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My (Slightly More Than) Month with Marilyn: Bus Stop (1956)

I honestly don’t know how to start this review because I’m still confused on how to take Bus Stop.  Is it a comedy?  If so it’s pretty weak.  Is it a drama?  If so, it’s atrocious.  The movie is just…weird.  The acting ranges from really great to downright awful and holds one of the most ANNOYING performances I’ve ever witnessed.  By the end the movie just plays like an ensemble, single location film, with a hackneyed message that apparently everyone is to blame for how the situation turns out…when really it’s because our leading man is a batshit psycho!

Cowboy Bo Decker (Don Murray) is 21, never had a girlfriend and heads to Phoenix for a rodeo.  There he finds an “angel” in saloon singer Cherie (Marilyn).  The two have a nice date and Bo immediately plans to marry her whether Cherie wants to or not.  When Cherie plans her escape, Bo immediately kidnaps her.  When the bus holding Cherie and Bo ends up at a diner, snowbound, Bo realizes that things aren’t as good as he planned.

This movie flat-out pissed me off the longer it went on, and it’s only an hour and thirty-four minutes.  The film is based on a play by William Inge and according to IMDB, it’s only loosely based.  It’s also directed by Joshua Logan who seems to have stuck to making musicals after this film.  In a nutshell this movie is poorly constructed and written, with so many WTF moments I wanted to break the DVD, and Don Murray plays the most psychotic, bipolar, annoying asshole of a character that I genuinely pleaded for his death.

The film just doesn’t know what it wants to be as seen by how many comments via IMDB are that “you didn’t see how funny it is” or “you don’t understand the subtext.”  I have never seen Inge’s play and since it’s only loosely based, essentially the last 20 minutes are from Inge’s play, I doubt you need to be an expert on the source material.  The problem is our lead, Bo.  Bo starts the film out with nothing but exposition espoused by his friend Virgil (Arthur O’Connell).  Bo is 21 and “naive.”  Seriously, they mention he’s naive so much you can play a drinking game.  Virgil is the one who tells Bo he needs to find “a gal” because he’s 21 and it’s weird.  I can honestly see why this guy is still a virgin because he’s a functioning idiot throughout the first half of the film.  He acts like he’s 12 when Virgil asks one of the ladies on the bus to forgive him because he’s never been out of the state.  Bo yells “Yes I have, yes I have.”  Virgil isn’t his father, yet acts like one probably because Bo can’t take a piss without help.

When Bo sees Cherie singing he’s immediately taken with her, but he’s not quite sure if it’s a “physical attraction.”  You’ve never had a relationship, you meet a hot girl, and you’re immediately in love with her…I’d say it’s physical.  The only subtext I found in this movie is that a guy has sex (although it’s not mentioned in the film) for the first time and goes crazy.  Bo is essentially a teenage girl!  When he meets Cherie it becomes a mad bid to marry her.  If you find Murray’s performance annoying in the first 30 minutes, you’ll love the next hour of him yelling, “CHERRY, HEY CHERRY, CHERRY WHAT ARE YOU DOING!”  He’s so fucking stupid he can’t even say “Cherie” because it’s too hard for him!  And Cherie tells him again and again she doesn’t want to marry him so what does he do, practically kidnap and assault her!  But remember you’re supposed to find it charming and funny.

Marilyn herself plays a “hillbilly” from the Ozarks whose apparently mentally damaged from having too many boyfriends.  So I guess she’s not aware Bo is in love with her because she’s slutty?  If love is a guy throwing you over his shoulder and treating you like cattle then I’m happy staying single.  The problem is there’s no reason to feel for any of the characters except Cherie.  Even then, there’s little depth to her character aside from the fact she wants out of Phoenix and she’s been in many relationships.

Once the group get to diner is when all hell breaks loose.  First there’s a young blonde girl we see several times on the bus throughout the movie.  You’re led to believe there might be some genuine love between her and Bo…nope she disappears without a trace.  When everyone gets trapped in the diner Bo goes from annoying douchebag to annoying psycho!  He starts screaming at Cherie that she’s gonna marry him, screams at someone to find the priest, throws Cherie over his shoulder and says “Shut up.”  He becomes a bully and there’s two grown men in the diner only Virgil is apparently too old.  Bo takes an ass-beating and only then says he’ll let Cherie go.  If they had beat him to death I’d have cheered.

As if all that wasn’t mind-numbingly frustrating enough we get the ending!  Mind you Bo has stalked, harassed, assaulted and KIDNAPPED Cherie.  Bo goes to apologize and tells Cherie that he went crazy because he’s never had a girlfriend, but that she’s had too many boyfriends so they’re perfect for each other because they’re both fucked up?  The whole quote is Well, I’ve been thinkin’ about them other fellas, Cherry. And well, what I mean is, I like you the way you are, so what do I care how you got that way?”  Apparently Cherie calls this the tenderest thing she’s ever heard and AGREES TO MARRY BO!  So the moral is…treat a girl like shit, explain it’s because you’re a virgin and the girl will go with you because she’s a whore?  Or is it slutty girls don’t know real love when they see it, and it comes in the form of obsessive abuse?  Either way I was so irritated and pissed at this movie.  If this DVD goes “missing” I’ll be completely happy.  I have no idea what the point of this film was.  Was it a comedy, a drama, some stupid experiment in audience willpower?  I know I wasn’t a fan of Marilyn’s earlier films but this is the worst!

Grade: F

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Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

5 thoughts on “My (Slightly More Than) Month with Marilyn: Bus Stop (1956) Leave a comment

  1. I just found this site today, I like it. I am LMAO at this review of Bus Stop. It was Murray’s first movie role, and yeah, he took it over the top but I’ve never heard anyone get so pissed over a character as you here! You are funny! Yeah, the screenplay was drippy but I actually thought Marilyn, in this movie, did some very good acting. They may have had her dressed all tarty once again, but there was a change in her acting method. No breathy voice. She played a real character for once. No, the movie wasn’t believable, but I still wanted them to ride off into the sunset, have Vera come live with them on the ranch and live happily ever after although in truth Bo’s ranch hands wouldn’t have been able to keep their hands off Cherie and it would have turned more into a scene from ‘Of Mice and Men’ with the jealous boss watching over every move his young wife made.

    • Glad I could give you a laugh, I must say I get really irked when a movie bugs me (if you haven’t read it already I recommend my Stir of Echoes review which gets fairly heated). I just didn’t seem to understand whether this film was meant to be a comedy, a drama, or some weird hybrid of the two meant to be performed on a stage. Marilyn was by far the best part of it, but it felt like even she didn’t know what the movie was about. I might give this a try in a few more years…who knows, it might grow on me lol.

  2. This review of BUS STOP is spot on. Murray’s character has to be the most obnoxious and loathsome in cinema history (at least until that little puke from THE BABADOOK).
    The film is a very disturbing relic that pretty much condones the actions of a psychopathic stalker. The film should’ve ended with the bus driver beating Beau TO DEATH.
    Many have praised Monroe’s acting in the film but I thought she was pretty bad in it. I’m surprised this review didn’t mention her whiteface. Her character is supposed to be pale due to her never getting any sun but the makeup department slathered so much white on her face she looks like a kabuki performer.
    I don’t know why this is regarded as a classic. It’s a deeply troubling and infuriating work; valuable only as a warning for extremely naive women.

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