Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joshua Logan|
|Produced by||Fred Kohlmar|
|Screenplay by||Daniel Taradash|
by William Inge
|Music by||George Duning|
|Cinematography||James Wong Howe|
|Edited by||William A. Lyon|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$6,300,000 (US & Canada)|
Picnic is a 1955 American Technicolor romantic comedy-drama film filmed in Cinemascope. It was adapted for the screen by Daniel Taradash from William Inge's 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name.Joshua Logan, director of the original Broadway stage production, directed the film version, which stars William Holden, Kim Novak, and Rosalind Russell, with Susan Strasberg and Cliff Robertson in supporting roles. Picnic was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won two.
The film dramatizes 24 hours in the life of a small Kansas town in the mid-20th century. It revolves around the Labor Day holiday. It is the story of an outsider whose appearance disrupts and rearranges the lives of those with whom he comes into contact.
Hal Carter (William Holden) is a former college football star, adrift and unemployed after army service and a failed acting career in Hollywood. On Labor Day (September 5, 1955), he arrives by freight train in a Kansas town to visit his fraternity friend Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson). Working for his breakfast by doing chores in the backyard of kindly Mrs. Potts (Verna Felton), Hal meets Madge Owens (Kim Novak), her sister Millie (Susan Strasberg), and their mother (Betty Field). Hal tries to be accepted and gets along with most. Alan is very happy to see the "same old Hal", whom he takes to his family's sprawling grain elevator operations. Alan promises Hal a steady job as a "wheat scooper" (though Hal had unrealistic expectations of becoming an executive) and invites Hal to swim and to attend the town's Labor Day picnic. Hal is wary about going to the picnic, but Alan nudges him into it, saying Hal's "date" will be Millie, who is quickly drawn to Hal's cheerful demeanor and charisma. Alan reassures Mrs. Owens that although Hal flunked out of college, there are no reasons to be concerned about him. The afternoon carries on happily, until Hal starts talking about himself too much, and Alan stops him with cutting remarks. It's obvious that Hal and Madge like each other. When the sun sets, everyone wanders off. Millie draws a sketch of Hal and tells him she secretly writes poetry, growing fond of him despite his lack of interest. Madge is named the town's annual Queen of Neewollah ("Halloween" spelled backward), and Hal longingly gazes at her while she is brought down the river in a swan-shaped paddle-boat. They shyly say "Hi" to each other as she glides by.
Middle-aged schoolteacher Rosemary (Rosalind Russell), who rents a room at the Owens house, has been brought to the picnic by store owner Howard Bevens (Arthur O'Connell); both had been drinking whiskey. When the band plays dance music, Howard says he can't dance, so Rosemary dances with Millie. Hal and Howard then start dancing together, which angers Rosemary; she grabs Howard, who then dances with her. Hal tries to show Millie a dance he learned in LA to the song, Moonglow, but Millie cannot quite get the beat. Madge stumbles upon them, seductively transforming the moves Hal is showing Millie, and sways toward him, thus initiating a dance with him in which they both become increasingly mesmerized. Millie, having been cast aside and ignored by both Rosemary and Hal, sulks off and starts drinking Howard's whiskey. Rosemary, now quite drunk, jealously breaks up the dance between Madge and Hal. Rosemary flings herself at Hal, saying he reminds her of a Roman gladiator. When Hal tries to ward off the schoolteacher, she rips his shirt, then bitterly calls him a bum. Mrs. Owens and Alan arrive and believe Hal has caused a scandal, made all the worse when Millie breaks down, screaming, "Madge is the pretty one!" and becomes ill from the whiskey. Rosemary, blinded by her anger, tells Mrs. Owens that Hal gave Millie the whiskey, while Howard's plea that he brought the whiskey seems to fall on deaf ears. Alan blames Hal for the mess and says he is ashamed that he brought Hal in the first place. By now a crowd is watching, and Hal flees into the darkness.
Madge follows Hal to Alan's car, ashamed of Alan and Rosemary's behavior, and gets in with him. He angrily tells her to go home. She won't budge, so he drives her to town. By the river, he tells her he was sent to reform school as a boy for stealing a motorcycle and that his whole life is a failure. Madge kisses Hal, which astonishes him and he responds. Later, outside Madge's house, they kiss goodbye and promise to meet after she finishes work at six the next evening. Hal drives back to Alan's house to return the car, but Alan has called the police and wants Hal arrested. After trying to talk things out, Alan physically attacks Hal. Hal fights back against Alan and the two police officers. Hal flees the house in Alan's car with the police following close behind. Leaving the car by the river, Hal goes into the water, gets away from them and shows up at Howard's apartment, asking to spend the night there. Howard is very understanding and now has his own worries: a highly distraught, desperate, and remorseful Rosemary has begged him to marry her. Back at the Owens house, Madge and Millie cry themselves to sleep in their shared room.
The next morning, Howard comes to the Owens house, intending to tell Rosemary he wants to wait, but at the sight of him she is overjoyed, thinking he has come to take her away. Flustered in front of the whole household and other schoolteachers, Howard wordlessly goes along with the misunderstanding. As he passes Madge on the stairs, he tells her Hal is hiding in the backseat of his car. Hal is able to slip away before the other women gleefully paint and attach streamers and tin cans to Howard's car, throwing rice and asking where he'll take Rosemary for their honeymoon. While Howard and Rosemary happily drive off to the Ozarks, Hal and Madge meet by a shed behind the house. He tells her that he loves her and asks her to meet him in Tulsa, where they can marry and he can get a job at a hotel as a bellhop and elevator operator. Mrs. Owens finds them by the shed and threatens to call the police. Madge and Hal embrace and kiss. Hal runs to catch a passing freight train, crying out to Madge, "You love me! You love me!"
