Classic Film Reviews: Bus Stop (1956)

Bus Stop 1956
source: 20th Century Fox

I watched Bus Stop the other night, and I think I’m in love.

Don Murray.

Lord, have mercy.

I’ve never seen a more handsome man on the silver screen, other than Paul Henreid of course. There was something about Murray‘s performance in Bus Stop, however, that changed the way I saw this film.

As a matter of fact, not only does Murray (in his film debut by the way) give an unbelievably attractive performance as thick-headed country boy Beauregard “Bo” Decker, Marilyn Monroe, arguably, gives the best acting display in her entire filmography.

At this point in her career, Marilyn was exhausted, not just mentally and physically, but creatively; she wanted, desperately, to shake off the “dumb blonde, sex-pot” stereotype.

“How might I go about this,” the then 29-year-old Marilyn asked herself in 1955.

Well, after many days of deliberation and pacing the floor of her California home, she found a way.

Despite coming off the successes of films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch, Monroe was tired of the dross that 20th Century Fox was sending her. Because of this, she took the matter into her own hands.

Bus-Stop-1956
source: 20th Century Fox

Studying at the Actors Studio with the legendary Lee Strasberg, Monroe fled to New York where she took a sabbatical to hone her skills as an actress.

Luckily for Marilyn, this “leave of absence” did wonders for her confidence in her acting ability. Revitalized and anxious, she returned to Hollywood on December 31st, 1955 where she re-negotiated her contract with 20th Century Fox which saw (in the fine print) Monroe gain control of the story material, the director and cinematographer for all of the movies she starred in.

In tandem with this decision, Monroe also opened up her own production studio, aptly named, “Marilyn Monroe Productions.” Subsequently, the first film ‘MMP’ happened to produce for Fox was the movie that kickstarted a 5 year period where Marilyn attempted to shed the persona she believed was holding her back from reaching her full potential.

Directed by Joshua Logan and starring Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, and Arthur O’ Connell, Bus Stop is a hilariously endearing film about a rambunctious, dimwitted cowboy and his journey to find love.

Not just any kind of love, though – no – he wants an angel; one he picks himself, one that loves him unconditionally, one that (as we see later) wants absolutely nothing to do with him.

Don Murray and Marilyn Monroe
source: 20th Century Fox

Naive, raucous, lewd, and just plain rude, Beauregard “Bo” Decker is a 21- year- old cowboy who has the social awareness of a child. Only having been off his family’s Montana ranch once in his life, his guardian/father figure Virgil “Virg” Blessing (played Arthur O’ Connell) starts to mentally prepare ‘Bo’ for a rodeo they’re participating in all the way down in dusty Phoenix, Arizona.

Seeing how ‘Bo’ is probably the only 21-year-old male who hasn’t had a girlfriend, ‘Virg’ encourages him to take an interest in the opposite sex.

During this 19 hour trip to “The Copper State”, ‘Virg’ gives ‘Bo’ some advice on how to properly handle a woman. He advises him to settle down and marry a “plain old little girl” who could be there to take care of him when, eventually, ‘Virg’ either dies or moves onto something bigger and better.

Unfortunately, his advice falls on deaf ears.

‘Bo’, like most men, wants a woman who can do no wrong, someone he can put on a pedestal and treat like a goddess, someone who exists purely for his pleasure, he wants an angel – his angel.

Eventually, he got one.

BusStop1956
source: 20th Century Fox

As their bus nears Phoenix, it stops for an hour or so for a quick rest at a small diner named “Grace’s” run by, coincidentally, a woman named Grace (played by Betty Field.) ‘Bo’, with his lack of table skills and brash attitude, aggressively storms the eatery, plops down on one of their swivel chairs, and loudly requests to have served to him three uncooked hamburgers with milk and a side of onions.

Not only is this very unhealthy and disgusting, it also doesn’t go over too well with the other paying customers and his bus mates.

After he finishes his meal, ‘Bo’ decides it’s time to “hop to it” and get back on the road. Wanting to keep the peace, the bus’s driver Carl (played by Robert Bray) obliges.

They board the bus and ‘Virg’ spots a nice, young girl that ‘Bo’ could possibly take up with. He introduces himself to her and the girl says her name is Elma (played by Hope Lange.) Elated that he found a girl for his ‘traveling companion’, ‘Virg’ swiftly encourages ‘Bo’ to court this young woman, but, he isn’t interested; he’s still holding out for that “angel” that he so longingly craves.

