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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Picnic (1955)

In a small Kansas town on Labor Day, a drifter (William Holden) arrives in search of his old college roommate (Cliff Robertson). His brief 24 hour stay will forever change the lives of several of its citizens, predominantly its women. Based on the hit play of the same name by William Inge, this is one of the best films portraying small town Americana. Lovingly (and accurately) recreated by director Joshua Logan and memorably photographed in CinemaScope by James Wong Howe whose images (colored lanterns reflecting on a lake, Kim Novak shot through a screen door, the final helicopter shot of a train, etc.) have stayed with me for years. Holden is about 10 years too old for the aging jock but his genuinely touching and perceptive performance redeems the miscasting. Surprisingly, the 32 year old Robertson comes across as less convincing, partly because of the high "Golly gee!" voice he uses which doesn't emanate naturally from the actor. The rest of the cast are in peak form. The set-piece of the film, the actual picnic, is superbly done as anyone who's ever attended an organized picnic can attest to and, of course, there's that memorable Moonglow/Picnic dance sequence with Holden and Novak, one of the most sensually romantic moments in move history. The great score is by George Duning. The expert cast also includes Rosalind Russell, Susan Strasberg, Betty Field, Arthur O'Connell, Verna Felton, Nick Adams, Elizabeth Wilson, Phyllis Newman, Reta Shaw and Raymond Bailey.

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