordan's Miguel Ferrer.
Overall, one cannot help comparing Return to Peyton Place to its predecessor. And like many sequels, it falls far short. While Return to Peyton Place occasionally runs on cable TV's classic film, and it is worth a look for those who saw and enjoyed the original and might be curious about the sequel, it is, in the end, superfluous and irrelevant. The acting and the story in the original were far better; it is no wonder none of the original cast returned for the sequel. Fans of the original Peyton Place deserved better.
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