The picture circles around a small town in Kansas on Labour Day. A stranger (Holden) arrives off a freight train to meet an old school friend. His arrival to this town causes quite a stir; exciting the women, and throwing a wrench into the men's plans. Holden's character thinks of himself as no good, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks and also spending a bit of time in prison.
When he is reunited with the fellow ex-school chum, he seeks employment and a chance for a new start in a new town. What will happen though when he sets his sights on the town's beauty? Who also happens to be practically engaged to his friend? The results, are of course highly dramatic...almost nauseatingly so! Novak is supposed to be the town prize, the most beautiful woman in the county. Well, I tend to disagree. While she is indeed pretty, I think this picture with the costuming and styling does not assist in making her this beauty we are all supposed to see her as being. Her character is also quite whiny and at times, utterly annoying. The men who are drawn to her, after a time, begin to bore and carry on.
There are a few characters that save the picture. One of course being Russell as the "old maid" school teacher. She is spicy, not afraid to be who she is and be bold in the community, no matter the consequences. The other is Novak's character's younger sister played by Susan Strasberg, daughter of the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg. A bit tom-boy, a bit of an intellectual, she is a girl trying to find her place in the adult world learning about boys and vices. Strasberg's portrayl of Millie is one of the more captivating performances in this film.
The most fun to be had in this film is through watching the scenes of the actual picnic. It deeply portrays this sense of Americana and 1950s views and mentalities; purity, and "good clean fun". It has everything from a pie eating contest to an outdoor dance. While the end is not exactly a predictable one, I found overall the film was less than satisfying. I could not get over how much Novak's character annoyed me. Tis a shame too because only a few short years later, her role in Hitchcock's Vertigo is a complete favourite of mine.