Dr. Swain’s Speech From “Peyton Place”

While this is ostensibly a show biz blog, I have always been gratified by the fact that the 4th most popular Travalanche post of all time is simply a transcription of Tom Joad’s speech from The Grapes of Wrath, the “I’ll be there” speech. In that spirit, a similar share today. For the birthday of Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, a speech from the 1957 film version. Spoken by the town doctor (Lloyd Nolan) it’s a plea for humanity from a cold and cruel town that’s persecuting the victim of an incestous rape (Hope Lange) who has killed the perpetrator, her stepfather (Arthur Kennedy). I rewatched the film recently and was moved by the words, which speak to our own time, when a widespread ethic of selfishness has put us on the brink of national disintegration, but also the ages:

“…I’m sure that the prosecutor will see to it that the state investigates my records and perhaps I could lose the great privilege of practicing medicine. But it’s time that someone spoke up and paid whatever price is asked for the privilege of speaking. Selena killed Lucas out of fear: fear of being forced to submit to him again. And then she hid her crime for fear of how we would react to her being assaulted by her stepfather. She couldn’t trust us with the truth. Selena had no one to go to but me. she only came to me because she had to for medical reasons. She swore me to secrecy. Now I’m violating that secrecy for a bigger purpose. We’re all prisoners of each others’ gossip. Killed by each others whispers. And it’s time it stopped. Our best young people leave as soon as they can earn the price of a bus ticket. They contribute the best part of their characters to other communities because they’re stifled in Peyton Place. We’re a small town but we’re a prosperous one and yet we allow tar paper shacks to stand. We have half a dozen churches which most of you attend and then don’t practice the word they preach once you walk down the steps. We have a fine school which you take for granted. We have a newspaper with a most intelligent editorial page, which you use for wrapping garbage. It’s time you people woke up. Perhaps today is the day that you will, because there’s something much bigger than the tragedy of Selena Cross on trial here. Our indifference. Our failure as a community to watch over one another. To know who needs help and to give it. Selena’s been living in a prison of her own long enough, one that we helped build.”