Upstairs in their room, Millie tells Madge to "do something bright" for once in her life and go to Hal. Madge packs a small suitcase and, despite her mother's tears (but urged on by Mrs. Potts), boards a bus for Tulsa.
Columbia acquired the rights to the play for $350,000 in September 1953.
When Picnic was cast, William Holden was already 37 years old, too old according to some to play the role of Hal Carter. Regardless, Holden was "happy to finish his Columbia Pictures contract with such a prestigious project" despite the film paying him $30,000 instead of the $250,000 he would have otherwise earned.Picnic was one of Kim Novak's earliest film roles, and this movie made her a star. In the film, Holden keeps his hair combed in an untidy fringe over his forehead and has the sleeves of his shirt rolled up throughout. He shaved his chest for the shirtless shots and was reportedly nervous about his dancing for the "Moonglow" scene. Logan took him to Kansas roadhouses where he practiced steps in front of jukeboxes with choreographer Miriam Nelson. Heavy thunderstorms with tornado warnings repeatedly interrupted shooting of the scene on location, and it was completed on a backlot in Burbank, where Holden (according to some sources)[specify] was "dead drunk" to calm his nerves.
Millie, the independently minded girl who memorizes Shakespeare sonnets and rebels against her older sister, was an early role for Susan Strasberg, the daughter of prominent Method drama teacher Lee Strasberg. Elizabeth Wilson had a bit part as one of the smirking schoolteachers (12 years later she played a major supporting role in Mike Nichols' The Graduate as Benjamin Braddock's attractive, slightly high-strung mom). Verna Felton, a longtime radio and TV character actor who was well-known to audiences in the 1950s, had a strong supporting role as neighbor Helen Potts. Bomber, the paperboy, was played by Nick Adams, an actor who dated Natalie Wood and was a friend of both James Dean and Elvis Presley. Mr. Benson was played by Raymond Bailey (without his toupee), later known on television as Beverly Hillbillies banker Milburn Drysdale. Reta Shaw, Elizabeth Wilson, and Arthur O'Connell recreated their roles from the original Broadway production.
During filming of the actual picnic scenes in Halstead, Kansas, a tornado swept through the area, forcing the cast and crew to take cover. While the storm spared the set, it devastated the nearby town of Udall, Kansas and the film crew drove their trucks and equipment there to help clean up the damage.
James Wong Howe's widescreen photography for the film was considered trendsetting at the time. The Cinemascope format was highlighted in the film's final aerial shot when it pulls back to frame a sprawling horizon showing both a freight train and a Continental Trailways bus separately bearing the two leading characters.
Today it probably wouldn't be worth more than a PG-13 rating (if even that), but in 1955, the "Moonglow" dance and the "torn shirt" sequences from the movie Picnic were about as steamy as Hollywood could get in evoking explosive sex.
According to Holden, "Rosalind Russell is vividly scary as an older schoolteacher who foolishly lunges after Hal. Betty Field is just right as Madge's wistful, once-beautiful mother, who years earlier ran away with a man like Hal, and Susan Strasberg does well in the role of Madge's tomboyish younger sister. George Duning's wistful, Copland-influenced score captures the mood of heated yearning that not only engulfed the movie, but also defined the country's romantic ethos in the mid-'50s."
Picnic won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (William Flannery, Jo Mielziner, Robert Priestley) and Best Film Editing, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (O'Connell, who reprised his stage role), Best Director, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (George Duning) and Best Picture. The film won the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
"Theme From Picnic" was a hit song which reached number one on the 1956 Billboard charts and was number 14 overall that year. Composed by George Duning and Steve Allen (although Allen's lyrics were not used in the film), the song is featured in the famous dance scene between Holden and Novak, wherein Columbia's musical director Morris Stoloff blended "Theme From Picnic" with the 1930s standard "Moonglow". The two songs were often paired in later recordings by other artists. The soundtrack album reached number 23 on the Billboard charts. The Theme from Picnic was also a popular song recorded by the McGuire Sisters, and was a top 10 hit in 1956.
In 1957, marketing researcher James Vicary said he had included subliminal messages such as eat popcorn and drink Coca-Cola in public screenings of Picnic for six weeks, claiming sales of Coca-Cola and popcorn increased 18.1% and 57.8% respectively. However, Vicary later admitted there had never been such messages and his announcement was itself a marketing trick.
Picnic was remade for television twice, first in 1986, directed by Marshall W. Mason and starring Gregory Harrison, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Learned, Rue McClanahan, and Dick Van Patten. The second remake was in 2000, starring Josh Brolin, Gretchen Mol, Bonnie Bedelia, Jay O. Sanders, and Mary Steenburgen. The screenplay adaptation by Shelley Evans was directed by Ivan Passer.
Director Joshua Logan, among the worst filmmakers of his time, spends so much footage on the picnic, you'd think this was a documentary: There are crying babies, laughing babies, frowning babies, three-legged races, pie-eating competitions, balloon drops, concerts and boy-girl contests.
The DVD greatly benefits from a mid-1990s film restoration project that saw Picnic back on the big screen in art houses across the country.