The morning of a small town Labor Day picnic, a drifter (Hal Carter) blows into town to visit an old fraternity buddy (Alan Benson) who also happens to be the son of the richest man in town. Hal is an egocentric braggart - all potential and no accomplishment. He meets up with Madge Owens, the town beauty queen and girlfriend of Alan Benson.
William Holden ... Hal Carter
Kim Novak ... Madge Owens
Betty Field ... Flo Owens
Susan Strasberg ... Millie Owens
Cliff Robertson ... Alan Benson
Arthur O\'Connell ... Howard Bevans
Verna Felton ... Helen Potts
Reta Shaw ... Irma Kronkite
Nick Adams ... Bomber (paper boy)
Raymond Bailey ... Mr. Benson
Elizabeth Wilson ... Christine Schoenwalder (teacher) (as Elizabeth W. Wilson)
Picnic offers superior acting all around, some great cinematography, and a number of excellent scenes, including the famous dance sequence between Holden and Novak. The writing, unfortunately, veers between wonderful and maudlin, and the movie feels outdated in many ways. Worst of all, the directing and music can be heavy-handed at times, clubbing the viewer with melodrama in some of the key moments, when a more subtle approach would have turned this into a real classic.
Yet, despite its flaws, there\'s something special about this film. It has a haunting quality that I can\'t quite put my finger on. A kind of nostalgia - not for the supposed innocence of small-town life, which the film shows to be a myth, but for the disappearing natural wildness of ourselves as people, the primitive element in humanity that both causes problems and gives us real vitality.
My wife and I found ourselves discussing Picnic at length over dinner the following night and even watched several of the scenes again. There are many good details and powerful moments scattered among the weaker parts. I appreciated William Holden\'s performance even more the second time around - his sense of impatience and desperation are palpable. And he\'s such a great presence on the screen - I wound up watching him more than Novak in the dance sequence. In fact, my one disappointment with this scene is that Novak doesn\'t serve as his cinematic equal. She\'s no Bacall who can fill the screen with Bogart. Rosalind Russell and Arthur O\'Connell both do great jobs, especially during the scene where they are discussing marriage. Susan Strasberg pulls off a difficult role and manages to look even more attractive than Kim Novak at times, reminding me of a young Winona Ryder.
The Holden and Novak characters are both viewed as sexual objects, yet they\'re actually quite humble people who can\'t handle the shallowness of the society around them and who are searching for genuine love. William Holden is always a pleasure to watch, and his fans should find this role particularly interesting. Picnic won\'t go down as a great film, but there is a great film lurking somewhere inside it.
Picnic was the second film that acclaimed stage director Joshua Logan did, adapting work that he had previously directed for Broadway. I absolutely marvel at Logan\'s sense of the cinema for someone who worked primarily in the theater. Had he concentrated on the screen instead, I\'m sure Logan would have been as acclaimed as John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock or even Orson Welles.
William Inge\'s play Picnic is set in a small Kansas town where drifter William Holden comes to town to look up and old friend from college, Cliff Robertson. As it happens he arrives on Labor Day and the town is having their annual Labor Day picnic. In that 24 hours he changes the lives of all around him, mostly for the better. Especially the women folk.
Holden does a very good job in a role he was really miscast in. The part should have gone to Marlon Brando or James Dean or even Paul Newman. Newmwn was in the original Broadway cast, but in the Cliff Robertson part. The lead was done by Ralph Meeker.
The women of all ages go for Holden unbridled sexuality from Verna Felton, Betty Field, Rosalind Russell, Kim Novak, and Susan Strassberg in descending order of age. They all kind of like him, but Holden goes for Novak who\'s Robertson\'s girl. I think you can figure the rest of it out.
Arthur O\'Connell as confirmed bachelor/boyfriend of Russell got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts which incidentally was directed by Joshua Logan on Broadway and uncredited for the screen when John Ford left the film. But the performance that was absolutely the best was that of Rosalind Russell as the schoolteacher who\'s approaching what would be called spinster hood and not liking it a bit. She\'s sending out a booty call to Holden that is unmistakable.
In her memoirs Russell said that when Logan asked her to take Eileen Heckart\'s part from Broadway, he didn\'t even get to finish the sentence when she agreed. Picnic was playing on Broadway the same time she was doing Wonderful Town and she admired the play by Inge and the work of Joshua Logan very much.
