Based on the novel by Grace Metalious, in a small town graduating senior engage in romantic affairs and have conflicts with their parents.
Allison MacKenzie (Diane Varsi) describes where she was born and the seasons. She says that after spring is the season of love. A man in a car stops and asks a farmer plowing his field the way to Peyton Place. He stops his car for a passing train and sees two poor women and a man come outside. Nellie Cross (Betty Field) tries to keep her son Paul from leaving. Paul says that Lucas stole his money and is a drunkard. Nellie says her husband tries hard to be a good man. Lucas Cross (Arthur Kennedy) runs out and apologizes for starting a fight. He begs Paul to stay and promises to change. Paul runs off. Lucas tells his daughter Selena Cross (Hope Lange) and his wife Nellie that he will try hard to reform.
A woman reads a headline saying that Roosevelt’s neutrality is being challenged by Hitler. The man parks and goes into a small restaurant. He says he came there to find a job. He asks the way to Harrington Mills, and the cook says he will hate it.
Constance MacKenzie (Lana Turner) says good morning to Nellie as she comes in her house. Nellie says that Paul left. Allison comes in, sits down for breakfast, and talks to her mother. Allison says that Miss Thornton will be the new principal. Constance tells Allison she does not like her saying goodbye to her father’s photograph. Allison hopes that she will marry again and kisses her goodbye.
Allison runs and says good morning to neighbors on her way to school. She trips on the steps, and Norman Page (Russ Tamblyn) helps her pick up her books.
Allison gives a written speech to Rodney Harrington (Barry Coe) who stands up and reads it to Miss Elsie Thornton (Mildred Dunnock) to accompany the gift of a dictionary which she unwraps. The students applaud, and she says it is the loveliest thing that ever happened to her. She mentions the word “gratitude” and asks for reports on graduation. Allison talks about the yearbook. Pretty Betty Anderson (Terry Moore) reports on decorations and says there is to be no necking.
At the school board meeting Dr. Swain (Lloyd Nolan) says that Miss Thornton deserves to be principal. He denies that she is senile. Mr. Harrington (Leon Ames) says they need someone young, and he has Michael Rossi (Lee Philips) sent in. Harrington conducts the job interview and reviews his experience. Harrington says the job starts at $3,000 a year. Rossi says he needs $5,000 a year and a raise after one year. He says education is valuable. Harrington asks if he paid him that, would he coach the football or basketball team. Rossi says no. Dr. Swain asks him not to leave.
Miss Thornton during class receives a notice from the school board that Michael Rossi has been appointed the new principal. She dismisses class as she holds back tears. Allison tells her she should be principal. Miss Thornton advises her to go after what she wants.
Dr. Swain takes Rossi to the school.
The janitor Lucas tells Miss Thornton they really gave it to her. She says he has been drinking and warns him. He says he sat in her classroom for four years, but he learned nothing useful. She says if he had applied himself, he could live intelligently. He challenges her to tell the workers that. His wife is a maid. He says it is a “dog-eat-dog” world, and he says he won’t do it. He never had what he wanted. Dr. Swain brings Rossi to meet Miss Thornton, and she introduces Lucas who goes out. Rossi asks if he always drinks. He acknowledges that many wanted her to be principal. She asks if he has progressive ideas, but he says he is old-fashioned. He wants the real truth taught, not fairy tales. Second, he wants less facts and more ideas taught. She likes his rules and says Peyton Place is fortunate to have him.
Allison with Selena goes in to a store and tells her mother that Thornton did not get the job. Selena asks Mrs. MacKenzie if she can borrow money for a new dress. Mrs. MacKenzie offers her a job helping her on Saturdays, and she gladly accepts. Betty tries on a red dress and talks about the advantages of a low-cut neckline. Mrs. MacKenzie takes Allison aside and tells her not to invite Betty to her party. Allison says then Rodney and his friends won’t come. Allison tells her she has had 17 dull birthday parties and would like to have one for herself, and she goes out. Outside Rodney is in a car and asks about Betty, but Allison does not stop.
