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Picnic

By Michael Moriarty
web posted May 23, 2016

Here is a full assortment of PICNIC possibilities.

Bits and pieces.

Or, if you can figure out the complexities of You Tube's membership privileges, you can view the whole, entire, flawless and profoundly American masterpiece by the divinely merciless writer, William Inge.

Picnic has lived in my heart and soul since my 18th year of life, in the summer of 1959, and my appearance as the play's newsboy, Bomber, the horny teenager with an obsessive "hard-on" for Madge.

Looking back now, at the age of 75, 57 long and very eventful years ago, the haunting magic of Picnic's flawless movie version with William Holden and Kim Novak?

I tear up just thinking about it.

Why?

For one, I so miss the America I knew in the 1950's!

Compared to this present nightmare of The Obama Nation?!

Two, as I grow older and older, I am an increasingly and terminally incurable but lust-filled romantic.

For three, the depth of Picnic's vision and understanding of the America I grew up in?!

Almost unsurpassable!

Fourth and finally, the simple power of great literature… and Picnic is a small but densely packed gem… it contains most of the major corners within the very 1950's United States that formed me!! The nation that created the very essence of who and what I remain to be in this very moment!!!

Picnic
The Respectable Billboard!

Right now, since I don't know yet how to sign up for the whole movie's You Tube showing, I'm watching a clip of William Holden's Hal, his unending expressions of being "knocked-out" by The Queen of Neewollah, Kim Novak's Madge!

I'm now being taken through the film in bits and pieces, clips from a perfect selection of high points... although I find the whole experience of Picnic a "high point"!

One of the highest high points is always the dance scene.

Kim Novak and William Holden
Novak and Holden Making Erotic Film History

The slow and deliciously agonizing eruptions of pure lust between our leading characters?!

Wrap the black magic of Halloween around the erectile ballet going on within this classically Dionysian feast… the soul of middle class America, its frigidly bourgeois shock at sexual passion's shameless horns, its true, male and female lusts.

Morris Stoloff, the musical director, has been handed this golden opportunity to orchestrate one of the most  distinctively musical moments in dramatic film history.

Not since Casablanca and Herman Hupfeld's "As Time Goes By",  has Hollywood wrapped all of humanity up into the beginnings of two of the screen's most unforgettable love affairs.

Previous to the premieres of both Picnic and Casablanca, both As Time Goes By and Moonglow had been indelibly unforgettable hits.

Picnic poster
The "Heart" of The Matter

George Dunning's Picnic melody, and its erotic mysteries floating above the sweet and relatively harmless rhythms of Moonglow?!

There you have the perfect metaphor for William Inges' x-ray vision, his unerring play of bold contrasts and conflicts within his flawlessly accurate portrait of small town America.

Haunting the darkest corners of Picnic, however, are Rosalind Russell and Arthur O'Connell.

The grotesque middle age mirror image of young love!

Rosalind Russell and Arthur O'Connell
The Desperation Duo

It's my favorite performance of Rosalind Russell and one of the most endearing displays by Arthur O'Connell's Howard, a performance which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Why most of the cast wasn't nominated for "The Gold" defies my understanding. One of Hollywood history's greatest ensemble casts, all at the top of their forms.

I don't think there's an actress in all of stage, screen and television history that could so brilliantly burn up the celluloid with the middle-aged school teacher who rents a room in Flo Owens' household.

Rosalind Russell's scene stealing bravado is again another play within a play metaphor for her character's personal desperation.

Her characterization's size and depth are the stuff of shamelessly great acting and, of course, an eternally haunting memory.

If you've seen Rosalind Russell's Rosemary only once, you can never forget it. It's actually frightening! Reminds me of Ethel Merman's tragedy-sized, stage performance in Gypsy, of Gypsy Rose Lee's monstrous stage mother.

It's no surprise that Ms. Russell was cast as Gypsy's mother in the film version of that darkly powerful musical comedy.

I regret to say it, but, in that role of Gypsy's mother, Ms. Russell fell fathoms short of Ethel Merman's giant achievement on Broadway.

Merman's record-breaking, vocal power as Gypsy's mother had the hairs on the back of my neck standing at a most terrified and stiffly erect attention.

Complaints about William Holden's age as Hal Carter, the irresistibly handsome but seemingly doomed loser?

Holden being 37 years of age when he performed it?

His middle 30's appearance, however, made Hal Carter, for myself at any rate, all the more moving. It makes, as it should, his hopes for a future with Kim Novak's Madge his last shot! There'll be no more major daydreams after that.

Which brings me to the heart of my admiration for not only William Inge but Joshua Logan and his flawless direction of both Picnic's 1953 Broadway debut but also this 1955 film version.

It appears to be one of the rarest miracles in all of the performing arts and entertainment: the perfect ensemble cast for both the play and the movie!

Oh, one mustn't forget Betty Field's, Flo Owen, mother to Madge and stalwart but doomed protectress of her daughter's future.

In both cases, mother and daughter, they fell victim to the classically Dionysian appeal of an irresistibly attractive male lust.

The Classic God of Eros not only wins.

In both cases, mother and daughter, the Roman god of love, Cupid, takes no prisoners.

They both were most enjoyably and willingly raped and then, certainly in Mother Flo's case, abandoned.

All of Flo Owens fully informed and ambitious dreams for her daughter Madge evaporate into a most painfully helpless thin air.

William Inge's fully honored debt to Greek Drama and the polytheistic philosophy that dealt most profoundly and, I must add, unashamedly with the endless challenges of what amounts to pure lust?!

Despite what appears to be, with the musical score, a romantic ending… there is an Athenian enlightenment and maturity to a love affair that has no more chance of reaching a successful marriage than the passions of Romeo and Juliet.

One is driven by great writing to surrendering, giving up all righteous convictions to a classically Athenian stoicism.

The American version of which was most popularized by Doris Day and her all-too-sweet but still-helpful song, Que Sera, Sera!

Rather like Moonglow, its melody sits holistically but sentimentally beneath the far more frightening mysteries of both humanity's unstoppable lusts and the inevitably arriving middle… and eternally terrifying old age.

Now…I am deeply amidst old age at 75?

The maturing wine of great art?

Great drama?

Its divine gifts can only be fully appreciated from the challenging mysteries within an increasingly restless old age. ESR

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at rainbowfamily2008@yahoo.com. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.

 

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