I like the individual performances in Picnic, but even more I like the way Logan used the whole town of Hutchinson, Kansas where the film was shot on location as a stage setting. One of the best transferals from stage to cinema ever and it sure helped to have someone at the helm who knew the property and knew how to accomplish his goal.
Picnic is a great view of America in the red states in the Eisenhower years and should not be missed.
There are a few great writers of the overheated repressed and desperate from the theater and film world of the 1950\'s. At the top sit the two greatest, Tennessee Williams and William Inge. In a decade of conformity and great prosperity Inge and Williams tackled subjects ahead of their time. Of course they in some cases had to veil the subject matter but that lead to some wonderful revelations in writing and reading between the lines.
In this DVD from Colombia of Inge\'s Pulitzer Prize winning ‘Picnic\' we have one of the best films of this genre of sexual repression, animal heat, and desperation in small town America. Most reviewers of this film might begin with the leads but I must start of with the wonderful Verna Felton as Helen Potts the sweet old lady who is caretaker of her aged mother and lives next door to the Owens family. This gifted and now forgotten character actress sets the tone of the picture as she welcomes drifter Hal Carter (William Holden) into her house for some breakfast. At the end of the film she glows in tender counterpoint to the dramatic ending. She is the only person who understands Hal, even more than Madge (Kim Novak). Her speech about having a man in the house is pure joy to watch. Her most touching scene is at the picnic when she tells Betty Field. `You don\'t know what it\'s meant to me having you and the girls next door.\' It is a small but important performance that frames the entire story with warmth and understanding.
Betty Field turns in a sterling performance as Flo Owens, Mother of Madge and Millie. She is disapproving of Millie\'s rebellious teen and smothering of her Kansas hothouse rose Madge. This deeply felt performance is a stark contrast to her lusty waitress in Inges `Bus Stop\' the next year. A single Mom trying in desperation to keep Madge from making the same mistakes she did. She becomes so wrapped up in Madge\'s potential for marriage to the richest boy in town she completely ignores the budding greatness that is bursting to get out in her real treasure. Millie.
Susan Strasberg creates in her Millie a sweet comic oddball. She is the youngest daughter who awkwardly moves through the landscape of Nickerson Kansas nearly un-noticed, reading the scandalous `Ballad of the Sad Café\' - being the only one who is different and can\'t hide it. Her yearning to get out of the smallness of small town life is colored with the skill of a young actress with greatness her. Watch how she handles her most tender scenes with Kim Novak. Strasberg has a deep connection with Millie, an understanding of what it means to want to get out and yet want so desperately to fit in.
Rosalind Russell nearly steals the show as the fourth woman in the Owens household boarder, Rosemary the schoolteacher. She is the living example of what Flo doesn\'t want Millie to become, a frantic, hopeless and clutching spinster. In the capable hands of Miss Russell we have a real powerhouse of a performance. She imbues Rosemary with all the uptight disapproval of a woman who knows that her time has past and there are very few options left. She is electric in her need for love. Every nuance of her emotions is sublime in her presentation. Just watch her hands alone. She is present down to her fingertips as this poor clinging woman. Floating above all of this is Madge Owens, the kind of girl who is too pretty to be real. The kind of girl who in a small town like this is not understood to have any real feelings or thoughts other than those that revolve around being beautiful and empty.
Enter Kim Novak, who is just such a girl. Who could ever expect such a beauty to be anything more than just pretty? But Miss Novak, a vastly underrated actress in her day (as were most beauties of the day) paints a knowing and glowing portrait of Madge. Her explosion of sexual heat upon meeting Hal for the first time is internal and barely perceptible until she looks at him from behind the safety of the screen door the end of their first scene. It\'s as if that screen door is a firewall protecting her from the flames. This device is used again near the end of the film where the screen becomes something that keeps her and Hal separated from each other in a new way. At that point it is a safety net keeping them from sex by calling her home. Here she hesitates again to reveal her longing for him. She fights in the early part of the film to keep her sexual desire for Hal in check. That night she loses her fight at the picnic and we watch as she opens to reveal a woman of feelings and dreams so much deeper than the prettiness of her eyes or the luminosity of her skin. This is one of Kim Novak\'s early great roles and one she fills out with lush and deep emotion.
