Memorial Day is about remembering the brave men and women who fought and died for our freedom and for the our wonderful country. It’s also about the start of summer, and barbecues, and picnics. So for this Monday I though, what better movie to feature than
starring Kim Novak, William Holden, Cliff Robertson, Rosalind Russel, Betty Field and Susan Strasberg. (Ok, this flick takes place on Labor Day weekend, but we’ll pretend it’s Memorial Day) Drifter Hal Carter (Holden) blows into town to visit his old frat buddy Alan (Robertson). Alan’s old man is the town’s rich guy, by the way. So Carter, one of those guys who is really full of himself but doesn’t have dime or a donut to show for it, charms his way into talking the old man into a job…but of course, he doesn’t want to start at the bottom, he wants to run the place from the start. Meanwhile, Carter meets Alan’s squeeze, the incomparable Madge (Kim Novak). Madge’s old lady has been poor all her life and insists Madge marry into money…but of course, Carter sweet talks her until…well, you get the basic picture. There are some great scenes in this flick, ranging from full drama to silly comedy. But the scene that it’s best known for is the dance between Kim Novak and William Holden, late night at the Picnic. The tension between the two characters has been building throughout the film, and finally comes to a head during one of the most impressive “fall in love during a two minute dance” scenes in film history. From way it’s filmed with the colored party lights in the background, to the “take me now” look on Novak’s face, the one of the greatest songs ever played in a movie, the scene is just perfect. Two songs, by the way…the dixieland party band playing throughout the picnic suddenly switches to a west-coast jazz version of the old standard “Moonglow”, then magically adds a string section when it sweeps in with “Picnic” to lay down the music bed for “The Theme From Picnic”, played in real life by Morris Stoloff, and written by George Duning and Steve Allan (Allan is credited for combining the two melodies into a perfectly-synced medley).
As far as this jazz kat is concerned, there are three defining versions of Moonglow: Goodman’s quartet version, Shaw’s orchestra version, and Stoloff’s jazz version. This was a pretty steamy scene for 1955, by the way…back in the days when open-mouthed kissing wasn’t allowed in movies, people could get excited over just the idea that two characters might be even thinking of sex…and that’s what this scene produces. The way Novak barely moves, the way Holden melts at the sight of her. And something uncommon in non-musical movies of the era…they are actually dancing to the song being played, choreographed (lightly) to fit with the tune. Dig it, I think you’ll agree…
Happy Memorial Day, kids. And thanks again to all the troops…remember the fallen, appreciate the active, respect the retired. -Tiki Chris reporting from the poolside BBQ at Tiki Lounge Talk, the B-Lounge for hep cats and swingers.
9 Replies to “Picnic, 1955: Mod Movie Monday for Memorial Day”
Does anyone know who plays piano on “Pennies from Heaven” in the soundtrack of the film “Picnic”? Thanks in advance.
Most of the music is uncredited, but it’s very probably Morris Stoloff, who directed the orchestra and played piano on Moonglow
What is the tune the band is playing just before Moonglow. It’s a familiar jazzy swing tune.
OK Paul, that’s a tough one. A couple of songs before Moonglow they play “Pennies from Heaven”, but the song right before it…I can hear it in my mind, so familiar but I can’t place it.
So I cheated, I used Shazam. Got nothin’.
So, I’m guessing it might not be an actual song, but the studio orchestra’s approximation of a another song that intentionally sounds familiar. Or it might be a real song that I just can’t place!
But I did remember what that song reminds me of. It sounds similar…not exact, but sort of close to Fred Astaire’s “No Strings”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BelKVNu5mcM).
The tip-off that it might be a “filler” – something put together by the studio band for the movie, is that it’s the same riff over and over with no bridge. Most of the songs from that era went into a bridge section after the head…this tune is all head. I found it on YouTube so you can drive yourself nuts playing it over and over trying to figure out what it is! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCb9snfcgS8
PS – anyone who figures this out, I’ll buy you a Jet Pilot at the Mai Kai next time you’re in town!
OH – and the slow song after Moonglow is It’s Blue World
Slam dunkin like Shaquille O’Neal, if he wrote inmrofative articles.
It took me years to find the original, full-length version of Moonglow from the movie…Moris Stoloff released a “radio” version (also on 45) that was significantly shorter than the movie version, and that’s what survived for years. I finally found the original, uncut version on iTunes a few years ago.
There is a HUGE difference in the way the longer version builds, from just the piano, drums, base and guitar to the orchestra. 1000x better than the short version. But that was common in the 50s…even the 45 version of the Getz/Gilberto version The Girl From Ipanema was chopped down to under 3 minutes!
I’ve never heard the entire soundtrack off the movie…I think I’ll check that out. Thanks David.
You’re welcome, Chris! Now I didn’t know about this long version of “Moonglow”/”Love Theme”. Would love to hear that!
I have this soundtrack on CD. The first half, up to “Moonglow”/”Love Theme”, is very mellow and pleasant, and then “It’s a Blue World”/”Torn Shirt” starts pleasant but has an ominous undercurrent; it then slams you over the head at the 2:00 mark (exactly two minutes in). It remains pensive and slightly unsettling throughout most of the rest of the soundtrack. I tend to listen to the first half a lot while studying or working.
The soundtrack is actually a pretty rare item on CD. I have the original 1989 release on MCA, which has been out of print for a long time. There is a limited run 2010 reissue that is already out if print that has the exact same track list but runs a little cheaper that I would recommend grabbing before it gets expensive yet again. Here it is on Amazon.com:
And again on Amazon.co.uk:
One more thing–it’s amazing how seamlessly they weave “Moonglow” and the “Picnic” love theme together; that track went to #1 on the charts in June of 1956, and rightly so. If you just want “Moonglow”/”Love Theme” and don’t want to get the whole album, it is available on the DCC “Music From a Bachelor’s Den” Vol. 1″ album, a fantastic one-stop intro to Bachelor Pad Music that you can get on Amazon.com at:
Here it is again direct from the source at DCC Blowout (run by Better Records, a company that bought out DCC’s stock when they went out of business several years back):