Allison walks with Norman and asks if he spent the afternoon in the library. He asks where else he could go, and she makes suggestions. He says she wrote a nice piece for Miss Thornton. He asks why she gave it to Rodney, and she says she was afraid she would cry. He says she may be a great writer. She talks about the books as like falling in love. He does not know what he wants to do. His mother calls to him from across the street. He says he does not want to go home yet, but she says goodbye.
At home the maid Nellie tells Allison that her mother wants her to call her. She asks if they had a fight again. Nellie says being a mother is harder than being a daughter. She finds herself doing the same things her mother did because of her feelings and worries about her kids. Nellie leaves. Allison puts on a classical record and answers the phone. Her mother tells her she can invite whoever she wants to her birthday party. Allison thanks her and makes a call.
At the party Allison’s friends are dancing in the living-room as she offers sandwiches on a tray. Betty and Rodney come in with records, mistletoe, and alcohol for the punch. Allison tells him her mother forbade that, and he relents. He turns the lights down and dances with Betty. Allison looks at Norman who smiles sheepishly.
At the restaurant Dr. Swain tells Rossi about Constance and introduces him to her. She says her daughter would like to be a writer, but she wants her to go to college. Dr. Swain wishes she had brothers or sisters. Dr. Swain answers a call and leaves to deliver a baby. Constance says the doctor always talks about babies. Rossi says he wants to initiate a sex education class in school. She asks if it should be taught at home, but he says most don’t teach it. She gets up and leaves.
Couples are making out, and Rodney kisses Allison. Constance comes in and turns on the lights. Rodney says they were playing photography. Constance tells them to leave, and they do so. Allison runs up to her room, and her mother makes her come out of the bathroom. Constance complains that she was making love to Rodney. Allison say everyone does that, and Constance says she does not want her to be like that. Allison says she would rather be liked than be perfect. She says even kissing has to be learned, and her mother talks about sex. She says she would like her to fall in love and be married. Allison says she would run away with a man and become his mistress. Constance slaps her and then hugs her.
On Sunday people attend different churches. Allison walks over to get Selena, and her little brother Joey shows her lambs. In the house Selena puts on a pretty dress, and her father Lucas yells at her. She asks if he likes living like a pig, and he hits her. He grabs her; but the boy and Allison come in, and he lets her go. Allison, Selena, and the boy go to a church.
Later Allison and Norman play in the woods. She takes him to see her favorite place, a rock from which they can see the town and the coast. She lies on a rock, and he lies down next to her. He asks about her children, and she says she is only going to have loving. He says he sent for a book about marriage and sex. He says it took two weeks for him to get the nerve to pick it up, and she laughs and says she ordered and read a similar book. She says it is mid-Victorian nonsense. He is sorry they started talking about this. She says he should learn that girls want to do the same things as boys. He asks what she is suggesting. She wants only a discussion and maybe some affection. She says he is too shy even to ask her to the graduation dance. He says his mother gets jealous of anyone he spends time with. She won’t let him have friends and makes him tell her how much he loves her. His mother says that marriage is misery. Allison says she can’t believe it. He says that is why he is a sissy and a coward. He is afraid of girls and does not know what to do about it. She suggests he start with her and asks him to kiss her. He doubts he could but does so slowly. She says it is only her second kiss this year. She admits it was not as good as Rodney’s. They kiss again.
Constance answers the door, and Rossi says he has a message for Allison. She says she is not there but lets him in. He admires her house and says he is living in a hotel room. He is looking for a house. He sees the photo of her husband, and she says he died. He says that Allison was named valedictorian. He says she is a bright girl, and Constance says she is proud of her. She says one can learn to live by oneself, but he says that does not make it the best way to live. She says that in Peyton Place two people talking is a conspiracy. He asks what she was going to do tonight. She does not know where to begin, and he invites her to be a chaperone at the graduation dance. He thanks her and says goodnight.
