The cast of Picnic: l.r., Betty Field, Verna Felton, Kim Novak, Rosalind Russell, Arthur O'Connell, William Holden, Susan Strasberg. Cliff Robertson is on the far left.
Today is not a special day at my house. I'm retired (lucky me!) and no one in the family has scheduled any activities. Come to think of it, Labor Day has never been the holiday I thought it should be. So when I want a taste of Labor Day my way, I watch Picnic.
I was 12 years old when the movie came out (yes, I'm ancient!) and while I may not have grasped all the significance of the adult relationships, I loved the people and places and events the film portrayed. And I was old enough to know that William Holden was very handsome and Kim Novak was very beautiful. Some people argue that Holden was tool old for the part, but I didn't (and don't) care.
In addition to being a romantic drama, Picnic is a loving homage to the small-town Midwest; it made me feel that I lived there and knew all the residents and their traditions.
It begins when Hal Carter (Holden) jumps off a freight train in search of a job he hopes his old college buddy Alan Benson (Robertson) will provide. But he has to clean up first, and he turns to the modest houses near the railroad tracks.
He finds a warm welcome at the home of Mrs. Potts (Felton), an elderly lady caring for her even more elderly mother. She jumps at his offer to do some work for his breakfast and rejoices at "having a man in the house again."
Hal also meets the neighboring Owens family - mother Flo (Field) who dislikes him on sight, bookworm daughter Millie (Strasberg) and "the pretty one," Madge (Novak), who just happens to be dating his college chum. Hal becomes fast friends with Millie and becomes her escort to the Labor Day Picnic.
Also joining the crowd are Rosemary (Russell), an age-fighting schoolteacher who rooms with the Owens', and her beau Howard (O'Connell) a perfectly happy bachelor.
The Labor Day picnic is just what a town picnic should be, lots of food, music, sack races, pie-eating contests and kids running around having fun. But as the day winds down, the good time starts to unravel and jealousy rears its ugly head in more ways than one.
Neither Rosemary nor Millie can compete with Madge's glowing beauty. When Madge and Hal share a dance, it becomes much more, as you can see here. The music is wonderful.
Those watching the dance have different reactions: Millie copes by sneaking a drink and getting sick. Rosemary drinks herself into a jealous rage and tears down Hal's happy-go-lucky facade. Flo is horrified that Madge might throw away her future with Alan in favor of a worthless drifter (as she had done years before) and she blames Hal for letting Millie drink. Madge's relationship with Alan is more her mother's idea than her own and she finds Hal an attractive alternative. Alan soon finds himself hating "good ol' Hal."
Much more drama ensues, some a bit hokey, but most of it compelling. Some relationships are shattered while others blossom. The entire cast is wonderful, but the standouts are Russell and O'Connell. But Holden is still handsome and Novak remains a beauty. Enjoy!
Happy Labor Day!