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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. Written by
Erik L. Ellis <email@example.com>
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 The writing, unfortunately, veers between wonderful and maudlin, and the movie feels outdated in many ways.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.
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