Picnic (1955)




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One of the biggest box-office attractions of the 1950s, Picnic was adapted by Daniel Taradash from the Pulitzer Prize-winning William Inge play. William Holden plays Hal Carter, a handsome drifter who ambles into a small Kansas town during the Labor Day celebration to look up old college chum Alan (Cliff Robertson, in his film debut). Hoping to hit up Alan for a job--or a handout--Hal ends up stealing his buddy's fiancee Madge Owens (Kim Novak). Hal also has a catnip effect on spinster schoolteacher Rosemary Sydney (Rosalind Russell), so much so that Rosemary makes a fool of herself in front of the whole town, nearly driving away her longtime beau Howard Bevans (Arthur O'Connell). Persuaded by his friends and family that Hal is no damn good, Madge is prepared to break off her relationship. As anyone who remembers the film's famous overhead closing shot knows, however, Madge is ultimately ruled by her heart and not her head. For a film set in Kansas, there's an awful lot of New York talent in the supporting cast (Susan Strasberg and Phyllis Newman come immediately to mind); still, the Midwestern ambience comes through loud and clear, especially during the perceptively detailed Labor Day picnic sequence. Broadening the film's appeal is its George Duning-Steve Allen title song, a variation of the old standard "Moonglow". Two sidebars: The original Broadway production of Picnic starred Ralph Meeker and Paul Newman; for the film version of Picnic, William Holden was obliged to shave his chest, lest his hairy torso cause the female moviegoers to conjure up impure thoughts.
Classics , Drama , Romance
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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William Holden
as Hal Carter
Kim Novak
as Madge Owens
Rosalind Russell
as Rosemary Sidney
Betty Field
as Flo Owens
Susan Strasberg
as Millie Owens
Arthur O'Connell
as Howard Bevans
Reta Shaw
as Linda Sue Breckenridge
Verna Felton
as Helen Potts
Nick Adams
as Bomber
Raymond Bailey
as Mr. Benson
Elizabeth Wilson
as Christine Schoenwalder
Phyllis Newman
as Juanita Badger
Don C. Harvey
as Policeman
Steve Benton
as Policeman
Henry P. Watson
as Chamber of Commerce President
Floyd Steinbeck
as Chamber of Commerce Man
Paul R. Cochran
as Chamber of Commerce Man
Harold A. Beyer
as Chamber of Commerce Man
Adlai Zeph Fisher
as Chamber of Commerce Man
Harry Sherman Schall
as Chamber of Commerce Man
Abraham Weinlood
as Trainman
Carle E. Baker
as Grain Elevator Worker
Flomanita Jackson
as Committee Woman
George E. Bemis
as Neighbor
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Critic Reviews for Picnic

All Critics (7) | Top Critics (1)

Clunky and awkward, with inane dialogue, it's a movie to show how attitudes have changed.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

An emorionally intense small-town melodrama, in which all the women are love or sex-starved, but is extremely well acted by William Holden, Rosalind Russell, and Kim Novak

Full Review… | March 14, 2011

A real meatball.

Full Review… | February 28, 2002
Goatdog's Movies

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February 8, 2005

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December 18, 2004

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October 21, 2004
Movie Mom at Yahoo! Movies

Audience Reviews for Picnic


A lower class drifter enlists an old college friend to introduce him to Southern society, which includes a pair of sisters, one coquettish and the other plain and intellectual. A drama of manners, Picnic is A Place in the Sun without the themes of violence or religion. The plot proceeds exactly as you might expect it would. The handsome, anti-intellectual drifter entertains the intellectual sister while pining for her beautiful, anti-intellectual sister. The whole thing resolves as you might expect it would, so there is no real surprise or genre-bending twist. Whatever charm the film holds is in the performances by its stars, and William Holden, showing off his muscled physique, does admirably much with little, and the same can be said of Kim Novak. Overall, this film is a cliche done well.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Not a darling of the critics, Picnic has suffered from robust shellackings by popular voices such as the renowned Roger Ebert -- with whom I seem to disagree about 95% of the time -- man, do I miss Gene Siskel. Ebert, the anti-Picnic cheerleader -- runs down this film as clunky, awkwardly written, poorly directed, and utterly non-self-aware. When RE doesn't like a film, he does not hold back.

In truth, as I ruminate over what all is eating Roger Ebert, it seems to me that he is most irate about Holden and Novak being attracted to each other for surface reasons, for their physical attributes rather than their intellectual capabilities. Roger finds it ironic that Novak plainly states her desire to be seen as more than just a good-looking woman, when in fact that is the very essential and singular attraction for Holden.

Roger, guess what? This could very possibly be a statement about 50s' middle-American values, a rich rendering, I'm thinking, of the way the writers perceive an awkward decade, full of stilted dialog disguising sexual tensions bubbling below the surface. If only we could all say what we really mean, really want, really desire so deeply -- hey, then the stuffy 50s might erupt into a decade of revolutionary thought and action -- hmmmmm, kind of like the 60s, huh Roger?

On another note, Rosalind Russell is yet another fine actor who never gave a bad performance and never won an Academy Award. She could have certainly won for Best Supporting Actress with this depressingly desperate performance.

Lanning : )
Lanning : )

Super Reviewer

An okay melodrama, it's not bad, but it's pretty boring for the most part.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

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