Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It Must Have Been Moonglow

The first time I saw Picnic was from the smoke filled balcony of my neighborhood Loew’s theatre in Brooklyn on a warm spring Friday night in 1955. I was eight years old and was there with my mother who had left the care of the luncheonette to my Uncle Natie and her friend Anna who sometimes worked part time there so that we could go see Picnic. I kept falling asleep and waking up with my eyes watery from all the smoke. This was the first time I saw Kim Novak in a movie and I immediately fell in love with her thinking that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Now all these many years later and after seeing Picnic several times, the last being several months ago on the newly restored letterboxed dvd, I can happily state that Picnic is still fine and tasty after all these years. Although no longer in love with Ms.Novak I still think she was one of the best looking female movie stars of the 1950’s and also somewhat underrated as an actress. Picnic was based on the well received play by the tragic William Inge who killed himself in the early 70’s, and both the play and film covers a short span of time in the lives of a family living in a small town in Kansas. Theres the single mom Flo Owens played by the fine Betty Field and her two daughters, beautiful Madge (Novak) and younger tomboy Millie (a stand-in perhaps for a young Inge) played by Susan Strasberg. Into their dreary lives comes William Holden a drifter with a past and a real nice smooth chest that we get to see a lot of during the film. He soon turns things and lives upside down & inside out and although its been pointed out many times that Holden was too old for the role, I have to disagree. Watching him sway, swagger and move you can understand why Novak and most of the other women in the film would be taken in by him, you can feel the sexual tension crackling and sizzling like a Summer lightning storm. Novak is engaged to the town rich kid played by Cliff Robertson also young and handsome but as soon as Novak catches sight of Holden without his shirt on, its bye bye Cliff and hello Bill. Momma Betty is aghast at the thought of her daughter and future “Queen” of the picnic giving up her chance for the good life with Robertson. Holden who it just so happens went to college with Robertson but dropped out is in town to look Cliff up and hit him for a job in his old man’s plant. Also hanging around is Rosalind Russell who is a spinster schoolteacher boarding with the Owens and her timid boyfriend Howard played by Arthur O’Connell. Both are fine and Russell especially has some wonderful moments including her drunken scene at the picnic and the scene with her begging Howard to marry her. Silly Roz gave up her sure shot of winning a supporting Oscar for this film because she refused to be considered as a supporting player and was not nominated. Big egos sometimes get no little golden men statues. Of course I cannot fail to mention the sexy erotic dance at the picnic between Novak and Holden which to this day is still one of the great sex scenes ever filmed. Joshua Logan who filmed on location used many of the town folks as extras especially in the lengthy and leisurely paced picnic sequence, and this gives the film a nice touch of reality. Also of note are James Wong Howe’s beautiful soft pastel cinematography, George Dunning’s score, Jo Mielziner’s production design and the great aerial shot at the end of the movie. Nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture, it won 2 for art direction and film editing. One of the memorable films of the 1950’s.


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