Mr. Harrington asks Rodney if he is going to marry Betty, and they talk about the kind of girl she is. He tells his son to stop seeing her, and Rodney says he invited her to the graduation dance. His father says to uninvite her. Rodney says he can’t do that. His father does not want him to marry the local tramp, and he orders him to call her. He says he can see her but not in public. His father asks him if he wants a new car. On the phone Rodney tells Betty that the dance is off. He tells Rodney to invite Allison, a quality girl, but Rodney says she is dull on a date.
At the graduation dance Rodney dances with Allison as Norman watches them. Rossi asks Constance to dance and takes her hand and dances with her. Rodney tells Allison that he promised a dance to Betty and goes to find her. Selena shows Allison that her mother was dancing with Rossi. Allison goes to Norman and tells him to dance with her. He says he does not know how, but she tells him to try.
Outside Rodney shows Betty his new car, and they get in. He kisses her, and she says she is mad at him. She asks him to tell her how much he wants to kiss her. She says she will give him one kiss and then asks about Allison. He says his father made him call her. He says he would rather be with her, and she asks for another kiss. She asks if he wants to make love to her. She feels for her purse, hits him, gets out, and says the next time she wants to go out with a man, not a papa’s boy.
Rossi announces the end of the dance and asks Elsie Thornton to direct the last dance. She has them form a large circle and hold hands as they sing “Auld Lang Syne.” The lights are turned down. Later in the dark Rossi and Constance leave. They talk as they walk in the halls. She says he has more than a job. He thanks her for coming and kisses her. She says he is wasting his time because she had her love. He says she has time, but she says it is too late. She asks him to take her home, and they go out.
In front of her house Ted Carter (David Nelson) kisses his date Selena and asks her to marry him. He says he can get a full-time job. She asks about college, and he says his father cannot afford it. She says he wants to be a lawyer and tells him to be one. They sit on the porch, and he says the first obstacle is the money. He wants to marry her and is afraid if he does not do it now, he never will. She says she will wait, and they kiss. She says goodnight, thanks him, and goes in the house. She goes in the house and calls for her mother. Lucas says he thought she was out of a dream. She asks where her mother is. He wants to have a drink and says she was kissed by Ted Carter. He says he will teach her and grabs her. He molests her on the bed.
At the graduation Allison gives the valedictory address, and people applaud. Rossi hands out the diplomas.
Allison narrates that they found their independence that summer. Others began working. Selena works for Constance in the store.
Allison finds Rossi sawing a log and asks if he read the stories she wrote. He asks if anyone else has seen them. She says only Selena who thinks she is a genius. He says she could go to prison for the lies about the people in town. He says the stories are a good start and suggests she go to college. She does not want to go to college because she wants to write. He says books tell her how and why. She wants a place to start, and he says she could start at the Peyton Place Times.
Rossi and Allison are talking to Seth Bushwell, and he says he will print her story. She does not want money, but he offers her $5 a column to start.
Dr. Swain tells Selena that she is pregnant, and he asks who is the father. She says she will not say. He asks if it is Ted Carter, and she says no. He tells her not to lie. She does not want to have the baby. He says she can get married, and she says he is already married. He says she is asking him to break the law, and he shakes her to tell him who the man is. She cries and says it is her stepfather.
Dr. Swain visits Lucas and tells her that Selena is pregnant. Swain pushes him down on the bed and says he can prove that he is the father. He tells him to sign a statement of the facts, and he threatens him with the state police. Lucas stops him from leaving, and Swain says he will telephone every father in Peyton Place. Lucas tells him not to do it. He says there was something about Selena; it was only her. Swain says he must sign the paper to stop him. Lucas asks what he will do with it, and Swain says he will lock it up in his safe. Lucas signs the paper, and Swain orders him to get out of Peyton Place before dark, or he will use the paper against him. Swain goes out, and Lucas throws a hatchet at dishes on a shelf. Nellie has heard what happened.
Selena is coming home, and Lucas chases her in the woods. She hides behind a tree, and he looks around and goes another way. She runs but falls down and cries.
Dr. Swain tells his nurse that unofficially this was a miscarriage, but he says that officially it was an appendectomy. She says that is dishonest, but he says he will fill out the form. If she tells anyone, he will tell people about her and the drug-supply salesman. Dr. Swain in another room tells Nellie that she will be all right and that no one will find out.
