The much anticipated sequel to the 1957 box office sensation, somewhat rests in the middle of being a success and a failure. Most lamentably, none of the cast members of the original film reprises their roles, for whatever varying reasons, nor does the original director, Mark Robson. Miscasting and changes from the novel may account for some of the movie's awkwardness, but the quality of the performances and the last scene involving the town meeting which again, exposes the truth and the bigoted views of the townspeople, elevates it above other film sequels that suffered similar blows of comparison. Conversely, the fact that entirely different locations and sets are used, also gives the movie a sense of unfamiliarity - Mamouth, California for the ski lodge scenes, Fox's Malibu Ranch and backlots for the remainder of interiors and exteriors - the rest of the footage comes from the 1959 film "The Best Of Everything" (New York) and the first movie.
Allison MacKenzie (Carol Lynley) publishes an autobiographical novel, Samuel's Castle, based on her hometown of Peyton Place and the people she knows. She becomes romantically involved with Lewis Jackman (Jeff Chandler), her married publisher. He encourages her to be as truthful as possible and never to be frightened of it. But that's not the only repercussion that her book incites - the locals are offended by the truths that Allison's tome reveals. Her mother Constance (Eleanor Parker) is both angry and fearful of both her daughter's expose and of history repeating itself, while her husband Mike Rossi (Robert Sterling) refuses to remove the book from the school library and as a result, his job as principal is put in jeopardy. It also touches Allison's friend Selena Cross (Tuesday Weld), as she begins a relationship with a ski instructor, Nils Larson (Gunnar Hellstrom), when reading aloud passages of the novel cause Selena to flashback to the night she killed her stepfather in self-defense. And Ted Carter's (Brett Halsey) marriage to the fiery Raffaela (Luciana Paluzzi) is on the rocks thanks to his meddlesome, evil mother Roberta (Mary Astor), whose bigoted view of her daughter-in-law and determination to keep her son in her clutches has tragic consequences. Conflict ensues as Allison achieves literary fame and Connie's need to control her daughter surfaces yet again, climaxing in a showdown during a town forum in which the truth is again told, much to the dismay of Roberta, who is also on a mission to keep up the facade of moralistic hypocrisy.
Astor excels as the villainous matriarch, while Parker does a great job of taking on a role made famous by Lana Turner. Chandler is sufficient support but on occasion seems lost in the shuffle, while Lynley does a commendable turn as Allison, but she cannot eclipse the fine characterization of Diane Varsi. Halsey and Paluzzi were married at the time, which may or may not have factored into the casting, since Ted's wife in the novel was a woman from Boston named Jennifer rather than being an Italian model. Hellstrom, playing a role that was originally that of a summer stock actor, is a bit out of place (although quite humorous), and his jealousy of any man in Selena's life is alarming and distracting, while Sterling is respectable as Mike, who supports Allison and stands his ground. But by far the standout performance is that of Weld, who exceeds in touching the tormented past of Selena, never more so than in the scene where the past plays out in front of her, causing her to attack her boyfriend, and later resurfacing during the meeting, confronting the locals regarding their unfair treatment of her and Allison revelations of the hidden side of Peyton Place. While Selena has a significantly smaller role than in the original (it's interesting that both Weld and Hope Lange, who originated the character of Selena, would costar the same year in the Elvis Presley vehicle "Wild In The Country"), and does not compare to Lange's portrayal, it still makes the film watchable. The lovely score of Peyton Place has had lyrics added and wonderfully sung by Rosemary Clooney, who was then married to the film's director, Jose Ferrer. Some characters were eliminated, and it's a shame since it would have been great to see what became of Norman Page, Betty Anderson, the Harringtons, Doc Swain and Mrs. Thornton. There are also several inconsistencies that do not make sense or match with the film's predecessor. Selena and Ted were just friends? They wanted to get married, and since when is Ted wealthy? What happened to him having to save for law school? Selena was raped by her stepfather at 13? No, she was graduating from high school that same year, and since when was Lucas Cross called Luke? The story is also not entirely true to the period (post WWII). Sylvia Stoddard's commentary is enjoyable and informative, especially considering that she attended the Hollywood Professional School with Weld. Watch for Bob Crane's unbilled appearance. A moderate success at the box office, Return To Peyton Place can never surpass the glory of the original, but it is intriguingly flawed, and an interesting follow-up.