I’ve read a review of Return to Peyton Place positing the whole film as a disservice to Mary Astor. It might have been Maltin. Right now, I’m reading Bruce Eder’s review over at allmovie. Eder’s a smarty-pants (he does or did a lot of scholarly audio commentaries) and I’d almost recommend it over my own post, because I made a few of the same observations. Return to Peyton Place starts out bad, with Rosemary Clooney singing a silly song over location shots of the town. The first Peyton Place had a great score–if it was a little derivative of Aaron Copland’s Our Town score–and the first couple seconds of music in Return to Peyton Place seemed all right… then the singing started. Clooney was married to director José Ferrer at the time and one imagines there’s a connection to her involvement.
Worse, the first scene is with Carol Lynley. I’m a Peyton Place fan and I can imagine how upset people seeing this film in the theater would have been. Lynley is a poor substitute for Diane Varsi, who originated the role. Poor substitute might be too polite. Lynley’s acting is a crime against celluloid. But then Eleanor Parker and Tuesday Weld and Mary Astor show up–and here’s where Eder and I agree–and Mary Astor’s first scene is really good. Immediately after, she becomes Mrs. Bates, complete with haunted house, but the first scene is good. Tuesday Weld manages to have a few good moments, but she’s busy being in love with Swedish sky instructor–she visibly competent, though I don’t know if I’d say anything if I didn’t know she turned well. Eleanor Parker–replacing Lana Turner, who was the lead in the original Peyton Place–is around because she has to be, but there’s no emphasis on her. It’s a bad sequel in that way–it’s set after the events in Peyton Place, but certain things didn’t happen….
The idea of the film–besides Mary Astor combating her son’s new, pregnant Italian bride (Fox was very international with Return to Peyton Place)–is Lynley writing a book a lot like… Peyton Place. The novel was (I’m Googling for the appropriate adjective) notorious at its publication. That idea of turning that notoriety into filmic content in a sequel, it’s not a bad one. It would allow for the film to cover the existing situations in the narrative and create all sorts of conflicts and yada yada yada, but it’s so poorly handled, it just doesn’t work. Jeff Chandler–who’s good–is bad in Return to Peyton Place. He doesn’t fit the role of book publisher and his scenes are all with Lynley and… oh, they’re awful together.
It’s hard to imagine a good sequel to Peyton Place. You would need the entire cast to return. You would need five or six stories, good ones (instead of two and a half bad ones). You’d need a good writer–though, Return to Peyton Place’s scenes are competently paced–and you’d need a good director. But still, even with all of those components (and Return to Peyton Place has none of those components), there still isn’t a good artistic reason for a sequel….