In the wake of the Academy Awards and the glitz and glamour of modern cinema, it is easy to forget some of the earlier pictures in cinema history which took Oscars home, such as Picnic which thanks to Eureka Entertainment is getting a BluRay release in the UK for the very first time. Nominated for an array of gongs including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for actor Arthur O’Connell—who portrayed the same role he had essayed on stage in William Inge’s original Broadway play—Picnic walked away with two awards and plenty of critical acclaim.
Joshua Logan works hard to adapt the play he directed on the stage from Inge’s work (which won him a Pulitzer) and transform it for a cinematic landscape that captures pure Americana of the mid-1950’s, and that is Picnic’s finest success. Truthfully, from a narrative and script point of view, Logan’s film is dated; depicting drifter Hal (a smouldering William Holden) as he returns to the small town he long ago left and becomes intoxicated on a holiday picnic with the beautiful Madge (a luscious Kim Novak, in her breakout performance), and a romance with not a little torrid melodrama running through its veins.
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wYet it looks and sounds at times really quite breathtaking. James Wong Howe brings a quite stunning level of Cinemascope photography to the American landscape he captures around Hal and Madge’s romance, which belies the challenging and to some degree raucous aspects of a plot which, for the age it arrived it, prefigured the dawning counter-cultural revolution which abandoned the conservative values of pre-1960’s Hollywood. Picnic is restrained by these conditions but a shirtless and buff Holden emitting a magnitude of erotic charisma suggests a landscape to come with daring abandon.
In all honesty, Eureka’s release is a touch threadbare when it comes to extra content, unusually so for their label; there is a collector’s booklet with a new essay by Travis Crawford but the only meaningful extra on the disc is a historic 18 minute archival interview, ‘Kim Novak’s Hollywood Picnic’ which, while insightful, will give fans of the film nothing new. It’s disappointing to see no commentary track by film critics which delves deeper in one of the forgotten romantic epics of the 1950’s.
A potboiler in every sense of the word, and one rooted in its age, but Picnic is a defining Hollywood epic that would make redolent Sunday afternoon viewing, especially in a warm summertime.
Picnic is now available from Eureka Entertainment.