Joshua Logan's 1955 screen adaptation of William Inge's Broadway sensation Picnic has been released on Blu-ray by the excellent Twilight Time label as a 3,000 unit limited edition. The play helped boost Paul Newman to stardom but amazingly he was excluded from the film version, along with most of his fellow cast members. Inge's play presented an unusually frank examination of repressed sexual frustration in a small Kansas town. That tension boils over with the arrival of Hal Carter (William Holden), a charismatic drifter whose arrival in town sets off a combustible tinderbox of emotions among the residents. Hal is a magnet for women of all ages, but he sets his sites on Madge (Kim Novak), a vulnerable teenager from a broken home who is looking for a white knight to deliver her from the boredom of her small town life. Hal fills the void but brings to mind the old adage "Be careful what you wish for- you just might get it." Hal's presence unleashes long suppressed rivalries and jealousies and he goes from hero to cad in the eyes of many.
It's long been said that Holden was too old for the leading role, but nothing could be further from the truth. He's at the top of his game and exudes raw sexuality. He benefits from an outstanding supporting cast, each of whom is seen at their best: Novak; Susan Strasberg as her catty, envious sister, Betty Field as the frustrated mom who advises her girls that sex may be an unpleasant chore for a woman, but if it allows you to nab a handsome husband, it's worth it; young Cliff Robertson as an insecure local hunk who comes to regret Hal's presence, and wonderful turns by Arthur O'Connell, Nick Adams and others. Among the many memorable scenes are Holden and Novak's slow dance to Moonglow, which drips eroticism and plays like a mating ritual. All of this is set to James Wong Howe's glorious cinematography which improbably manages to "open up" a rather claustrophobic storyline written for the stage.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray looks great and includes the original trailer, an informative booklet written by Julie Kirgo and an isolated track for George Duning's terrific score.