Constance and Allison are visiting Selena and leave when Ted comes in with a potted plant and a book on humor. He says that Rossi may be able to get him a scholarship. He also got a job working as an office boy. He does not want to wait eight years to become a lawyer before he marries her. She cries and tells him to go. He kisses her and goes out.
Peyton Place has a parade. Constance hears the band while writing at her desk. Nellie says good morning, and Constance says she did not have to come to work today. Nellie talks about trouble and cries. Allison comes down and says that Lucas has been gone for two weeks, and no one knows where he is.
Allison goes to the parade and finds Norman. They walk to the platform. Harrington is the first speaker and talks about prosperity and makes jokes. He says his son Rodney is going to Harvard, and he asks them to give him a send-off. Norman and Allison walk through the crowd.
Nellie tells Constance that first Paul left and then Lucas. She has to take care of Joey. Constance says they all have problems, and she goes out.
Rossi in his car sees Constance walking and stops and invites her to go out of Peyton Place. She likes the idea and gets in.
At the picnic young people compete in a tug-of-war while sprayed with water. Four men sing as a quartet as Norman and Allison sit down to listen. Betty finds Rodney who invites her to take a walk. He suggests they get sandwiches, and he has a pint in his glove-compartment. She agrees to go with him. Three women compete in the singing contest. Norman suggests they get something to eat.
Norman and Allison ride bikes, and a woman in a car sees them going to swim in the lake alone; her husband is not worried.
Betty and Rodney are having a picnic by the lake, and she asks if she will ever see him again. She suggests they go for a swim, but he says they did not bring bathing suits. She laughs, and they begin taking off their clothes.
Norman in his trunks see Allison in her swimsuit, and she feels embarrassed. He apologizes, and they go swimming.
Charles in a rowboat tells Marian that he saw a young couple swimming in the nude, and she assumes it is Norman and Allison.
Betty and Rodney lie next to each other, and she suggests marriage. He says it would bowl over his father. He says she is the only girl he ever wanted and kisses her. She says she has loved him for a long time.
Rossi and Constance walk to a lighthouse and on a pier. They watch someone making a boat in a bottle, and she says it must take a lot of patience. They order lobster and dine outside.
Marion calls and tells people about the naked bathers but does not tell their names.
Rossi brings Constance home, and she gets out of the car. He asks to see her tomorrow and gets out also. He walks with her to the door and kisses her twice. She says they had better not, and he suggests they talk about it. She asks him to leave, and he says they are adults. He kisses her again, and she goes inside. He goes in and says he could get a woman anywhere. He says this is not dirty. He says she is afraid of love, and she tells him to get his hands off her. He says taking her in his arms is committing himself to her. He asks if she is up to that. She says she has her standards and her pride. He says he will give her time, but she says she can’t. He says the offer will always be open, and he goes out. She hears the car drive off and answers the phone. Marion tells her, and Constance says she does not believe it. She says she will call Mrs. Evelyn Page.
Evelyn Page (Erin O’Brien-Moore) has come to see Constance, and they argue about how she raised her son Norman. She says he never learned about sex in her house. Allison comes in, and Constance asks where Norman is. His mother goes out and brings him in. Constance says they were seen swimming in the nude, but they both say that is false. Norman says he did not do anything, and Allison agrees. Constance tells them to go, and Norman leaves with his mother. Constance says that Allison is like her father in regard to sex. She says she lied about her father. Allison asks why she married him, and Constance admits she didn’t because he had a wife. Allison runs upstairs and screams. Constance goes up, and they find Nellie has hanged herself.
Dr. Swain tells Constance that Allison will be all right. Allison is in bed, and he tells Constance not to think that it was her fault.
Rodney and Betty have told his father they are married, and he asks why he did not tell him. Rodney says he would not have approved. His father asks to talk to Rodney alone, and she goes out to wait. Harrington tells Rodney that he will get it annulled. He says she took him. Rodney says goodbye, and his father asks him about college. Rodney says he has a wife to support. His father offers him a job, and Rodney thanks him and shakes his hand.
