Monday, September 1, 2008

Picnic (1955)

A classic end-of-the-summer film is Joshua Logan's 1955 Picnic, starring William Holden and Kim Novak. A Labor Day picnic in a Kansas town becomes the backdrop for an explosive situation as the feelings of resentment and desperation of the various characters come to a head. Playwright William Inge, an incredibly tormented man, brings to enfleshment the fears and struggles of ordinary people on the prairie. Adapted from Inge's play, Picnic gives a searing look at the little hypocrisies of life in the American Midwest, particularly in the dealings of parents with their children.

Picnic is composed of subtle, slowly building melodrama under a placid, restrained surface, which suddenly bursts into a conflagration. The pure and exquisite beauty of Madge (Novak) blossoms under the gaze of drifter Hal, portrayed by William Holden. Many think that Holden was too old for the part, but he makes Hal look like he has led a rough life, which he has. He oozes sensuality as well as vulnerability, like a little boy who lost his mother, which makes him irresistible to so many lonely women.

One of the most striking scenes is when Madge's mother, brilliantly played by Betty Field, discreetly pushes her daughter to offer herself sexually to the wealthiest boy in town, to seal a possible engagement. One shares Madge's horror at her mother's hypocrisy. The chemistry between Novak and Holden becomes tangible during the "Moonglow" dance, when they seem transported into their own realm, to be cruelly brought back to earth by Rosalind Russell, in rare form as the frustrated spinster Miss Sidney. All the characters are believable and it is fascinating to watch their interaction during the wholesome Labor Day picnic; one never suspects what the night will bring. I highly recommend this film for the acting, score, screenplay and love story which any true romantic will enjoy.


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