Hope Lange and Marilyn in Bus Stop
source: 20th Century Fox

A couple of hours and dusty back roads later, the bus arrives at Phoenix. Exhausted and thirsty (not for water, if that’s what you’re thinking) they head to the local saloon named the Blue Dragon Café.

So, Virg and ‘Bo’ saunter into this pub when the young cowboy, finally, spots his angel: a 5’5″ honey blonde, cabaret singer named ‘Cherie’ (played by Marilyn Monroe.)

‘Cherie’ (or “Cherry” as ‘Bo’ would later go onto mispronounce) is an ambitious, tone-deaf singer who hopelessly wants a career under the bright lights of Hollywood. Being from a small town in the backwoods of Arkansas, ‘Cherie’ hitch-hiked her way to Phoenix, marking each town she stopped at with a smidgen of lipstick on her map.

While ‘Cherie’ performs her sultry rendition of “That Ole’ Black Magic” with ‘Virg’ looking on in amazement, ‘Bo’ storms the bar, and immediately locks eyes with the sultry singer.

Utterly infatuated with this woman, ‘Bo’ stalks her backstage after her set and convinces her to have a quick chat with him.

No sex, just talking.

Initially, ‘Cherie’ is shocked that a man is treating her with respect, and quickly becomes enamored with ‘Bo’s physically strong nature.

Bus Stop 1956
source: 20th Century Fox

‘Bo’ takes this interest as an invitation to visit ‘Cherie’ early the next morning just as she’s getting out of bed. Much to her chagrin, ‘Bo’ comes to see ‘Cherie’ at her boarding house and proclaims (from the mountain tops) that they’re engaged.

Horrified and terribly turned off by his demeanor, ‘Cherie’ relents all the feelings she ever had about him and angrily tells ‘Bo’ off. Naturally, this hurts him, seeing how this woman (now fiancée) was his “angel.” Hoping to impress her with his “intellect”, ‘Bo’ recites the Gettysburg Address while straddling an unclothed, half awake ‘Cherie.’ This only upsets her further and frustrates ‘Bo’ even more.

Sick and tired of trying to properly court a woman, ‘Bo’ chooses to handle the situation in a calm, rational, sensible manne-

Who am I kidding? He reverts back to his farm boy ways and rips ‘Cherie’ out of bed and forces her to go to the rodeo he’s performing in later that day.

A couple of moments after that, we see ‘Bo’ holding up an annoyed ‘Cherie’ on his shoulders, believing that he’s being a proper gentleman by letting her see the pre-rodeo parade from, in his opinion, the best vantage point possible.

At the actual event that ‘Bo’ and ‘Virg’ traveled to Phoenix for, ‘Cherie’ is not only fatigued mentally but physically as well. Due to the rigorous situations ‘Bo’ has been putting her in, sitting in the stands watching her husband-to-be hoot and holler about getting married becomes a tortuous affair.

Bus Stop Parade
source: 20th Century Fox

At the end of her wits, ‘Cherie’ attempts to flee.

Not so fast.

While riding a bull, ‘Bo’ spots ‘Cherie’ scurrying along the dusty bull pen looking for an exit. In the middle of roping a calf, ‘Bo’ runs after her, which gives the crowd a further reason to believe that the marriage between the two is imminent.

When ‘Cherie’ returns to her room at the boarding house she and her friend Vera (played by Eileen Heckart) help her pack a trunk filled with clothes and other valuable items. Back at The Blue Dragon, ‘Virg’ and ‘Cherie’ have a heart to heart about her situation with ‘Bo’. ‘Virg’ slowly explains to her over a nice glass of whiskey that the 21- year -old lovesick cowboy is a kissless virgin.

With this new information known, ‘Cherie’, ‘Virg’ and Vera come up with a strategy to handle ‘Bo’. But, before anything could be implemented, ‘Bo’ finds the trio at the Café and promptly wants answers. Not one to tell a lie, ‘Cherie’ simply tells ‘Bo’, “goodbye forever.”

Fury

Bus Stop 1956 2
source: 20th Century Fox

This enrages ‘Bo’.

He can’t possibly understand why his “angel” wants absolutely, positively nothing to do with him.

