Directed by Joshua Logan
August 31, 1956 (United States)
A sheltered cowboy falls for a saloon singer and tries to marry her and get her to live on his Montana ranch.
By modern standards, the plot of Bus Stop is pretty creepy. A cowboy who has never been off his ranch decides to find a woman while he is going to perform in a rodeo after his caretaker says he should look for a woman after never have been around a woman. Was he in a monastery and not on a 50s ranch? The woman he finds and decides to marry is Marilyn Monroe and he basically kidnaps her and tries to force her into marriage. I cannot think of anybody today at a studio saying “Let’s film this” but this was made in the 50s and that was a very different world then. I am guessing there was alcohol consumed.
Bus Stop is not quite a comedy (though it leans closer to that) nor is it a dramatic piece. Dramedy maybe? It is based on a 1955 play of the same name which was expanded from a one act play called People in the Wind by William Inge. Fun fact: in the 1961-62 television season this movie was adapted into a series focusing on the titular Bus Stop with one episode being an adaption of this very movie.
Marilyn Monroe stars as saloon singer Chérie who immediately draws the attention of extremely sheltered cowboy Beauregard Decker (Don Murray) on his way to a rodeo competition with his weirdly paternal yet biologically unrelated associate Virgil (Arthur O’Connell).
Virgil is vastly more worldly than Beauregard is. Beauregard is only 21 so where are his parents and why is he left in the care of that old guy? They were just not really a factor. I do not hear him say “Mom and Dad are staying behind” or anybody saying that his parents died or anything like that and that’s why he has a ranch all to himself at the tender age of 21. He certainly did nothing to earn it. The guy is in the same category as Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies.
Virgil certainly acts like a dad to young Beau by offering him guidance and advice and even intervening with Cherie at times. With a few simple rewrites Virgil could have easily been Beauregard’s dad or uncle or cousin twice removed or just generally related. That just really bothers me. Having said that, since this film leans closer to a comedy do not think too hard about how they should be connected. It is an entertaining enough film and Monroe is definitely the actor that carries the movie.
I am not calling Monroe’s performance groundbreaking, but she was the best of the main cast. Her delivery and reactions felt the most natural and quite honestly, she looked absolutely stunning but that was a given for Marilyn Monroe. Occasionally her Ozark accent did falter a smidgeon but not like, for example, Kevin Costner in Robin Hood. Hers softened but did not disappear like his did.
Director Joshua Logan agreed to direct Bus Stop despite being aware of Monroe’s difficult reputation but ended his time with a more favorable opinion to the point of comparing her to Charlie Chaplin (extremely high praise in that era). He adapted to her tardiness and perfectionism in a way that seemed few directors were willing to do.
Of the supporting characters Carl (Robert Bray), the bus driver, and Grace (Betty Field), the bus stop owner, were the best performers and possibly had an interesting store all their own but it was all too brief. The more I think about it the more I feel that those two could have been their own film with perhaps our two lead characters being in it as supporting characters. After all they DID turn this into a series though I am not aware of the exact content of the series. A bus driver and the bus stop owner is definitely a film part you would find today but I just can’t imagine anything quite like that showing up in a movie from the 50s. It just was not the style back then at least not in my experience.
I understand by the times it was a nice idea, but I think the film would have worked better if it had been through a series of misunderstandings rather than our young cowpoke deciding they were going to get married. It just felt forced like the caveman trope of scooping up a random woman. Did the writer not have any ideas on how to make it accidental? I know this is based off of a play, but I am wondering if it somehow got changed for the screen or this is how it turned out in the original show.
Having said that how our two central characters end up together at the end is natural. They talk it out and through scenes and dialogue Cherie realizes that the Beau is not that bad of a guy. Just extremely naïve and sheltered. Towards the beginning of the film Cherie says that she wants a man that will respect her, and no man has yet to do so. By the end of the film Beau has matured and come to respect her as demonstrated by willing to let her go. This maturity though is what gets Cherie to finally give him a chance.
As a modern light Western for its time, it is an enjoyable film, but it lacks a serious laugh factor despite the lighter tone. Conversely it lacks a real serious edge even in the serious moments. Everything is more awkward 70s/80s sitcom than anything. At times I felt like I might be watching an episode of Three’s Company or something. I guess this was early in the evolution of the dramedy and this is what we got.
Bus Stop is not a bad movie. It is an enjoyable enough film but unless you are a Marilyn Monroe fan you might not do this as a repeated viewing. I will give us in if you want.