Constance brings Allison lunch on a tray and says she has not spoken to her for a week. Allison says she is going to pack and leave Peyton Place as soon as she can. She does not want to see her mother again, and she is going to New York. Her mother says she loved her from her birth. Allison says she will find a job, or she will live off a man as her mother did. Constance sits down on the stairs and cries.
Selena stops Allison as she is about to get on a bus. Allison embraces her and says her mother has always been alone. She gets on the bus which leaves.
Allison narrates that she cried all the way to New York. She struggled to survive and endured. That winter the United States entered World War II, and it was a time of deep despair.
Outside in the snow Rossi passes out donuts. Ted gives one to Selena, and Rodney takes coffee to Betty. He says he is glad he married her, and she hugs him. She tells Rodney to say goodbye to his father, and they shake hands. His father tells him to be honorable. Rodney asks his father to take care of Betty if she needs anything. Dr. Swain calls together the boys drafted and thanks them for their service. He hands out gift packages. An Army bus arrives, and a sergeant checks off their names as they board the bus. Rodney and Ted get on the bus, and the bus leaves.
Allison says she became an individual that winter, but part of her still escapes.
The cook reads a postcard to Rossi from Ted Carter and another from a boy in the Navy. Rossi says he got a V-mail letter from Norman Page.
Allison says the seasons turned, and she got letters from Selena about Peyton Place. Allison subscribes to the Peyton Place Times. The names of those killed in the war are put on a memorial. At a service Harrington tells Betty that he needs her care. He says Rodney’s love for her made him a better person. She says Rodney wanted a wild girl, and she made herself one. Harrington says he was wrong and asks her to keep what’s left of the family together.
A young woman tells Selena that Rossi is going to Portland, and she goes to try on a dress. Constance heard this.
Rossi answers the door in his house and invites Constance to come in. She gives him a Christmas present, and he thanks her. She says she can only stay a moment. He offers her a drink, and she says no thanks. She asks if he is going to Portland, and he says he has a week to decide. She admits he was right, and she says she lied too long. She says she wanted him and she came to tell him the truth. She says that Allison left because of her. She says she believed Marion and told Allison terrible things. He asks what, and she says she was never married. She lived with a married man and lied about it when she came to Peyton Place. He says nothing, and she gets angry. He says he still wants to love her and take care of her. She hugs and kisses him.
Selena and Joey are fixing the Christmas tree. She opens the door, and Lucas comes in and asks for a drink. He is in the Navy and says they taught him tricks. He notices changes in the neater house. She tells him he can go and says it is not his house anymore. She asks if he heard about ma, and he says he did. He tells Joey to pick up something, and she tells him to leave Joey alone. He says she has improved and closes the door she tried to open. He says he is not her real father. He overturns the Christmas tree and tries to grab her. She gets a club and beats him several times.
At an Easter service they remember those who have died. Selena cries. They say the Lord’s prayer together.
A Navy officer comes into the store to see Selena Cross. He asks her if she has seen Lucas Cross lately. He says he is listed as a deserter. She says she has not seen him and did not know that he was in the Navy. He tells her to notify the Shore Patrol if he gets in touch with her. They go out, and Selena cries. Constance tells her it is not her fault. Selena says has to tell someone and admits that she killed him and buried his body in the sheep pen. Constance says she must call the state police. Selena says she can’t, and so Constance picks up the phone.
On a train Allison is noticed by Norman, and they talk. She says she got a job working for a book publisher. He says she looks wonderful. He says she never said goodbye to him. She notices he has two purple hearts. She says that Selena killed her stepfather, and the trial is coming up. He says it took him a while to understand Peyton Place. He is going to try to work things out with his mother. She wondered why he enlisted in the paratroopers. When he got away from his mother, he found that he liked life. He asks what his bothering her, but she does not want to talk about it. He invites her for dinner.
Bushwell looks at the newspaper headline that Selena is out on bail.
