Starring-Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray
Reviewed April 30, 2016
Bus Stop is a 1956 film starring Marilyn Monroe that, while surprisingly ranking as one of her best roles, is one of her worst films in my opinion and, at present times, feels dated, chauvinistic, and diminishing to women. Perhaps perceived as romantic and cute in 1956, times have changed and the film no longer has the charm that it undoubtedly must have had decades ago.
The film is based on a play by William Inge, and, remarkably is Monroe’s first full-fledged dramatic performance. She plays a nightclub performer named Cherie, or mispronounced “cherry” by her love interest, Beau, an immature, naïve, socially inept cowboy, unfamiliar with women and looking for his “angel”. His is accompanied by his friend and father-figure, Virgil. Together they travel by bus from Montana to Phoenix, Arizona for a rodeo. Once Beau meets Cherie, he is intent on conquering her and marrying her despite her resistance to his pursuits.
As a fan of Monroe’s more familiar works- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire, it is nice to see her in a dramatic role, which gives her some nice range and meatier material to tackle. In 1956 she was still looking marvelous and the sexy nightclub outfit the film had her prancing around in works well. While Monroe will never be accused of being the greatest actress in the world, her turn in this film is to be praised, and she lets out some nice emotions. Unfortunately, the character is poorly written, but Monroe gives it the old college try.
Another positive I found with the film is in that of the supporting cast. Bus stop owner Grace (Betty Field), who has a suggested tryst with the bus driver (Robert Bray) is a delight and nearly steals the show! In fact, I found their limited screen time and limited romance more interesting and fraught with more potential than the main couple (Beau and Cherie). Eileen Heckert is fine in the role of Vera, a waitress and confidante of Cherie, though she is given little to do.
My favorite scene takes place at Grace’s Bus Stop as the group are stranded during a sudden winter storm. Beau and the bus driver engage in a bare-knuckles fight outdoors in the driving snow while the rest look on. The bus driver is tired of Beau’s obnoxiousness and intends to teach him a lesson. Despite being on a sound stage the scene is authentic and the snow and gusts add to the animal like, masculine scene.
Otherwise, the film is not kind to women and in some parts is downright sexist. When Cherie, clearly rebuffing Beau’s advances, attempts to board a bus out of town (and alone), Beau decides to lasso her in order to prevent her from leaving. The next scene we see Cherie obediently sitting next to Beau on another bus to Phoenix to presumably marry him. It is suggested that she finally gives in, temporarily, to his advances. This film would never be made today.
The character of Beau is not well crafted. Dumb, lower class, and bordering on abusive to Cherie, I am perplexed as to why the intent is for the audience to root for this character to obtain Cherie and ride off happily into the sunset- I certainly did not. I would have much preferred a pairing of Cherie and Virgil, who is older, sensible, and kind.
Dated, sexist, with poorly written characters, Bus Stop is not Monroe’s best film, but it does allow an audience to see her in a dramatic role and that is worth a viewing.