AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Picnic
Director: Joshua Logan (Dir)
Release Date:   Feb 1956
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 17 Feb 1956
Production Date:   16 May--8 Jul 1955
Duration (in mins):   113 or 115
Duration (in reels):   14
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Cast:   William Holden (Hal Carter)  
    Kim Novak (Madge Owens)  
    Betty Field (Flo Owens)  
    Susan Strasberg (Millie Owens)  
    Cliff Robertson (Alan Benson)  
    Arthur O'Connell (Howard Bevans)  
    Verna Felton (Mrs. Helen Potts)  
    Reta Shaw (Linda Sue Breckenridge)  
    Nick Adams (Bomber)  
    Raymond Bailey (Mr. Benson)  
    Elizabeth W. Wilson (Christine Schoenwalder)  
  co-starring Rosalind Russell (Rosemary [Sydney], the school teacher)  
    Phyllis Newman (Juanita Badger)  
    Don C. Harvey (Policeman)  
    Steve Benton (Policeman)  
    Henry P. Watson (President of Chamber of Commerce)  
    Floyd Steinbeck (Chamber of Commerce man)  
    Paul R. Cochran (Chamber of Commerce man)  
    Harold A. Beyer (Chamber of Commerce man)  
    Adlai Zeph Fisher (Chamber of Commerce man)  
    Harry Sherman Schall (Chamber of Commerce man)  
    Abraham Weinlood (Trainman)  
    Wayne R. Sullivan (Foreman)  
    Warren Frederick Adams (Stranger)  
    Carle E. Baker (Grain elevator worker)  
    Henry Pegueo (Mayor)  
    Flomanita Jackson (Committee woman)  
    George E. Bemis (Neighbor)  

