Picnic

on February 16, 1956 by BOXOFFICE Staff
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   Columbia has a real boxoffice champion and a sure-fire prize winner in this down-to-earth, throbbing drama of average small-town Americans based on the much-discussed Broadway success of two seasons ago. As the play won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics' Circle award in 1953, so the picture is almost certain to be nominated for best picture, best direction and, unquestionably, for the best female performance--that of Rosalind Russell--for 1955.
   William Inge's play, which was hailed as a slice of life dealing with human beings under stress, took place in a single backyards setting, but the picture benefits enormously by spreading out to the railroad yards, the grain elevators and, most important to the lively, noisy, fun-filled picnic, which was only talked about in the stage play. This outdoor sequence, with its milling crowds on a holiday, its games, tournaments, confusion, dancing, drinking and the inevitable love-making, is the high spot of an absorbing picture. Filmed at an actual picnic in a Kansas community, these scenes are splendidly captured in CinemaScope and Technicolor by the outstanding photography of James Wong Howe and have a validity and excitement that could not have been reproduced on a studio lot.
   For his first film directorial chore in 19 years, Joshua Logan, who also directed the original Theatre Guild stage hit, merits Academy Award consideration. Logan manages to give audiences an insight into the problems and desires of people with little minds but with yearnings for greater things. Except for the colorful picnic, the background is a drab one, but Logan brings his main characters into sharp relief and makes the spectator care deeply about what happens to each and every one of them. Although there could be a few "raised eyebrows" among straitlaced patrons at the accent on sex and the display of William Holden's "beefcake," the action is realistic but never in bad taste. It's an adult theme, but only the younger kids should be left at home.
   Miss Russell, who gets special co-star billing, gives her finest screen portrayal to date as the frustrated spinster schoolteacher eager for male attention. Although she gets laughs for her man-chasing tactics, audiences will sympathize with her and approve of her pleas of "please marry me" after a drinking bout with a local merchant. The scene won applause at the New York sneak preview. William Holden, although a shade too mature for the role of the drifter-hero, gives a convincing and virile performance, and Kim Novak is equally good as the "prettiest girl in town" who falls in love with him. Susan Strasberg is delightful as the tomboy sister; Betty Field tackles her first mother role as their worried parent; Arthur O'Connell recreates his stage part of the dull bachelor finally trapped into marriage; and Verna Felton contributes a gem of a character portrayal as a friendly, philosophic neighbor. Fred Kohlmar produced.
   In the story, a drifter (Holden) rides a freight car into a small Kansas town to see his old school chum (Cliff Robertson) and is fed by a neighbor (Felton), who lives next door to a worried mother (Field), who has two daughters, one of whom (Novak) is engaged to the chum but becomes attracted to the drifter. At the town's annual picnic, the drifter gets drunk and drives away with the fiancee, while the local schoolteacher (Russell) also imbibes too much and pleads with her shopkeeper boyfriend to marry her. The next day, the chum accuses his one-time pal of stealing his car and his girl, and the police tell the drifter to get out of town. Against her mother's wishes, the fiancee takes the advice of her tomboy sister and decides to follow the drifter.

CATCHLINES:
The Prize-Winning Broadway Stage Play--Even Greater On The CinemaScope Screen...Columbia's Successor To "From Here To Eternity"--A Throbbing Love Story...The Story Of A Lovable Drifter Who Captured The Town's Prettiest Girl...The Theatre Guild Stage Success Becomes A Columbia Screen Hit. FLASHBACK: DECEMBER 17, 1955
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PICNIC

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