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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 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.
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