The premise of Picnic seemed quite exciting: a drifter comes to a small town on the day of the Labor Day picnic and causes trouble for the citizens. Starring William Holden as the drifter, Hal Carter, and Kim Novak as the girl he bewitches, Madge Owens, this one would appear to be on solid ground. However, it didn't grip me. When you're noticing how bad the camera-work and editing of a film is then it's probably a good bet that the film wasn't up to much. Incidentally, the editing of this one was noticeably bad.
Holden lacked conviction as Hal, I thought. In addition, Hal was supposed to be college mates with Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson) but despite Robertson only being five years younger than Holden, the gap was accentuated by Robertson's youthful looks in comparison to Holden's rugged exterior. I just didn't buy them as old college friends and that was the beginning of my issues with this film. As hard as I try, I can't bring myself to like Kim Novak in any role an Madge Owens didn't buck the trend. The problem with any love narrative taking place over just a day means that people have to fall in love quickly and realistically. That didn't happen for me and the much-lauded dancing scene between Holden and Novak left me cold. I couldn't believe them as a couple at all.
This isn't to say that the film was devoid of good points. Rosalind Russell played Rosemary, a schoolteacher who's desperate for her boyfriend, Howard (Arthur O'Connell), to marry her. Their subplot, for me, was far preferable to the mainline storyline. Rosemary's breakdown throughout the day as she gets drunk, dances with Hal and then pushes Howard to marry her was exquisitely acted by Russell. The late-night scene when Howard drives her home and she literally begs him to marry her was heartbreaking and was certainly Russell at her best. Another excellent performance came from Susan Strasberg as Millie Owens, Madge's younger sister. Far more believable than Novak, Strasberg played Millie as the tomboyish sibling who wants to be pretty like her sister perfectly. Credit to Novak here, the love-hate sisterly relationship worked well.
My main issue with this film seems to be that secondary characters were more memorable than the leads. While the leads indulged in a flirtation that lacked chemistry from my perspective, the other characters actually struggled with their lives being touched by this stranger. Perhaps Holden and Novak were miscast, I'm not sure. Nevertheless, this one didn't live up to the hype for me. It's probably personal preference, though, as I've read some rave reviews praising Holden and Novak's chemistry!