by Brad Nelson
I watched a wonderful movie last night that I’m sure half of America will dislike. My only defense is that I’ve got a pretty healthy Kim Novak obsession going right now and I love my country.
William Holden plays a drifter who literally jumps off the train on Labor Day weekend to find a small midwestern country town making preparations for their annual “Neewollah” festival (aka “picnic”). Spell that backwards…you’ll get it. I’ve since read that those festivals actually did occur in Middle America, although “Neewollah” certainly does sound made up for a movie.
But Holden didn’t just jump off that train at random. He was looking up an old college fraternity buddy, Cliff Robertson (a young Cliff Robertson…I didn’t recognize him at first). Cliff’s father manages a huge grain silo complex and Holden is looking for a job.
But before getting together with his old college buddy, Holden first lands grubby and hungry in the back yard of a neighborhood populated by single ladies, including a spinster or two. That also includes beautiful Kim Novak and her sister and mother.
Most criticism of this movie will likely fall on the fact that Holden may seem a little old for the girl (which one?) or is miscast. Other objections are bound to be that this movie is way too corny. And, at times, it is. This is an unabashed, unapologetic, warm, fuzzy, and sometimes funny look at Norman Rockwellesque America. This is the piece of America that the Left loves to say isn’t real.
But it is real, and it’s the kind of real that is filled with love, community, and simple living — as well as heartache, passion, disappointment, and conflict. Life is life. It’s just that creating the kind of gutter society that the Left typically does amplifies and complicates all these normal problems. We have enough as it is. We don’t need to create any more.
Did I mention how gorgeous Kim Novak is in this? No, perhaps this is not an Oscar performance, but she has her moments, particularly in the dance scene with Holden which radiates more love and sex than a thousand slutty dances by Miley Cyrus. Folks, there’s a reason that Middle America tended to downplay acting like a slut. And you see why, because if everyone jumps right from pigtails to slut, you jump right over all the wondrous stages and shades of romance.
But there is one Oscar-caliber performance in Picnic. It’s the one given by the spinster school teacher. Just when you think this movie might drown in schmaltz (and even if you like schmaltz, there’s such thing as too much of a good thing), Rosalind Russell, as the spinster school teacher, gives a riveting performance that injects some real grit into this movie. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission.
But most of this movie survives and thrives on the happy-go-lucky charm of William Holden as he makes himself at home in this sleepy little town. But he has a past and that past is something he is having trouble putting behind him. I’m a big Holden fan. He can do no wrong in my eyes. He’s got that old-style, old-school Hollywood charisma and screen presence — and even a bit of animal magnetism (and he has his shirt off more than Captain Kirk). There’s no metrosexual girly-man to be seen here.
I found this movie interesting and charming from start to finish…and it does have a finish. This really is a complete movie. I give it 3.3 mega grain silos out of 5.
But if you hate America or think “Married with Children” is the ideal and that “Leave it to Beaver” is a mere fantasy, then you’ll probably not like Picnic. But if the cynicism wrought by the Left hasn’t spoiled you on authentic and even innocent America, then I think you’ll be charmed by this picture. I certainly was.