Picnic (film)

Picnic (film)

name = Picnic

iamge_size - 225px
caption = original film poster
director = Joshua Logan
writer = William Inge "(play)"
Daniel Taradash "(screenplay)"
starring = William Holden
Kim Novak
Betty Field
Rosalind Russell
music = George Duning
cinematography = James Wong Howe
editing = William A. Lyon
Charles Nelson
released = November fy|1955 "(limited screenings)"
16 February fy|1956 "(US)"
runtime = 115 mins.
country = United States
language = English
budget =
gross = Rentals:
$6,300,000 "(US)"
imdb_id = 0048491

"Picnic" is a 1955 Cinemascope film in Technicolor which tells the story of an ex-college football star turned drifter who arrives in a small Kansas town on Labor Day and is drawn to a girl who's already spoken for. The plot covers a 24-hour period. With a cast headed by William Holden, Kim Novak, Susan Strasberg, Cliff Robertson, Arthur O'Connell, Nick Adams, Betty Field, Rosalind Russell and Verna Felton, the film is sometimes cited as a richly detailed snapshot of life in the American Midwest during the 1950s. It won two Academy Awards and was nominated for four more.

The screenplay was adapted by Daniel Taradash from William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same title. Directed by Joshua Logan, "Picnic" was widely popular and made Kim Novak a star.


Hal Carter (William Holden) is a former college football star, now adrift and unemployed after having tried and failed to begin an acting career in Hollywood. On Labor Day, September 5, 1955 he arrives by freight train in a Kansas town to visit his old fraternity buddy Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), son of a wealthy grain elevator owner. Working for his breakfast by doing chores in the backyard of a kindly Mrs Potts (Verna Felton), Hal stops "Bomber" the local paperboy (Nick Adams) from pestering neighbour girl Madge Owens (Kim Novak) for a date. Madge happens to be dating Alan. Her single-parent mother (Betty Field) is hoping Madge will marry Alan, which would thus raise both Madge and herself into the town's highest, "respectable" social circles. Alan also wants to marry Madge, but his father thinks she is "below" him and Madge tells her mother she doesn't love Alan and is weary of being liked only because she is pretty.

At first Hal gets along wonderfully with almost everyone and Alan is very happy to see "good old Hal," whom he takes to see the family's sprawling grain elevator operations, where he promises Hal a steady job as a "wheat scooper." Alan then invites Hal to the town's Labor Day picnic. Hal is wary about coming to the picnic, but Alan nudges him into it, saying Hal's "date" for the picnic will be Madge's bookish and bright younger sister Millie (Susan Strasberg), who is quickly drawn to Hal's cheerful outlook and charisma. Alan reassures Mrs Owens that although Hal flunked out of school and lost his football scholarship because he didn't study, there are no worries about him. The afternoon carries on very happily until Hal carelessly starts talking about himself too much and Alan stops him with a cutting remark. As the sun goes down, everyone wanders off. Millie draws a sketch of Hal and tells him she secretly writes poetry. Hal's behaviour towards her is very friendly and utterly trustworthy but his replies show he has no understanding of her world at all. A bit later into the evening, Madge is named the town's annual "Queen of Neewollah" ("Halloween" spelled backwards) and Hal longingly gazes at her as she is brought down the river in a swan-shaped pedal-boat. They shyly say "Hi" to each other as she glides by.

Middle-aged schoolteacher Rosemary (Rosalind Russell), who lives in a rented room at the Owens house, has been brought to the picnic by local store owner Howard Bevens (Arthur O'Connell). As a band starts to play dance music, Howard says he can't dance, so Rosemary dances with Millie, whereupon Hal and Howard start dancing together, which nettles Rosemary. She grabs Howard, who then dances with her while Hal tries to show Millie a dance he learned in Los Angeles, but Millie can't quite get the beat. Madge stumbles upon this, begins clapping handily to the beat and the two of them begin dancing together. Having been cast aside by both Rosemary and Hal, now wholly ignored, Millie sulks off and starts drinking from a whiskey flask hidden in Howard's jacket. Rosemary, drunk from the same whiskey, 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 show up and think Hal has caused a messy scandal, made all the worse when Millie breaks down, screaming "Madge is the pretty one!" and becomes ill from the whiskey. Rosemary, still blinded by her anger, tells Mrs Owen that Hal gave Millie the whiskey while Howard's plea that "he" brought the whiskey seems to fall on deaf ears. By now a big crowd is watching and Hal flees into the darkness.