“That’s it”, he says and in a fit of anger, he tears off the train of ‘Cherie’s’ dress as she’s running away. In a McLintock! style chase scene to her bus station, ‘Cherie’ tries to shake off the looming footsteps of her former fiancé. Frantically trying to lose the man she once was in love with, her anxieties ease when she gets to her bus without interruption.

Not so fast.

Before ‘Cherie’ could step foot on her ticket “outta there” ‘Bo’ comes rearing like a buckin’ Bronco and lassos (yes, lassos) ‘Cherie’ like a calf and forces her to come back to his ranch in Montana.

Just as she thought would be able to escape the vice-like grip ‘Bo’ had on her, ‘Cherie’ now has to sit through a 19 hour trip on a rickety bus to the snowy tundra of Montana. As the bus approaches Grace’s Diner, which is the midway point of the journey, the bus is forced to make a stop due to a blizzard.

Bus Stop 1956 3
source: 20th Century Fox

As the bus stops and everyone else is fast asleep, ‘Cherie’ makes a B-line towards the diner’s door, hoping to, somehow, lose ‘Bo’ in the process. Quickly realizing that something’s gone missing, ‘Bo’ wakes up and barges into the diner demanding to see “Cherry.”

When asked why she left him behind on the bus, ‘Cherie’ couldn’t answer.

“Okay, no answer? I’ll just force it outta’ ya!”

So, ‘Bo’s harassment goes on for an uncomfortable amount of time which eventually sees our friendly neighborhood bus driver Carl pick him up by the scruff of the neck and challenge him to a fight.

Being a rough n’ tumble farm boy, you’d think that he would easily win the fight, right?

Hah, no.

‘Bo’ loses – badly.

Sent with his tail between his legs, the next morning ‘Virg’ forces ‘Bo’ to apologize to ‘Cherie.’

Bus Stop 3
source: 20th Century Fox

He does it, begrudgingly, and to ‘Cherie’s’ surprise he also returns the green scarf that went missing the first night they met, which can be seen: here. Wanting to end it once and for all, ‘Cherie’ gives back his engagement ring.

Ouch.

Instead of making a giant hullabaloo about it like he normally would’ve done, he tells her to keep, in remembrance of the love he has (or had) for her. ‘Cherie’ feels bad about this and struggles to tell ‘Bo’ that she wasn’t the perfect angel that he thought she was.

In the final, arguably most heart touching scene of the film, ‘Bo’ and ‘Cherie’ share a poignant moment together where ‘Bo’ tries to explain that his lack of experience and her abundance can cancel each other out, and they can live happily together without any jealousy.

This sentiment moves ‘Cherie’, particularly when ‘Bo’ tells her that he can love her despite the way she feels about herself. Caving into his affections, ‘Cherie’ throws her map to Hollywood away and embraces him with a warm hug, thus ending a weeklong courtship that started in horror, but, ended in love.

Conclusion

bus-stop-trailer-title
source: 20th Century Fox

This movie marked the change in the way I saw Marilyn.

I know, it’s not fair to judge, but, I’m glad I watched Bus Stop.

Like I said at the beginning of the review, Don Murray hooked me. He was unquestionably the best part of the movie. His portrayal of naive farm boy ‘Bo’ sent this movie into overdrive. This easily could’ve been another Monroe sex romp picture, but both Murray and Monroe put in performances that taught me otherwise.

Monroe as ‘Cherie’ the fame hungry saloon singer who’s desperate to avoid her past, is award worthy. Some people may disagree, but, I undoubtedly believe that at this point in her career, Marilyn‘s reinvention of herself was for the better.

By studying at the Actor’s Studio, Marilyn has said that the experience, “had opened a part of her head, given her confidence in herself, in her brainpower, in her ability to think out and create a character.”

This is what makes Bus Stop so great, not because of its scenic shots of Montana, or its bits humor interjected at the perfect times, no, it’s because of the intimacy between Murray and Monroe.

They were very believable as a couple, which comes as a surprise since, allegedly, Murray and Marilyn didn’t get along too well during filming. That’s just a testament to how good this film is. Everyone who worked on this movie deserves some credit, it’s fantastically crafted, masterfully directed, and beautifully acted.

If you haven’t seen it you should, it will certainly pull at your heartstrings, I know it did with mine.

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