“Suitable only for adults,” the poster tells us with a bright red sticker…
Surely I can’t go so far as to say that nothing offends me, but I believe I have a pretty high tolerance when it comes to the deliciousness of “line crossing” in films. Few and far between were the taboos of my childhood, so my exposure to the R-rated was rarely limited. As a result, the evils of the adult world were never as enticing to me as they were to those whose parents were forbidding pop culture left and right. After a healthy meal with the family, we’d grab our Oreo ice cream and enjoy a fine viewing of the brilliant (yet often dirty) TV show Soap, or we’d revisit John Belushi and his raunchy pals in Animal House (1978). But trust me, I always made it to kindergarten the next day with a good night’s sleep under my belt.
It is because of this high tolerance to film impurity that I was so fascinated by my reaction to Peyton Place, nominated for nine Academy Awards. My knowledge of Lana Turner was mostly limited to the rumors of her supposed discovery in Schwab’s drug store and the story of her daughter fatally stabbing one of Miss Turner’s boyfriends. About a month ago, I watched The Bad and the Beautiful, just to get a taste of a name I’ve known my whole life but never really had a chance to follow. The DVD had a special featurette on Miss Turner and mentioned that Peyton Place was her one and only Oscar nomination. That and the fact that the film had inspired a soap opera of the same name had me running to my queue the next day.
The dirty little stories of a small town are some of the most enjoyable for me — the characters and their prim and proper surfaces remind me of the parents who were telling my friends not to watch Animal House or Dirty Dancing. In a darkly humorous way, it was always those holier-than-thou parents who ended up having a boyfriend on the side or wound up in jail for embezzlement . . . protest too much, perhaps? That may be part of why I love the times when I’m able to see through the curtain, both on and off the screen. So you can imagine my surprise when the sex, gossip, violence, and intolerance that run through Peyton Place were a bit shocking to me. Aside from the length, however (it runs a bit over two and a half hours), there is very little I would change . . . I guess I never understood why people didn’t enjoy being shocked!
As the years fly by, it seems like movies are trying to one-up each other with the sex and violence — with which I have no problem! Until I began Peyton Place, the issue for me was that general shock value was all but gone . . . I’m here to tell you where you might find it again if you’re searching. Rather than thinking “I can’t believe what I just saw,” I spent much of Peyton Place thinking “I can’t believe what they just alluded to!” I never really noticed until now that the conservative part of my brain takes over when I’m watching one of my beloved old movies, and that enjoyable shock value returns to the screen. Topics such as terminating a pregnancy, murder, rape, the existence of illegitimate children, and teenage sex that may or may not have occurred after skinny-dipping certainly made my jaw drop in the context of 1950s film.
Maybe we haven’t been completely desensitized after all — thank you, Peyton Place!