Fox // 1956 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // August 27th, 2013
A curious stop along a complicated career.
Somewhere along the way, people have gotten the impression that Marilyn Monroe was not a good actress, that she was just breasts and beauty in a closeted, conservative age and that's all. She was Jayne Mansfield with better management, or Mamie Van Doren without the jailbait allure. The truth is, it takes plenty of talent to play sex bomb and not render yourself pointless within a few short years. Instead, Monroe was an unofficial member of the prestigious Actor's Studio, studied under the noted teacher Lee Strasberg, and was determined to show she was more than a pretty (strike that, stunningly beautiful) face. Her first attempt at spreading her newfound wings was Bus Stop, a big screen adaptation of William Inge's celebrated stage play. Though still locked into what many would consider to be a dumb blonde role, Monroe scores some of the best reviews of her career as Chérie, a singer in a podunk dive bar/nightclub who catches the eye of a country boy rube Bo (Don Murray, A Hatful of Rain).
The story sees the smitten young man more or less obsess over Cherie until he intercepts a proposed bus ride and kidnaps her, keeping her from traveling to the big city bright lights of Los Angeles. His plan? Carry her back to Montana and marry her. Cherie really has little say in the matter, and when the vehicle transporting them ends up at a diner run by the sassy owner, Grace (Betty Field, Of Mice and Men), they are stuck thanks to snow ahead. Even though his father figure Virgil (Arthur O' Connell, Gidget) warned him about falling hard for this gal, Bo is beside himself. He ends up getting into a scuffle with the bus's beleaguered driver (Robert Bray, My Gun is Quick) as well as the aforementioned mentor, and is humiliated. The next day, both potential paramours confess their failings to one another. It may not mean they will live happily ever after, but such human heart to heart may just lead them down an eventual path to same.
While it may not have been the dramatic breakthrough she was looking for, Bus Stop certainly cast Marilyn Monroe in a relatively unfamiliar light for most fans. While still a knock-out, she is viewed as clueless and talentless, her character of Cherie convinced of skills she doesn't really have. Don't believe it? Watch how she butchers Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "That Old Black Magic." While Monroe herself was an accomplished musical star, her take on Cherie is careless and off kilter. Throughout the film, the actress does something really interesting -- she offers what might be the first meta-performance. It's as if she decided, post-Method training, to take everything the public expects of her as a sex symbol and filter through a firmer understand of type. Granted, she's still locked in the studio system manners (that awful backwater accent) but when given a chance to simply react, she's magical. This is the Monroe we remember. Not the lust producing product of a braindead studio system.
As for everyone else, they more than hold their own alongside the icon. Murray may seem a tad old to be believable as a 21 year old, but he has the shit-kicker conceits down pat. He's very good here, perhaps a bit too broad, but still a nice buffer to Monroe's oversized appeal. Similarly, close eyes will notice Hope Lange, Hans Conried, and Eileen Heckart in supporting parts. As for the material, Inge's original play didn't follow this particular storyline exactly. In fact, material from another work was incorporated into the movie. What does delight is the author's sense of emotional resonance. We sympathize with these people, even if they are playing out lives we ourselves will never be personally privy to. Some five decades after the fact, they do come across as dated and deliberate, almost obvious in their symbolism (isn't that right, Virgil?) and yet the overall feel is one of dramatic fulfillment. Bus Stop may not be the best work of all the participants involved, but it does register as a real step in the right direction for its insecure star.
Fox has gone out of their way to restore this film to its post-Technicolor DeLuxe look and the picture payoff is astonishing. The 1080p, 2.55:1 offering has ample color, a wealth of detail, and a real classic Hollywood feel. Even without the pop of the previous three strip method, this movie looks very, very good for being 57 years old. Similarly, the sound situation smoothes out many of the rough edges an experimental four channel quad mix has to offer. Yes, the movie was actually shot in something called Westrex 4 Track, and the attention to space and set up is excellent. It's not immersive, but the back speakers don't suffer from a lack of use either. Since the film is very dialogue heavy, the fronts do most of the heavy aural lifting. Sadly, Fox did not see fit to offer any significant bonus features here. All we get is a trailer for Bus Stop itself, as well as ads for other titles in this latest Marilyn Monroe connection.
In the end, Bus Stop did not provide Monroe with the awards and accolades she expected. Murray earned the film's only Oscar consideration, while the Golden Globes acknowledged both the sex symbol and the movie itself. Unfortunately, she would die after only four more films, including timeless turns in Some Like it Hot and The Misfits. Apparently, the public couldn't handle their pin-up in a pensive, personally rewarding mode. Such stresses ended up snuffing out this candle in the wind sooner than it should.
Not Guilty. An intriguing insight into a talented actress struggling for a
different kind of recognition.
Review content copyright © 2013 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.55:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 4.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 4.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1956
MPAA Rating: Not Rated