Peyton Place is a chance to enjoy a widescreen view of Mark Robson and Jerry Wald's panorama of small town New England life and environs in 1941. Yet, for all its beauty, Peyton Place is the namesake of small town pettiness and vicious gossip.
Peyton Place is a small company town in the hill-mountains of New England. It opens with a sequence of typical rural New England scenes depicting the structures of the region thru the seasons. According to the Meeker Museum, the critical hilltop scene where Allison and Norman climb to her special secret hilltop to exchange their first kiss, was filmed at Mount Battle near Camden, Maine. The view is spectacular befitting a cinemascope production. But you do not need special places to establish that the towns of the region are romantic looking little postcards of themselves, most scenes of even people walking and shopping lend themselves to professional photographers and their cameras.
In the 1956 novel Metalious begins this regional vignette with her statement that "Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one can ever be sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay." From there on the relationship of human beings, their society, nature, and place is center stage. The sunlight, trees, and lakes, meld into position with the people, their lives, and the buildings of town.
Small Towns. The focus of the work is the closed society that small towns can become. Indeed, Peyton Place has become synonymous with small town gossip and hypocrisy. The underlying struggle of the plot is for the town to change so that its youth will stay. Those youth see the outside as freedom from the impending trap that the town can become for those who fail to immediately fit its rigid structures, and even for those who do fit. The sequel, Return to Peyton Place follows this theme to its fullest. Allison feels confined by the narrow-mindedness of those who dominate the town and condemn her friend Selena because of her low class position. The town is offers limited opportunities. New York is Allison's goal with its freedom and chances to become something.
Downtown. Just the downtown, by itself, is a postcard from the past. The stores are small, but filled with the basic goods people need. Prosperity is apparent in that her mother owns a small dress store, yet lives in a fine home with a cleaning woman to take care of keeping it that way. In that prosperity Constance, the mother, develops her web of lies to protect her flirtation with the outside and its wickedness. In the lie she maintains a solid position in town.
Poverty and Class. Selina Cross comes from the "wrong side of the tracks." A stereotypic description, but she literally does in this film. Following the opening credits Michael Rossi drives into town to take on the position of principal at the high school and to challenge to town to do better than it has at educating its children. He is stopped at the rail crossing in front of Selina's shack. He notices the squalor, and talks about it later. The Cross household faces its first crisi after he drives off across the tracks to the right side. The problems of the Cross household serve as an underlying background theme. Being from the wrong side of the tracks makes respectability and acceptance impossible. Industry. Harrington Mills dominates Peyton Place. It is the major employer, and both the overriding reason for people to be in Peyton Place and for those who want something better out of life to want to leave. To work at the mill is to be trapped. It is a textile mill, the basis of industrial development in New England. It is historic, but hardly a rewarding future.
Made in the 1950s as a "potboiler," Peyton Place is today one of those novels and films that seems a stereotype, but in reality is the source of the stereotype. The coming DVD should offer the full cinemascope image that movies sought in the 1950s to compete with television. The enhanced picture will only make the geographic qualities of the film loom larger on the mind. Peyton Place is a classic film in substance, and classic in its use of the environment.
Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Peyton Place. Dakota Alliance XIV (1): February 2004: 7.