Dr. Swain parks his car and starts to water his wife’s flower garden. Selena asks to talk with him. She asks if he is going to tell about her. He says if he doesn’t, she would be risking her life. She does not want Ted to know. He needs respectability to be a good lawyer. She says losing Ted would be worse than dying. She begs him to promise that he will not tell them, and he does so.
In a law office Selena’s lawyer warns her that self defense may not be enough because she hid the body. Ted says she was fighting for her life. Her lawyer asks her what she has not told him. Allison comes in and says she can testify that she saw Lucas beat her. The lawyer says the jury decides on evidence. He says their defense is too simple. He asks Selena if she has told him the whole story, and she says there is no more to tell.
Outside a hotel Allison sees her mother coming and goes inside. Constance finds her at the bar and says she looks well. Allison goes to a booth and sits down. She says she wants to be left alone, but Constance sits down and says we all make mistakes and can overcome them. Allison asks if they can overcome her illegitimacy. She says as soon as the trial is over, she is leaving. She says goodbye, and her mother gets up and goes.
In the crowded courtroom Allison sits next to Norman. The prosecutor (Lorne Greene) recalls Joey and asks him if he ever told a lie. Joey admits he has told lies. The prosecutor asks if his testimony is true, and Joey says it is. He asks how she could overpower a stronger man. He says she was angry. He does not remember the first blow. He says he told his sister to bury her step-father. The prosecutor says that a 19-year-old girl did not know what to do with the body until an 8-year-old boy told her.
The prosecutor calls Selena to the stand and asks her why her step-father left them a year and a half before he came back. He asks if Lucas owned the house, and she says they fixed it up but admits he did. He says she had the run of the house and could invite boys there. She says she never did. He asks why she did not stop hitting him after he was unconscious. He asks why she did not call the police. She says she was afraid. He says she had nothing to fear until she buried his body. He asks why she buried him. The lawyer objects that he is harassing her. The defense lawyer asks if she was in fear of bodily harm, and she says she was.
The prosecutor questions Allison who says she saw Lucas slap Selena one time. Allison admits she was slapped by her mother. The prosecutor asks what she knew about what went on there. The prosecutor calls Constance MacKenzie and asks her if Selena ever complained that her stepfather had beaten her, and she says no. She says Selena’s mother worked for her and never described any beatings. She says Nellie committed suicide and says something was very wrong in that house. He asks if her daughter told her anything about Lucas beating Selena. Constance says that her daughter brought her problems home, but she did not understand. She starts weeping, and the judge calls a recess.
Constance is crying while Rossi has his arm around her. Dr. Swain gives her medicine and says she did what she morally had to do.
Swain goes to the courtroom and speaks to the defense lawyer. The prosecution rests, and the defense calls Dr. Swain. He is asked if he knew of any act of violence that Lucas perpetrated against Selena. He says Lucas was a child-abuser. He says the night he left town, he assisted Selena in a miscarriage of Lucas Cross’s baby. The prosecutor objects, and Swain presents the admission of guilt signed by Lucas. The judge looks at it and confers with the lawyers. The judge asks Swain to go on, and he admits he may lose his medical license. He says that Selena hid her crime because she did not want people to know the truth of what happened to her. He is violating his promise of secrecy for a greater purpose. The judge tells the prosecutor not to interrupt Swain anymore. Swain lectures the town and asks the people to wake up. He says their indifference to help each other made Selena live in a prison they helped build. The judge over-rules the prosecutor’s objection.
The jury comes back and announces that they find the defendant not guilty. The court is adjourned. Ted kneels by Selena and hugs her while people silently leave. A man takes Joey home with him. Dr. Swain asks Selena if she wants to go now, and they walk out. Norman follows Allison. Outside people are waiting and start talking as Selena and Swain pass between them.
Rossi walks arm-in-arm with Constance to her house. Allison arrives in the front yard, and she and her mother hug each other. She calls Norman to come in, and the four go in the house.
Allison narrates that they finally discovered that season of love which is found in someone’s heart and in you.
This melodrama portrays attitudes about sex that were hidden in shame for so long. The need for sex education for the young and more open attitudes by their parents is suggested so that people will have more healthy feelings and more loving relationships.