When you watch a movie from 50-plus years ago and it seems a little hokey, a little overplayed, a little foolish, it can sometimes be tough to tell whether that’s a product of its age or the fact that the movie wasn’t terribly good to start. I have a suspicion that the latter is the case with the 1956 Marilyn Monroe starrer Bus Stop, but I can’t prove it.
Directed by Joshua Logan from a screenplay by George Axelrod which is, in turn, based upon a play by William Inge, Bus Stop features Monroe as Cherie, a girl from the Ozarks who sings and hustles drinks at a club in Phoenix. She doesn’t do either terribly well and dreams of heading to Los Angeles to be “discovered,” but all the while is too foolish to realize that she doesn’t have what it takes.
All of that, however, takes a backseat to the story of Beauregard “Bo” Decker (Don Murray), a cowboy who barely ever leaves his ranch, doesn’t understand the world, and figures there is no difference between getting a woman to marry you and roping a steer. Foolishly, on a trip to the big city of Phoenix, Bo is told by his good friend Virgil (Arthur O’Connell) that it is time that he, Bo, get married.
Bo meets Cherie. Bo decides he will marry Cherie. Cherie is too dumb to run away when she has the chance and keeps getting pulled further towards marriage. This happens despite Bo’s utter boorishness and Cherie really not liking him.
There are a few moments of levity and fun here, but not enough to sustain the film’s 94 minute runtime. Don Murray’s Bo is in need of a serious beating from the opening scenes of the movie, and while it’s obvious that one is headed his way just before the credits roll, it is also clear that it isn’t until Bo gets the beating that he will remotely change. It makes him one note and painful to watch. He is so completely out of his element that it’s impossible to imagine Virgil thinking it a good idea to have taken Bo off the ranch in the first place. It is also as if, despite being a grown man, has never contemplated women or marriage or what it means to act appropriately in front of anyone… ever.
He is, in short, a caricature and Cherie is too. As such, it is a completely unsatisfying film. Monroe’s one song isn’t even performed to her utmost, it is done in Cherie’s exceptionally mediocre style. One could argue that it is a testament to her brilliance that she can do the song the way she does it here, but I wouldn’t. I would infinitely rather see her do the song to her utmost. Beyond that, while Monroe and Murray are fully believable in their roles, they aren’t asked to do anything besides create the aforementioned caricature. As such, the performances don’t come off as well as they might.
The new Blu-ray release of the film is devoid of extras save for some trailers for other, better, Monroe films. Watching them truly makes you wish that you’d gone out and purchased one of those instead. On the plus side, it is a clean print, but there is something in the lighting or filming or processing that makes close-ups on faces grainy in a way that the rest of the film isn’t. The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 track is, as with the visuals, devoid of problems but lacks much of a “wow” factor. There are also a few moments where it doesn’t seem 100% synced with the visuals, but that may have been present on the initial release as well.
A 94 minute movie isn’t exactly lengthy, but Bus Stop certainly feels like a long haul trip. It is overly broad and none too funny, delivering on none of the double-fish-out-of-water potential of the premise. There are so many different things it could have done to make it enjoyable—create real characters, put them in interesting situations, develop a resolution that feels believable—but none of that exists here. It is never bad to watch a Marilyn Monroe film, but Bus Stop may be as close as it gets.