Over at TCM they’ve been playing a short portion of the scene in the video above and it was sufficiently nostalgic for me I thought I’d pass along a few thoughts. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the famous “Moonglow” scene from Joshua Logan’s screen adaptation of William Inge’s stage play, Picnic. Yes, I saw this at the drive-in and that’s a much better venue for it than the small screen.
A couple of thoughts. First, that mash-up of the 1934 standard, “Moonglow”, with the “Love Theme from Picnic” is so effective that it’s hard to think of “Moonglow” without thinking of it as an ostinato for the movie theme. A great rendition. Wish I knew who the musicians were. It’s as good an example of “cool jazz” as you’ll run across.
Second, the play. If you’ve never seen it on stage, you’ve never seen it. It’s a very affecting piece of drama. The movie is solid but nothing as good as a good stage performance. A good stage performance is riveting.
I’ve heard that William Inge hated the way the director of the play made him re-write his original ending. As the play originally ended, Hal leaves and Madge stays. She becomes an embittered old maid.
William Holden. Josh Logan managed to wrench one of his best performances out of Holden but the truth is that Holden was not really suited to the part. He was too old. Hal is supposed to be in his late twenties, not his late thirties. It’s not as though there weren’t a perfect alternative available: Paul Newman. Newman would have been brilliant on screen as Hal. That’s the character he played on screen for the next thirty years. He’d played Alan, Hal’s college roommate, on stage, the part played in the film version by Cliff Robertson.
Kim Novak is young and lovely, of course, in Picnic and it’s one of the few movies in which she doesn’t look like she wished she were somewhere else. Hitchcock actually capitalized on that in Vertigo. In Hitchcock’s movie her character is really uncomfortable with the role she’s being forced to play and her genuine lack of comfort became an asset rather than a liability. Have you ever wondered why she retired from the movies so young? She wanted to be somewhere else.
The more I learn about the making of the movie, the more reservations I have about it. Logan’s passion for verisimilitude lead to too many injuries among the cast. IMO that’s one of the marks of a reckless director.
Even if you’re not interested in watching the whole movie, just listen to the soaring music, watch some great movie stars when they were young and beautiful and didn’t all look like plastic dolls and when “Hollywood ending” didn’t mean explosions.