Oscar Vault Monday – Picnic, 1955 (dir. Joshua Logan)

This is a year wherein I 100% agree with the winner the Academy picked – Marty. It’s one of my favorite films period, let alone one of my favorite Best Picture winners. That being said, the three nominees I’ve seen from that year (Marty, Picnic and Mister Roberts) are all fabulous films. I decided to talk about Picnic because it has one of my all-time favorite performances and there’s lots of shirtless William Holden. Picnic was nominated for six Oscars, winning two: Best Score, Best Color Art Direction-Set Decoration (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Supporting Actor Arthur O’Connell, Best Director and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Mister Roberts, The Rose Tattoo and winner Marty.

This is such a beautiful film, The sets, the lighting, the cinematography – everything is exquisite. While the story is very much of its time, the film remains timeless; a true classic.

First off, I’d like to say that William Holden gives one of his best dramatic performances in this film; he really does. However, my memory tends to focus on the fact that he is shirtless for about 80% of this film. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but he is shirtless an awful lot. Shirtless William Holden is one of my favorite things in all of cinema history. Actually, Holden also starred in 1955 Best Picture nominee Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (and if the poster is to be believed, he’s shirtless through most of that film as well). Holden plays Hal Carter, a former college football star, who is now an unemployed drifter after a failed Hollywood acting career. The film covers a 24-hour period, starting on Labor Day (September 5, 1955). Hal has come by freight train to a Kansas town, intending to visit his fraternity buddy, Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson). During this 24 hours Hal shakes up this sleepy town and falls in love with one of its residents: Madge Owens (Kim Novak), whose mother (Betty Field) hopes she will marry Alan.

Kim Novak is as luminous as ever in this film. This is one of Novak’s earliest film performances and she’s already got a certain mysterious quality about her and such wonderful presence. She’s definitely more than just a pretty face. While the role of Madge is probably one of the weakest in the film, Novak elevates the character with her sublime performance.

Novak and Holden have amazing chemistry together. The two share a sensual dance together, to the song “Moonglow,” during the night’s festivities and though the setting is dark and cool nighttime, the atmosphere sizzles. I love the color composition of this scene, the lighting; it’s gorgeous. A little bit later in the film Holden’s character Hal tells Madge, “you make me feel patient.” It’s at this moment that all their sexual tension just kind of explodes and you know they’re bound to each other on a level neither of them fully understands.

Which brings us to Susan Strasberg as Madge’s little sister Millie. She’s an observer and she understands pretty much everyone in the story better than they understand themselves. Strasberg’s performance as Millie is one of my all-time favorite film performances. She is the daughter of famed acting instructors Lee and Paula Strasberg from New York’s Actors Studio. Strasberg is brilliant in this role, bringing a combination of playfulness, passion, angst and strength way beyond her 17 years.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about Rosalind Russell and Arthur O’Connell as middle-aged schoolteacher Rosemary and store owner Howard Bevens. Rosemary is a slightly bitter “old maid” who has been trying to get Howard to marry her for quite a while. She’s impatient and in one very explosive scene, she drunkenly forces Holden’s Hal to dance with her and in a fit of rage rips his shirt. She’s a hard character to like and an even harder character to watch. Russell never backs down, going to every uncomfortable place with such ease. O’Connell offers an interesting contrast to Russell’s Rosemary. He’s an older man and he’s set in his ways. Maybe he’s even given up a bit, which is why Rosemary has to be so violent in order to get his attention. O’Connell’s performance received the only Oscar nomination out of the whole cast.

If you’re interested in buying this film you can do so here at our Oscar Vault Monday shop.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on May 23, 2011, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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