The lives of all of these women of Nickerson Kansas are changed one Labor Day in 1955 when Hal Carter comes steaming into town. William Holden gives a raw and wounded portrayal to Hal, a man at the edge of his youth and on the verge of becoming a lost man. He lives as he always has, on the cache of his golden boy charm and his muscular magnetism. Holden was 35 when he made Picnic, a golden boy at the edge of his youth. He was perfect for the part. Some reviewers say he was too old to play Hal, but I disagree. Without being thirty-five in real life as well as in the story Rosemary\'s `Crummy Apollo\' speech would not be so effective or devastating. Hal is a man 10 to 12 years out of college who never bothered to grow up, a man who never let anyone get too close for fear they might see through is bravado and discover his fears of feeling something, anything before it\'s too late.
Holden also brings a sexual heat to the film that is eons beyond the time it was filmed. He is presented almost like a slab of meat, something we were used to seeing in our female stars of the day, but not so blatantly in our men. He struts around in a pre-Stonewall dream of sexy hotness. Not only the girls in town notice him but a few boys too. (There are several layers to Nick Adams paperboy if one bothers to look.) When finally Holden sparks with Novak they blow the lid off of the uptight code bound studio-strangled world of Hollywood in the Fifties. The film is photographed magnificently in lush color and cinemascope by famed cinematographer James Wong Howe. The famous score by George Durning is classic not only for the famous reworking of the old standard `Moonglow\' but for his virtuosity in dramatic power. This is a giant of a score from the silver age of film music. The direction by Josh Logan is perfect in every way and stands among the best of his work. The DVD has a few extras, more than most Colombia releases. However I want to point out that there is an excellent photomontage with music from the film to be found here. In watching the shots and listening to the accompanying score by Durning one can really appreciate his artistry as a composer. Finally, this is a very sexy film and should not be missed as a lesion in how really smart people got so much past the censors in an age of sexual repression and conformity.
* Columbia Pictures wanted to promote Rosalind Russell for an Academy Award nomination, but the actress refused to be placed in the \"best supporting\" category. Many felt she would have won had she cooperated.
* William Holden had to shave his chest for this role, as it was considered too risqué for those times.
* Kim Novak\'s character Madge was originated on Broadway by Janice Rule.
* In 1957 a marketing investigator, James Vicary, announced that for six weeks he had included subliminal messages in showings of this movie. The messages supposedly said: \"Eat Popcorn, Drink Coca-Cola.\" According to Vicary, the sales of this products increased from 18% to 57%. Even though his experiment led him to fame, Vicary never gave details of how he came to his conclusions, and admitted in a later interview that everything was just a marketing trick.
* The last shot was filmed by Haskell Wexler, who was -- at that time -- James Wong Howe\'s assistant.
* William Holden refused to do the dance sequence unless he was given an $8,000 \"stuntman premium\" and was allowed to do the scene while under the influence of alcohol. He didn\'t believe the studio would do either, but they wound up allowing both. In that scene he is actually intoxicated, and it still remains one of only two movies that he ever danced in (the other being Sabrina (1954)), and one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.
* William Holden almost turned down the film because he thought he was too old at 37 to play Hal Carter.
* Big screen debut of Reta Shaw.
* William Holden was so nervous about having to dance in the \"Moonglow\" scene that Joshua Logan took him to Kansas roadhouses to practice his dance steps, along with choreographer Miriam Nelson. When the scene came to be shot, Holden, an alcoholic, was drunk to calm his nerves.
* The climactic picnic scenes had to be shot on a soundstage due to rainstorms.
* Having directed William Inge\'s play 2 years previously on Broadway, Joshua Logan brought some radical cast changes to the production. Only Arthur O\'Connell, Reta Shaw, and Elizabeth Wilson recreated their characterizations. William Holden was cast as Hal Carter over Ralph Meeker who had played him onstage. His room-mate on Broadway had been played by Paul Newman; Cliff Robertson got the part. Kim Stanley lost the part of Millie Owens to the much younger Susan Strasberg and Janice Rule lost out on the part of Madge to young contract player Kim Novak. Rosalind Russell actively campaigned for the role of Rosemary Sydney; Eileen Heckart had played it onstage.
* Shirley Knight\'s film debut.
* Despite its legend, this was NOT the first movie to feature a helicopter shot. They Live by Night (1948) was an early, if not the very first, film to use it.