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PICNIC ($25) is another marvelous older film making its debut on DVD under the Columbia Classics banner. This film adaptation of the William Inge play delivers as much steamy, raw sexuality as any 1955 Hollywood production could get past the censors. PICNIC opens on Labor Day in a small town, with the arrival of a drifter named Hal Carter (William Holden). Carter jumps off the train in this particular town, hoping that Alan (Cliff Robertson), a wealthy friend from his college days, will be able to give him a job. While Alan is happy to see his old friend at first, things change rapidly. It seems that Carter’s appearance stirs up a great deal of repressed sexual longing amongst the town’s women. The situation reaches its climax during the town’s annual Labor Day picnic, when Alan’s girlfriend Madge (Kim Novak) finds herself drawn to the handsome drifter. Holden and Novak really turn up the heat and deliver two smoldering performances. Not to be outdone by her younger co-stars, Rosalind Russell delivers one of her most powerful performances as Rosemary Sidney, the old maid schoolteacher who is no longer willing to let life pass her by. Additionally, Arthur O'Connell earned himself an Academy Award nomination portraying Rosemary’s put upon suitor Howard Bevans. The cast of PICNIC also features Susan Strasberg, Betty Field, Verna Felton, Reta Shaw, Nick Adams, Phyllis Newman and Raymond Bailey.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has made PICNIC available in both wide screen and full screen presentations, on opposite sides of the DVD. However, the full screen version crops away far too much of the film’s early CinemaScope 2.55:1 aspect ratio to be a viable viewing option. PICNIC really must be seen in scope, especially since filmmakers made a concerted effort during the early days of CinemaScope to fill the entire wide screen. The anamorphic enhanced presentation gets almost all of the film’s width up on the screen, with only a few shots looking as though the extreme edges of the picture are compromised. Considering that PICNIC is 45 years old and was shot with the early (imperfect) CinemaScope lenses, this beautiful edition of the film is a clear example of the care that Columbia TriStar puts into their DVD releases. The film element is reasonably clean and free from severe age related defects. Image quality is quite good, with everything appearing as sharp and detailed as any major studio film from the period. Although PICNIC was produced in Technicolor, the film’s hues tend to be somewhat muted, so I am unsure if this is intentional or age related fading. Other than the subdued nature of the hues, there are no other discernable flaws in the color. Blacks are accurately rendered and shadow detail is excellent for a film of this vintage. Digital compression artifacts do not impact the image in any significant way.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack decodes to surround and is quite pleasant. PICNIC pretty much maintains the original 50’s mix, with the forward soundstage having a big, broad stereo sound, and the surround channels adding fill to the music. There are the expected frequency limitations of an older soundtrack, although the dialogue is always intelligible and George Duning’s musical score is rather full sounding. Spanish and Portuguese language tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles.

The interactive menus are basic, but do provide the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as access to a few extras. Included on the DVD is a photo montage with music, vintage advertising materials, talent files, a theatrical trailer and bonus trailers for other Columbia TriStar releases.

If you love old movie classics, then you won’t want to let Columbia TriStar Home Video’s very nice edition of PICNIC pass through your fingers. It’s a keeper.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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