Time: 115 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
AWARDS: Won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Film Editing. Nominations for Best Supporting Actor (O'Connell), Director, Score and Best Picture.
One of those 50s films that starts quietly enough, with the arrival of an intense and sexy stranger, supposedly just looking for a quiet meal and a place to lay his head for awhile...and then all hell breaks loose. Since the Holden and Novak are two of my recently found favorites, I believed that I was in for a real treat. I was only partially satisfied...much like the characters at the end of the picnic. While the film has some very sexy moments between them, their intense chemistry quickly sizzled out with too much dialogue and not enough romance.
Holden plays Hal Carter, a down-on-his-luck drifter who's a little too old to be bouncing about. He happens to come to town on the day of the big, annual picnic to troll for work from Alan, an old college buddy. What develops is trouble with a capital T, as his raw animal magnetism attracts every eligible woman in sight, including Madge the unhappy local beauty. She has longings of her own that Alan knows nothing about and is clearly not satisfying. Tired of being seen as just a pretty face, she is desperate for something more from life. She latches onto Hal like he's the only lifeboat on a sinking ship.
Her mother wants her to take the financially secure road marrying Alan would provide. Everything comes to the surface and the initial fun of the day, turns sour when Hal shares a dance with Madge at the town picnic. Their sensual interlude creates chaos - and is pretty palpable for such an innocent thing - shifting the film into overdrive and forcing everyone to confront the reality of their unsatisfied lives. Desperation fills the air as hopes are dashed and new ones are reborn. It's not a surprise that the new lovers run away together, though that's not a very believable outcome. They have great chemistry, but not enough screen time to make their connection feel real and lasting. Though a longterm future may not really be what either of these characters are after or capable of. It's high melodrama that works for a time but reaches an annoying fever pitch towards the end. It's easy to see why this was such a popular stage play, the high emotions giving the audience something to grab onto, however, a little subtlety would have made it more palatable as a movie.