Summary: Early on a September morning, drifter Hal Carter rides a freight train into a small Kansas town seeking his old college friend, wealthy Alan Benson. Wandering toward town, Hal stops in front of elderly Helen Potts' house and asks if he might do any odd jobs for her, but Helen declines, explaining that it is Labor Day and everyone is preparing for the annual town picnic. Charmed by Hal's direct sincerity, Helen nevertheless allows him to clean her lawn and prepares him lunch. Hal then asks Helen about the Bensons, and she reveals that Alan is dating her neighbor, the beautiful Madge Owens, who lives with her mother Flo and younger sister Millie. Next door, meanwhile, Millie and Madge quibble about boys while spinster schoolteacher Rosemary Sydney, who boards with the Owens, dismisses the romantic prospect of the picnic. Later that morning, Hal arrives at the Bensons' affluent home to reunite with a delighted Alan, and the young men reminisce about college. At the Owens' home, Flo fits Madge with a striking new dress for the picnic, and inquires about the seriousness of Madge's relationship with Alan. While Millie laments that she is always overlooked because of Madge's good looks, Madge envies Millie her college scholarship and intellect. When Alan drives Hal to the family business, Hal confides his determination to find success and Alan agrees to give him an entry-level job at the company. Alan then invites Hal to join him and the Owenses for a swimming date and the picnic. After the swim, Alan confidently predicts that Madge will be crowned the seasonal Queen of Neewollah, "Halloween" spelled backwards. Later, at the Owens' house, Rosemary bitterly speculates that her beau, mild businessman Howard Bevans, will arrive for the picnic drunk. Flo is disappointed when Madge decides to wear a less fancy dress to the picnic, but pleased that Alan is nevertheless attentive to her daughter. While Hal drives Millie to the picnic in one of Alan's cars, Flo rides with Madge and Alan. Worried that Hal might be a bad influence, Flo questions Alan about him and learns that Hal grew up poor and won a sports scholarship to college, but nevertheless flunked out. On their way to the picnic, Rosemary initially resists Howard's offer of a sip of whiskey, but then gives in. During the festive afternoon, Hal joins Millie in several contests, and after the group eats, Alan grows annoyed with Hal's good-natured tall-tales while noticing, along with Flo, Hal and Madge's mutual attraction. As the sun sets, Howard and Rosemary continue to drink and Rosemary grows increasingly restless. The Owenses and their friends then excitedly gather on the pier to hear the announcement for the "Neewalloh" queen and are pleased when Madge is presented on as the winner. Dancing begins and a drunken Rosemary attempts to make Howard dance with her. When he refuses, Rosemary forces Millie to dance with her, and Hal playfully dances with Howard, which enrages Rosemary. Hal then dances with Millie until Madge spots them. When Madge and Hal begin a sensuous dance together, Helen watches admiringly, but Flo is alarmed. Also disturbed by the couple's intimacy, Rosemary lashes out at Hal and drunkenly breaks up their dance, embarrassing Hal by tearing his shirt when he attempts to pull away from her. When Millie declares she is feeling ill, Flo blames Hal for getting her drunk. Alan arrives and viewing the spectacle, accuses Hal of being a fake and a bum. Distraught, Hal rushes away and is followed by Madge. Howard apologizes to the group for providing the whiskey, while in the parking lot, Madge apologizes to Hal for Alan, but Hal angrily tells her that he is leaving town on the next freight train. When Madge tries to convince Hal to remain, he calls himself a bum and admits he went to reform school and lost countless unsuccessful jobs. Madge nevertheless praises Hal, admiring his confidence and carefree nature. When Hal reveals that his parents rejected him, Madge kisses him and confides her fear of being cared for only because of her looks. Hal misses the next freight train and stays with Madge. Howard, meanwhile, drives a dejected Rosemary home, and she pleads with him to marry her, explaining that her life is utterly empty. When he refuses and asks for things to remain the same between them, Rosemary declares they cannot see each other again unless he intends to marry her. Hal escorts Madge home early in the morning, concerned about her and whether he should remain in town and work for the Bensons. Later, when Hal returns the car to the Bensons, he discovers that Alan has reported the car stolen and summoned the police. When Alan demands that the police arrest Hal, Hal insists that Alan admit he leant him the car and that his anger is really jealousy over Madge. Alan strikes Hal, who knocks him and the policemen down before fleeing in Alan's car. Hal abandons the car, evades the police and rushes to Howard's for help. The next morning, when Howard comes to the Owenses to reiterate that he will not wed Rosemary, she misunderstands and enthusiastically tells everyone that they are marrying. Flo informs Madge that Alan has telephoned, while Howard secretly tells her that Hal is waiting to see her outside. Madge meets Hal in the yard where he reveals that although he must leave town, he loves her and wants her to come to Tulsa with him. Panicked, Flo intervenes and begs Madge to stay and marry Alan, but Hal pleads with Madge to do what she wants. Confused, Madge does not respond and, while rushing away to catch a passing freight train, Hal continues beseeching Madge to join him. Later, in their bedroom, Millie confronts Madge, encouraging her sister to be smart and to go with Hal. When Madge comes downstairs with her suitcase packed, Flo becomes hysterical, but Madge remains determined. Helen comforts Flo as Madge catches the Tulsa-bound bus. 

Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Joshua Logan (Dir)
  Carter DeHaven Jr. (Asst dir)
Producer: Fred Kohlmar (Prod)
Writer: Daniel Taradash (Scr)
Photography: James Wong Howe (Dir of photog)
  Ray Cory (2d unit photog)
Art Direction: William Flannery (Art dir)
  Jo Mielziner (Prod des)
Film Editor: Charles Nelson (Film ed)
  William A. Lyon (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Robert Priestly (Set dec)
Costumes: Jean Louis (Gowns)
Music: George Duning (Mus comp)
  Morris Stoloff (Cond)
  Arthur Morton (Orch)
  Fred Karger (Mus adv)
Sound: John Livadary (Rec supv)
  George Cooper (Sd)
Make Up: Clay Campbell (Makeup)
  Helen Hunt (Hair styles)
Color Personnel: Henri Jaffa (Technicolor col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs: "Ain't She Sweet?," music Milton Ager, lyrics Jack Yellen; "In the Gloaming," music and lyric Meta Orred and Annie F. Harrison; "Love's Sweet Song," music and lyrics G. Clifton Bingham and J. L. Malloy; "Picnic," music and lyrics by Harold Rome; "Moonglow," music and lyrics Will Hudson, Eddie De Lange and Irving Mills.
Composer: Milton Ager
  G. Clifton Bingham
  Eddie De Lange
  Annie F. Harrison
  Will Hudson
  J. L. Malloy
  Irving Mills
  Meta Orred
  Harold Rome
  Jack Yellen
Source Text: Based on the play Picnic by William Inge, produced on the stage by The Theatre Guild and Joshua Logan (New York, 19 Feb 1953).
Authors: Joshua Logan
  William Inge
  Theatre Guild, Inc.

