Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lana Turner in Peyton Place

Lana Turner received her first and only Best Actress nomination for playing Constance MacKenzie, a cold single mother in the Best Picture nominee, Peyton Place. Lana Turner admitted in her autobiography that she thought that she did not deserve this nomination but was very happy about it. I don't think that there was really anyone who threatened Joanne Woodward's win that year. However, I'm sure that Lana's stardom helped her get some votes. Still, I think she was either fourth or fifth.

Peyton Place is a modestly entertaining but extremely long movie. Although it was very enjoyable sometimes, I felt like I was watching a whole season of a soap opera and it was unbearable after a while. It's much less sentimental than I would have imagines but it's still a bit much. Had it been a bit shorter, it would have been much better. Less is more sometimes. It received five acting nominations. Well, I feel that the supporting players might have deserved to be nominated (though I have some doubt about Arthur Kennedy and Diane Varsi). However, Russ Tamblyn and (especially) Hope Lange give good performances. I might even give my vote to Lange in that weak year.

I don't really know what to think about Lana Turner in general. She's made some iconic movies (The Bad and the Beautiful and The Postman Always Rings Twice) and she is a legendary beauty with a messy private life, which quite often outshone her work as an actress. Therefore, no one is really convinced that she was a really great talent. And this is not an Oscar nomination that's a proves her gift as this is much more of acknowledging a great star.

First of all, I must say that Peyton Place is really an ensemble picture and if there's a lead, than it's Diane Varsi and not Lana Turner. There are a lot of storylines that are not properly worked out and Varsi is loose connection. Lana Turner represents one of these storylines and she doesn't even have the most emotional or significant one. She has the most shallow material to work and as a result, she cannot do wonders with this part. Out of the two and a half hours of this movie, she's on the screen for about 40 minutes. Constance is really a supporting character and it's only Lana's star power that makes this one more than a boring stock role.

The fact is that Lana Turner gives quite a one-note performance but strangely it works and it serves her very shallow movie quite well. Somehow, I was impressed by her. Minimally, but I was impressed. The role of Constance asks for another actress. For instance I could much more easily imagine Jane Wyman or Olivia de Havilland (the original choices for the part) as Constance. Constance is the origin of the strong female leads in soaps of the 1980s. There's a (bit has-been but still) great star who plays the powerful matriarch or female character. Lana Turner was the best at playing mysterious, beautiful femme fatale in film noirs and this frigid single mother doesn't seem to be her cup of tea. As I said, her performance work as she was able to make Constance her own character.

There's this storyline about Constance's love affair (if that's a proper word for that) with the school's new principal, Michael Rossi (played by whats-his-name). Unfortunately, there's absolutely no chemistry between the two and that's a bit shocking considering that we're talking about Lana Turner. Who could you NOT have chemistry with her? The very mediocre story wanted to say so much (it's a chaos) and it did not give time for the most important storylines. This love between the two becomes so useless after a while and it's not even ended properly. There's that Christmas scene and so what? I would have liked to see more (though I might withdraw that, I did not want to see more of this movie).

However, Lana's scenes with Diane Varsi are excellent and are probably the highlights of the performances of both actresses. They have two big confrontation scenes and they are handled excellently by Lana. Especially the first one, where Constance says that she wants much more for her daughter than this stupid town. There is some real emotional depth in that scene unlike the rest of the movie and it is really extremely memorable. The second one is also very well-played (as I said) though it's not even close to the first one.

The rest of Lana's performance mostly consits of sleepwalking and sitting in the background. That's too bad. I firmly believe that had Turner been given some more to do, she would have been able to pull of a great performance as Constance MacKenzie. The screenplay always underlines how frigid this character is and it doesn't really let Turner do wonders with it. There are memorable scenes but the overall effect is a bit disappointing.
There's something to love about her.

What do you think?


Louis Morgan said...

She will be fifth. I saw a little bit of her performance, and I did not find it too impressive.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly.

Rick, Toronto, Ontario, Canada said...

Lana Turner's portrayal of Constance MacKenzie in "Peyton Place" was the only one I liked.
I feel sad she didn't take Oscar home at this juncture in her life because I felt she was never better than she was in this film
given all the problems she had with her own daughter.
I can't think of any other actress who could have pulled it off.
I think Lana Turner gets short-changed by everyone, including the critics, for this film.