Madge follows Hal to Alan's car and gets in with him. He angrily tells her to go home but she won't budge, so he drives off with her to town. By the riverbank 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. They promise to meet after she gets off 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 Hal flees from the house in Alan's car with the police following close behind. Leaving the car back 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, both 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 becomes overjoyed, thinking he has come to take her away. Flustered in front of the whole household and other schoolteachers, Howard wordlessly goes along with this and as he passes Madge on the stairs, 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 him where he'll take Rosemary for their honeymoon. As Howard and Rosemary happily drive off to the Ozarks, Hal and Madge meet by a shed behind the house. He asks her to meet him in Tulsa, where he can get a room and a job at a local hotel as a bellhop and elevator operator. Mrs Owen finds them by the shed and threatens to call the police. 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 also nudged on by Mrs Potts), boards a bus for Tulsa.

Production and cast

During the casting period of the film William Holden, at 37, was wary of playing Hal (Novak was about half his age). 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) was "dead drunk" to calm his nerves. "Bomber" the paperboy was played by Nick Adams, who dated Natalie Wood and was a friend of both James Dean and Elvis Presley. 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 well-known "Method" drama teacher Lee Strasberg. Elizabeth Wilson had a bit part as one of the local, 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 long time radio and TV character actor who was widely known to audiences in the 1950s, had a strong supporting role as neighbor Helen Potts.

Location filming

The extensive use of Kansas locations highlighted the naturalistic, small-town drama. The Labor Day picnic scenes were shot and edited like a documentary film. [http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19961025/REVIEWS/610250306/1023 Ebert. Roger. "Picnic", October 25, 1996] ] "Picnic" was shot mostly on location in five central Kansas towns:
*Halstead's Riverside Park is where all the Labor Day picnic scenes (some of which are semi-documentary) were filmed. The park and many landmarks still existed at the time of the movie's fiftieth anniversary.
*Hutchinson, with its huge grain elevators.
*Nickerson is the location of the two adjacent houses where Madge (Kim Novak) and her family live, with Mrs. Potts next door, also where Hal (William Holden) "jumps a freight" to go to Tulsa and where Madge boards a bus in the last scene.
*Salina, where Hal jumps off a train in the opening scene and meets Alan (Cliff Robertson) at Alan's father's large house, also where Madge kisses Hal by the Salina River and where he escapes from the police by running under a waterfall.
*Sterling, where the pre-picnic swim in the lake was filmed.

Cinemascope format

James Wong Howe's widescreen photography for the film was considered trend setting. 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. The film had a restoration in the mid-1990s which brought many art house screenings. [ [http://www.swapadvd.com/dvd/title/7072-Picnic/ Swap a DVD] ]


"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 23 on the "Billboard" charts. [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=-LgXlQnsDK4C&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=moonglow+picnic+%22steve+allen%22&source=web&ots=MGqxSrjc6H&sig=BjHdFWmR_XhqE67j87KsjLmwoy8&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=35&ct=result "The Billboard Book of Number Two Singles". Watson-Guptill, 2000.] ]


"Picnic" was widely successful both financially and critically when first released, winning two Academy Awards for its art direction, sets and editing along with four other nominations. In the wake of changing tastes and cinematic trends throughout the 1960s the film was later dismissed in retrospective reviews written during the 1970s and 1980s, although by the end of the 20th century, following releases in its original aspect ratio on Laserdisc and DVD, critics were praising "Picnic's" resonant portrayal of small-town life in the US during the Eisenhower era, along with its melodic soundtrack and strong performances by a supporting cast including Arthur O'Connell (reprising the role he played during "Picnic"'s successful run on Broadway) and a young Susan Strasberg: A half century later both of these performances still drew wide praise.

Holden's charisma as Hal has been acknowledged in later reviews but the role is not cited as among the best of his career. Although Novak's character was quietly rebelling against being thought of as "only pretty," she has nonetheless been criticized as being too passive in the role. Rosalind Russell's "over-the-top" performance" as an emotionally distraught, often overbearing middle-aged schoolteacher has drawn both admiring and highly dismissive commentary in DVD reviews. Much of "Picnic"'s lasting appeal seems to derive from its well drawn supporting characters and subplots, the authentic location settings in central Kansas and the time-capsule depiction of life in 1955 small town America.


"Picnic" won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color 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.

In 2002 "Picinic" was named #59 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions.


"Picnic" was remade for television in 1986, starring Gregory Harrison, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Learned, Rue McClanahan and Dick Van Patten. It was directed by Marshall W. Mason. It was again remade for television in 2000, starring Bonnie Bedelia, Josh Brolin, Gretchen Mol, Jay O. Sanders and Mary Steenburgen. The screenplay adaptation by Shelley Evans was directed by Ivan Passer.


External links

*imdb title | id=0048491 | title=Picnic

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