Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Picnic (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Picnic (1955)

In Joshua Logan's and Columbia Pictures' big box-office hit and CinemaScopic widescreen version of a romantic drama - it was based upon William Inge's 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway stage play (adapted by Daniel Taradash); it told about the effects of the arrival of a virile drifter on various females in a small mid-1950s Kansas town during a Labor Day celebration:

  • in the opening sequence, unemployed, egotistical, bravado-filled, charming drifter Hal Carter (William Holden) arrived (on the holiday of Labor Day) in a small Kansas town to visit his ex-fraternity brother and friend Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), the son of the wealthiest man in town - grain industrialist Mr. Benson (Raymond Bailey); presumably, he had come to find a job; at first, he performed yard work for elderly widow Helen Potts (Verna Felton) in exchange for a morning meal
  • Carter - who was often seen during early scenes with his shirt off (and considered "naked as an Indian"), caught the attention of a neighbor - 19 year-old dime-store clerk Marjorie "Madge" Owens (Kim Novak), Alan's red-haired girlfriend; he was also noticed by Madge's single mother Flo Owens (Betty Field), smart younger tomboyish sister Millie (Susan Strasberg), and aging, "old maid" schoolteacher Miss Rosemary Sydney (Rosalind Russell), a boarder at the Owens' next-door house
  • as the town beauty Madge stood before a mirror, her worried and anxious mother Flo continually encouraged her to get married before her time passed: "If she loses her chance when she's young, she might as well throw all her prettiness away...And next summer you'll be 20, and then 21, and then 40"
  • atop a huge grain elevator, Hal unrealistically described his white-collar employment goals, and dreamed that he was a successful executive: ("Maybe something in a nice office where I could wear a tie and have a sweet little secretary, and talk over the telephone about enterprises and things. I gotta get someplace in this world! I just gotta!"), although he was cautioned to first be "a little patient"
  • Alan worshipped and idolized Madge, who was dissatisfied with just looking pretty and always being complimented as beautiful: "After the picnic tonight, let's get away from the others...We'll take a boat out on the river... I wanna find out something, I wanna find out if you look real in the moonlight... You are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen"
  • meanwhile, Rosemary was in a relationship with mild-mannered, bachelor store owner Howard Bevans (Oscar-nominated Arthur O'Connell); during the night's sunset with him, she mused about how her time was growing shorter - and she was obviously desperate to get married: "Look at that sunset, Howard!...It's like the daytime didn't want to end, isn't it? It's like the daytime was gonna put up a big scrap, set the world on fire to keep the night from creeping on"
  • much later in the film, late at night after a disastrous picnic and dance, a desperate and distraught Rosemary pathetically and shamelessly grabbed onto the overwhelmed Howard on her porch and begged him: "You gotta marry me, Howard"; when he asked for her to at least add the word "please" to her request, she dropped to her knees and entreated him: "Please marry me, Howard"; as the film ended, she basically brow-beat Howard into acquiescing to her demands to be married

Rosemary With Howard

Sunset Scene

"You gotta marry me, Howard...Please marry me, Howard!"
  • Carter attended the quintessential, All-American annual Kansas town's Labor Day picnic in Riverside Park (for games, food and other activities), with Alan and Madge's sister Millie as his 'date' - she was a college-bound high-school senior (who was sneaking cigarettes)
  • at the picnic Madge was elected as the picnic's Queen of Neewollah (Halloween spelled backwards) and spoke to the crowd: "I'm very proud and I'll try hard to be a good queen. I'll try hardest of all not to get conceited"; shortly later, Hal noticed her as she arrived at the dance dock in a swan-shaped paddle-boat
The Picnic's Crowning of Madge as Queen
  • later in the evening after the sun had set, with incredible camera work (by James Wong Howe), Madge (in billowing pink) approached toward the sexy-looking Hal on a boat dock landing under colorful Japanese lanterns; she took over from Millie as the camera circled around their sensual slow "mating" dance to the tune of "Moonglow"
"Moonglow" Mating Dance Between Hal and Madge Under the Japanese Lanterns on Boat Dock
  • the sight of Hal and Madge together upset Flo (she thought it would jeopardize her daughter's marital future with Alan) and also was concerning to the drunken and jealous Rosemary; after Hal's dance with Madge, Rosemary forced herself onto Hal for a dance, while admiring his physique: ("You remind me of one of those old statues - one of those Roman gladiators. All he had on was a shield")
Rosemary's Embarrassing Advances and Criticisms of Hal
  • when Hal rejected Rosemary and pushed her away and his shirt was torn, she turned on him and bitterly derided him for ignoring his 'date' Millie (who had become drunk) while he was going after pretty-looking Madge: "You've been stompin' around here in those boots like you owned the place, thinkin' every woman you saw was gonna fall madly in love. Well, here's one woman didn't pay you any mind. Raggin' about your father. And he wasn't any better than you are. Struttin' around here like some crummy Apollo. You think just 'cause ya act young, why you can walk in here and make off with whatever you like. Let me tell you somethin'. You're a fake! You're no jive kid. You're just scared to act your age. Buy yourself a mirror sometime and take a look in it. It won't be many years now before you're countin' the gray hairs, if ya got any left. And what'll become of ya then. You'll end your life in the gutter and it'll serve you right, 'cause the gutter's where you came from, and the gutter's where you belong!"
  • upset by everything, including Alan's mean attempt to get him arrested on charges of car theft, Hal became very angry and departed from the picnic. Madge followed Hal and they drove to the town's train station, where he threatened to leave on the next freight train; they had a heart-to-heart talk about his failed life beginning when he was a boy in a reform school/jail: ("What's the use, baby? I'm a bum. She saw through me like an X-ray machine. There's no place in the world for a guy like me")
  • his confessions brought an encouraging kiss from Madge (alongside the rail tracks); she also told him: "I get so tired of just being told I'm pretty" - it was the start of a romantic relationship between them
  • by morning, in the film's final scene before jumping onto a passing train, Hal kissed Madge goodbye at the Owens house as he professed his love for her, before leaving for Tulsa to work as a hotel bell-hop; he tried to persuade Madge to follow after him: ("I gotta know how you feel. Last night I thought you liked me....I love you, Madge. Do ya hear?...Do you love me? Do you?....I'm catchin' that freight. Meet me baby. We'll get married. They'll give me a room in the hotel. It'll be OK until we find somethin' better....Look, baby. I got a chance with you. It won't be big time, but that isn't important, is it?...Come on...Listen, baby. You're the only real thing I ever wanted. Ever! You're mine. I've gotta claim what's mine or I'll be nothin' as long as I live...You love me, you know it, you love me, you love me! You love me!")
  • Madge was conflicted about what to do - Flo told her not to go but to remain and marry Alan, while Millie encouraged her to follow her heart: "Go with him, Madge....For once in your life, do something right"; would she pursue a man who she had known for only one day, and who had not been successful for most of his life?
  • the film concluded with a determined Madge quickly packing her suitcase and boarding a Tulsa-bound bus, followed by an amazing aerial helicopter shot of Madge's bus following Hal's freight train - eventually catching up and going in the same direction at the same speed

Meeting for the First Time: Hal Carter and "Madge" Owens

Flo Owens' Encouragement to Her 19 Year-Old Daughter Madge to Marry Young

Hal's Unrealistic Dream Job

Madge's Dissatisfaction with Idolizing Boyfriend Alan

The Town's Annual Labor Day Picnic

At the Train Station: The Start of a Romance

Dramatic Goodbye Scene - Profession of Love to Madge: "You're the only real thing I ever wanted"

Running off to Freight Train: "You love me, you know it"

Two Departures From Town


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