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Innocent rodeo cowboy Bo falls in love with cafe singer Cherie in Phoenix. She tries to run away to Los Angeles but he finds her and forces her to board the bus to his home in Montana. When the bus stops at Grace's Diner the passengers learn that the road ahead is blocked. By now everyone knows of the kidnapping, but Bo is determined to have Cherie. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
While I'm in agreement with the consensus view on Bus Stop that it is one of the better films with Marilyn Monroe, and I like Monroe as much as the next classic film fan, or as much as the next guy with overactive hormones, I've noticed a relative downplaying of Don Murray's work in the film--often critics outright dismiss him, characterizing Bus Stop as a film that works "despite Murray's character and performance". I couldn't disagree with that more strongly. Not to detract from Monroe, but what really pushed Bus Stop over the top for me in terms of quality--in addition to the fine, allegorical story--was the hilariously over-the-top performance of Murray and the sheer absurdity of his character.
But maybe my different view on this, and why I love the film so much, is because I'm a huge fan of absurdism. Bus Stop is the tale of Beauregard "Bo" Decker (Murray) and Virgil Blessing (Arthur O'Connell). They're headed from their ranch in Montana to Phoenix, Arizona to participate in a rodeo. Bo is quite skilled at ridin' and rustlin', so Virgil is taking him "off of the farm" for one of the only times in his life to give the rodeo a shot, and more importantly, to get him a bit more worldly experience, especially with women. Bo's experience with the fairer sex had been pretty much limited to pictures in magazines. Virgil seems to just want Bo to lose a bit of his innocence, but Bo has in his mind that he's going to find "an angel" and take possession of her. Because he's only been on a ranch, that's the only way he knows how to relate to anything. He figures once he finds an angel he'll just rope her up like a calf and take her home. As we see from the beginning of the film, Bo has a tendency to be brash and yell at everyone, like he's hollerin' instructions across the range at his partner before they lose control of their cattle.
Enter Monroe as showgirl "Cherie". She's a hillbilly (heck, we learn that she even almost married her cousin) from Arkansas whose made it as far as Arizona, where she's playing a dive girlie club in Phoenix, trying to earn enough money and gumption to one day make it to L.A. Once Bo sees her, he decides she's his angel. Needless to say, that doesn't go over so well.
The bulk of the film consists of Bo trying to ride everything in the world like a bucking bronco while others, including Cherie, try to figure out what's wrong with him. For me, this material was gut-bustingly funny. I had to hit pause on the DVD player a number of times because I was laughing so hard.
This is not to say that Monroe doesn't turn in a great, nuanced performance--she does, despite the reported difficulties filming her. According to scriptwriter George Axelrod, she would repeatedly break out in tears, become extremely frustrated, forget her lines, yell profanities, and director Joshua Logan couldn't call "cut" during her scenes or she'd take it as a personal affront, so Logan would let 900 feet of film just run out while he talked to her, coaxing a performance out of her. And it's not to say that Monroe and Murray do not have chemistry together--they do; if they hadn't, the film wouldn't have worked.
But without Murray's bizarre but funny character, which he plays to a tee, I'm not sure I would have thought Bus Stop was a 10. In fact, there was one section where I felt that score might be in jeopardy--during the latter part of the relatively quiet climax set in Grace's Diner/Bus Stop, when Murray tones down a bit. The film is still good at that point--still definitely a 9, but I found myself slightly missing the hyperactive comedy of the earlier scenes.
The story for Bus Stop was originally a one-act play by William Inge called People in the Wind. Inge later adapted People in the Wind for a larger scale production on Broadway, now retitled Bus Stop. It opened at the Music Box Theater in New York City on March 2, 1955 and ran for 478 performances. It was quickly adapted for film by Axelrod, who changed the play quite a bit, including dropping major characters.
The cinematography in the film is lush, and evidences that we're still in the early days of the anamorphic widescreen process known as Cinemascope. Logan makes use of some broad landscapes and wide shots of the rodeo, crowd and such, but the best uses of widescreen in the film are subtler. Probably the best shot arrives in that "quiet" section mentioned above, when Cherie has her head on Grace's bar, her torso stretched horizontally. Bo ends up putting his head on top of hers, aligning his body similarly, and together they fill the screen, naturally conforming to the aspect ratio. Logan's direction is great throughout, both for camera work and his actor's performances.
As for Monroe, perhaps reflecting (barely) offscreen problems at the time, she easily paints a complex, almost tortured soul. Her performance underscores one of the main subtexts of the film--loneliness accompanied by a kind of melancholy hope. Every character who has more than a couple lines is experiencing this in some way--even Bo, who is covering it up with his boisterousness. Logan and Axelrod also emphasize ironies--one beautiful instance is when Bo announces Cherie as his angel while she's singing "That Old Black Magic" in a very suggestive costume. And there are nice, unrealized (by the characters) parallels in their quests--in their loneliness and hope, they're really all looking for their own angels, often not recognizing when they're right in front of them.
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