The producer of the CBS Sunday movie "Picnic" intentionally decided not to remake the classic 1955 film starring William Holden and Kim Novak.
"I saw the movie once years ago," says Blue Andre, who also serves as executive producer. "That movie was done."
This movie, Andre says, went back to William Inge's 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
Josh Brolin stars in the languid romance as Hal, a beefcake drifter who stirs up emotions when he arrives in the small Kansas town of Elgin. Penniless and homeless Hal has hitchhiked there to ask a former college buddy Alan (Ben Caswell) for a job in his father's grain company. Arriving in town, Hal meets Millie (Chad Morgan), the bright and outspoken sister of the town's beauty Madge (Gretchen Mol), who just happens to be Alan's steady.
It is a story about expectations and leading one's own life. Madge, who has been named queen of an annual festival, is pulled between her mother's desire for her to marry well--as in Alan--and this new stranger who has blown into town. Bonnie Bedelia plays Madge's embittered mother, once the town's queen who missed her own chance at fortune years ago.
Mary Steenburgen stars as Rosemary, an old-maid schoolteacher desperate to marry her bachelor boyfriend Howard (Jay O. Sanders).
Andre says Inge's play touches the human condition, "which is my favorite thing to make films about. I think it has a message that I really like: 'Don't live somebody else's life. Live your own life. Take a chance.' "
Shot earlier this year in Elgin, Texas, "Picnic" is also a classic family drama. "It is about this town and how the Hal character comes in and touches everyone's life," explains Andre. "Everybody looks into their own behavior and demons and problems."
Brolin, 32, believes the film is very romantic but "the romance comes out of idealism and some tragedy--at least emotional tragedy. Hal comes in like the force of change and integrity and honesty, but he is the only one who never has that moment.
"You think he is the character who will have the big change because he is completely open and vulnerable," Brolin says. "Yet, he is going from city to city, still focusing on the fact that [he believes] his surroundings are going to change him and doesn't deal with himself. Yet, his integration into that small [Elgin] society completely disintegrated the veils of everybody around him."
Andre moved the action from 1953 to the summer of 1966, adding references to the Vietnam War and beefing up Howard's character. She felt the update was necessary to further separate it from the Oscar-nominated movie, while making Madge a more three-dimensional character.
"In the original all she does is stand around and say, 'I'm so pretty,' " Andre says. "For me, personally, that became a little bit one-note. I wanted her to have more of an arc and make her as a young woman more intelligent. In the mid-'60s, the revolution was on its way. People were expressing their feelings and taking chances and standing up for their beliefs."
It was not only the female characters Andre wanted to color differently. Inge, she thought, made Howard too much of a lost soul. Andre envisioned him as the guy who never took a chance.
"Howard didn't live his life; he settled," says Andre. "He sees himself in the younger Hal character and wants him to go out and live that life that he didn't."
Initially, Czech-born director Ivan Passer ("Cutter's Way," "Stalin"), didn't think he would be able to direct a piece set in America's heartland. But he loved the '55 movie, and after he read the script, he felt a kinship to the characters.
Passer believes the enduring appeal of "Picnic" is a mystery "and it should remain so. But it is a fascinating mystery because everybody I met before I went to Texas to film this--from the grocery clerk to my doctor--they all remembered it very fondly."
This "Picnic" does tip its hat to the original film by re-creating its most memorable moment--the hot romantic dance between Hal and Madge set to the song, "Moonglow."
"I really felt strongly about doing that," Andre says. "It is the only reference back to the other film. So many people had said to me, 'I hope you are going to have 'Moonglow.' People would have been really disappointed if I put 'Hey, Paula' in there."
"Picnic" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).