Picnic is a 1955 romantic comedy drama film directed by Joshua Logan and starring William Holden, Kim Novak and Rosalind Russell. It was nominated for Best Picture and nowadays isn’t regarded as a classic when it should be because it is a superb movie.
It is about one day in a small Kansas town during the Labor Day holiday and how that day impacts the people in different ways. It is filled with excellent themes from sexual tensions, frustrations to love and unhappiness. It is also about social norms and it makes fun of them by having sexually frustrated characters not being able to show that, but having to hide it or use metaphors which is a perfect social commentary of the life in the 1950s. But it is above all a deeply emotional, to this day relevant look at love, relationships and the relations between the two sexes.
The characters are what makes this movie great. They are all incredibly well developed and they are all really likable people who you root for instantly. Hal is possibly a protagonist here, but I wouldn’t say this movie has a central character for most of them are paid much attention to. Regardless, he is a terrific character, incredibly well acted and portrayed, realistic and with relevant issues. Madge is absolutely superb and her sadness and frustration because of the constant praise about her looks that she receives is very well explored. She is still a female character from the fifties, but is nevertheless a strong female character that is possibly the most important character here. Both characters have that trouble with their good looks but whereas she gets praise, he doesn’t and that is a great commentary on the relations between men and women and how people regard the two sexes. But most importantly, the two probably get the finest sequence in the film which is a dance at the picnic which is both deep and incredibly romantic and just beautiful to behold.
Flo is great as her mother and her worrying nature and constant care for her daughter is really wonderful and quite sad, most evidently in that awesome ending. Millie is a typical butch female character from the time, but the relationship between her and Madge is excellently portrayed, giving us a lot of warm moments. Howard as the nervous old man is so well realized and a very realistic character, but it is Rosemary who is the highlight in the whole movie in my opinion. Her behavior and her lines lend to much of the humor in the first half, but add to lot of the drama and devastation and emotion in the second half. Her need for a husband, for a companion and her need for a better future and to escape the suburban and spinster life is so heartbreaking and poignant but oh so relevant. And their relationship is so good with the last act being incredible with a hilarious but very satisfying ending and more importantly that superb dialogue between the two where we see just how desperate and lonely old single people can get. Their troubles are explored the best which is why this subplot is easily the best and most sophisticated in here.
Picnic has great acting. There is no question about it. Each and every actor did a great job. William Holden is superb as Hal and a great choice to play him. He exhibits the necessary good nature, inherent sexiness and troubled look in his eyes that he fit the part wonderfully and played it in a great way. Kim Novak is not that good, but even she is quite good here, especially in the romantic sequences and although somewhat overacted, she still gave a solid performance and was likable in the role despite the fact that I am not a big fan of hers. Being the same as her character, it is Rosalind Russell who gave the standout performance, so powerful and a performance that is one of the best of that year. She did such a terrific and natural job in her incredibly difficult role which is so admirable and her performance lifted the whole movie.
Technically, Picnic is so-so. Some aspects are great, others not so much. First, the cinematography. It is rather good and especially the ending is so well shot and just beautiful to watch. The score is also solid and the dialogue is remarkable and really sophisticated. The themes are also excellent and properly explored and the movie has both realism and emotion displayed. And the ending, although predictable, is nonetheless more than that as you don’t know if it’s good when you think about it more and if you believe it is, it is emotionally rewarding because you rooted so much for these people to be happy. Now, for the weak parts. The directing from Joshua Logan is quite weak and the better director would have made this a much better film. But the editing is simply put bad. It is sometimes very prolonged and the picnic sequence in general is incredibly dragged and just was a big problem the movie never quite overcame. I know they wanted to recreate this atmosphere, but it still feels way too long and unnecessary. And the movie’s structure is problematic, but also rewarding. Let me explain. Just like ‘American Graffiti’ later on, the movie uses the structure of a large group of people during the short period of time and making you know them and know their troubles. And while that is problematic and you have the not so subtle jump from one character to another and many prolonged scenes, it is still infinitely better used than in that movie I mentioned because unlike there, here it doesn’t have too many unnecessary scenes (just that picnic one) and it actually makes use of its characters and properly explores all of them. It also not only gives you a great ending, but also a lot more awesome and highly memorable and emotional scenes.
As for the Academy Awards, it won Art Direction which was an okay choice, but a travesty nonetheless as ‘The Night of the Hunter‘ came out that year as well and it is a visual and artistic masterpiece. It also won Editing which is once again a weird choice. It didn’t deserve the nomination for Director, but it did deserve Best Picture and Best Score nominations. O’Connell was nominated for his role as Howard and he deserved it, but it is such a shame and travesty that Russell wasn’t even nominated when she should have won! That is just the worst snub from the Academy that year. Picnic evidently got a very weird and bad treatment from them, receiving some undeserved awards, while being snubbed for others.