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William Holden is the hunky drifter who rides the rails into a small Midwest town with dreams of landing a “respectable” job with his rich college buddy (Cliff Robertson). Kim Novak is the small-town beauty queen engaged to Robertson who falls for the cocky dreamer, as do repressed schoolmarm spinster Rosalind Russell and Novak’s tomboyish kid sister Susan Strasberg. Their unleashed passions reach a crescendo at the Labor Day picnic.
Joshua Logan directed William Inge’s play on Broadway and carried it to Hollywood, earning Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director in his screen-directing debut. Holden is years too old for the role but oozes sex appeal and makes a swoony stud when he takes his shirt off (or when, better yet, it’s ripped from his back by a boozing Russell), and Novak is a lovely lost girl yearning for something she can’t quite grasp. Arthur O’Connell earned an Oscar nomination as Russell’s tippling boyfriend. The film was a huge popular and critical hit, but Logan’s stiff and strident direction hasn’t dated well. He makes his points in big capital letters–subtlety was never his strong point–and loses the natural beauty of the Kansas locations when he takes the climactic picnic scenes into an obviously artificial soundstage. Picnic remains a loved American classic, largely for Holden’s tough-guy vulnerability and James Wong Howe’s brilliant widescreen color photography. –Sean Axmaker
It’s Labor Day weekend, and fresh off a freight train is Hal Carter (William Holden), a happy-go-lucky drifter who’s looking for a brand new start in life. A robust, handsome show-off, Hal has come to Kansas to seek gainful employment in his old fraternity brother Alan’s family granary. But despite his high hopes and expectations, Hal’s ambitious plans soon go away when his sexual magnetism attracts every woman in town, including 19-year-old Madge Owens (Kim Novak) — the alluring young beauty queen who also happens to be Alan’s girlfriend. Also starring Rosalind Russell, Arthur O’Connell, Susan Strasberg, Nick Adams and Cliff Robertson, Picnic was nominated for six 1955 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Joshua Logan), Best Supporting Actor (O’Connell), Best Music, Best Color Art Direction and Best Editing. “A down-to-earth, throbbing drama of average, small-town Americans” (Boxoffice), Picnic is an “excellent film. ***-1/2” (Leonard Maltin).