A drifter shows up in a Kansas town on Labor Day, hoping to touch up a rich college pal for a job and winds up at the towns picnic where he stirs up the womenfolk, notably his friends girl, her younger sister and old maid schoolteacher.
Like Bus Stop, this was originally a Broadway play written by William Inge and directed by Joshua Logan; it’s also another story in which a group of typical Middle American eccentric (each with their very own sub-plot) are shaken up by an outsider and an obsessive love springs up between two ideal physical specimens (Holden’s shirtless beefcake and Novak’s small town teen queen are rather better matched than Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray), changing their lives and the lives of all the folks who revolve around them.
Logan opens things out more here, with a charming, funny, faintly sinister homage to all the ridiculous hijinx indulged in by this staid community on their one crazy day of the year, culminating in Novak’s anointment as the ‘Queen of Neewollah’ and a lakeside dance that allows the stars to show off their natural but impressive moves.
It’s a theatrical contrivance that everybody’s life changes completely in the course of one day and night, with the requisite 1950s-style steamy lovemaking and macho fistfight scenes, and Inge’s more poetic flights of dialogue haven’t worn well, but this is nevertheless the sort of widescreen, pastel-coloured, sweet-and-sour entertainment that sparkles while the similar theatrical adaptations of later decades (eg: Steel Magnolias) have congealed into unwatchability.
The showiest support comes from Russell as a drunken spinster who clutches desperately at any passing man, but the best, most appealing performance comes from Strasberg as the bratty, smart, incipiently cute kid sister.
Dated but in a weird way that seems to make it even more watchable...if just for curiosity's sake.