BUS STOP—-the quicksilver bundle of naked insecurities, fateful determination and camera-ignited alchemy that was Marilyn Monroe coalesced in a just-right role, patiently guided by the right, emotionally attuned director in this 1956 hit, a romantic dramedy that floored critics with admiration for her blossomed skill and drew an MM-besotted audience large enough to elbow its slight story to the years #20 spot, her magnetic star power facing off against an array of huge-scaled epics.*
In total, beyond the poignant central role, the 96-minute piece is pretty slim, some attitudes firmly carbon-dated to its era, with histrionic over-the-top broadness marring some key characters. Credits-wise, it came loaded for bear: from a play by William Inge, scripted by George Axelrod, who’d just delivered a ditsy-blonde comic smash for Monroe in ’55 with The Seven Year Itch. That same year Inge’s Picnic was a hit, directed by Joshua Logan, who took the reins here.
A rambunctious and naive (to put it mildly) Montana rancher (Don Murray) and his more worldly pal (Arthur O’Connell) bus to a rodeo in Phoenix. At a cheesy bar, the sincere but clueless poke is bewitched by the sincere but ill-used singer (Monroe) and he almost literally kidnaps her for his mate. Presently, her honesty about who she is and what she does (she’s”been around”) and cooler heads (everyone but Murray’s) knock some sense into the caveman bronco.
Murray, 27 in his film debut, made a splash and was Oscar-nominated as Supporting Actor (it’s really a lead), but his character is so off-putting, obnoxious and cartoonish it’s hard to stomach. Murray related the tack Logan took with him: “‘Now Don, Marilyn is a big star, but I want you to totally forget about her being a star at all, so when you come on the set, I want you to be like Attila the Hun: I want you to take over the scene. Destroy the furniture if you need to, do anything, I want the wildest cowboy that ever lived.’ So that’s how he directed, I would never have thought of that myself, and whenever anyone talked to me about my nomination, I thought to myself, ‘Well, the one that should get the nomination, is Josh Logan, because it is more his performance than it is my own.” O’Connell had just been buffered by a nomination for his supporting work for Logan-Inge in Picnic and Betty Field came over from that film as well. New to movie audiences were Eileen Heckart and Hope Lange (debut, 22). Robert Bray, Hans Conreid and Casey Adams round out the cast.
At 30, working in the business for nine years, toiling through 19 bits and small parts before breaking big in Niagara, Monroe marked this as her 7th consecutive hit, one where she was bound and determined to stretch her chops beyond the eye-dazzling and amusing bombshell zone. As ever, her petulant quirks and draining habits tasked most of the crew (the Star rules: tough it out), but she found a sympathetic spirit in director Logan, and she was behind the savvy and strategic choices for deliberately tacky makeup and costuming to fit the part rather than her image, and managed to collect her ever-straying focus into exact dialect and attitudinal choices for the hopeful, wary, pitiful and put-upon ‘Cherie’. She does a superb job with the talent-shy gal’s mangling of “That Old Black Magic” and her reactions to Murray’s initially oafish and clumsy, then abashed attempt to treat her with dignity (unlike other men) are affecting little bits of Monroe magic. Logan and editor William Reynolds put together the fragmented pieces coaxed out of the actress into what comes off as seamless. An irked industry, not keen to tolerate independent-minded artists, ignored her excellent work at Oscar time: she should have been nominated (the same would later hold for Some Like It Hot). In her remaining six years she added only four more performances to her roster, then Legend took over, tending to obscure the indefinable specialness she exhibited, the spark that has eluded so many imitators. While the movie itself is only soso, if you want to ‘get’ Marilyn, you ought to catch this for her work alone.
The $2,200,000 production has attractive location backgrounds in Idaho and Arizona. Returns pulled in $12,100,000. Sweethearts Murray and Lange married thereafter.
* Monroe’s bedraggled yet game Cherie gleamed a defiant nugget of human-scale personality in the scope-swept pageantry of The Ten Commandments, Around The World In 80 Days, Giant, War And Peace, The King and I and The Searchers. Among all those thousands of Red Sea extras, globe-hopping balloonists, battles and oil gushers, a dancing King and a demoniacal Duke, Monroe’s lovelorn Ozarks b-girl, with her sad warbling under hurt eyes, revealed a fragile heart beneath the deceptive mask of voluptuous curves.