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp. 23/1/1956 dd/mm/yyyy LP5811

PCA NO: 17639
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: CinemaScope

 
Genre: Melodrama
Sub-Genre: with songs
 
Subjects (Major): Ambition
  Class distinction
  Family relationships
  Picnicking
  Mothers and daughters
  Romance
  Small town life
 
Subjects (Minor): Automobiles
  Beauty
  Boats
  Buses
  Businessmen
  Chases
  College sports
  Dancing
  Drunkenness
  Fathers and sons
  Fistfights
  Football
  Jealousy
  Kansas
  Kisses
  Labor Day
  Marriage
  Police
  Rivers
  Sisters
  Spinsters
  Swimming
  Teachers
  Trains
  Vagabonds

Note: William Inge's play Picnic was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and Drama Critics Award in Jun 1953. The Broadway production starred Ralph Meeker as “Hal,” Janice Rule as “Madge”, Paul Newman as “Alan” and Kim Stanley as “Millie.” Arthur O'Connell ("Howard") was the only actor from the original play to recreate his role for the movie. According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, both Paramount and 20th Century-Fox studios expressed interest in producing Inge's play, but were concerned about problems with the play's frank sexual content. According to news items, Columbia purchased the play in Sep 1953 for between $300,000 and $400,000. After submitting a script to the PCA in Nov 1954, the studio was cautioned to cut all suggestion that “Hal” and “Madge” had improper relations after the picnic. In the film it remains somewhat ambiguous whether Madge and Hal had slept together or not.
       The provocative dance scene between Hal and Madge during the picnic went on to become an iconic film moment. A modern biography on William Holden indicates the actor was very uneasy about the scene because of his limited dancing skills. The original music from the film was a great popular success and resulted in RCA Victor releasing the theme song as a radio single. Kim Novak appeared in the film as a redhead, a departure from her signature platinum blonde style.
       In an oral history at the AMPAS Library, screenwriter Daniel Taradash indicates that Columbia studio head Harry Cohn offered him the opportunity to direct Picnic in exchange for writing the script. However, Joshua Logan, who also directed Picnic onstage, was given the job. Although Logan had years of theater direction experience, he had previously co-directed only one film, United Artists 1938 release, I Met My Love Again . Logan demanded that the play be rewritten to alter its unhappy ending of Hal and Madge not getting together, despite acknowledging that ending was probably more realistic. The film was shot on location near Kansas City, MO. Although the 1956 Paramount release Vagabond King (see below) was filmed first, Picnic was released first and thereby marked the feature film debut of actress Phyllis Newman.
       Picnic won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Editing. The picture also received Academy Award nominations for Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Arthur O'Connell), Best Direction and Best Music. In 1986 Gregory Harrison and Jennifer Jason Leigh appeared in a television adaptation of Inge’s play broadcast on the Showtime cable network. In 2000, Josh Brolin and Gretchen Mol co-starred in a CBS television broadcast of Picnic

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   10 Dec 1955.   
Box Office   17 Dec 1955.   
Daily Variety   24 Jun 1953.   
Daily Variety   5 Dec 55   p. 3.
Film Daily   5 Dec 55   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Sep 1953.   
Hollywood Reporter   12 May 1955   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   13 May 1955   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jul 1955   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Dec 55   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Mar 1956   p. 14.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   10 Dec 55   p. 697.
New York Times   17 Feb 56   p. 13.
Time   27 Feb 1956.   
Variety   7 Dec 55   p. 8.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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