Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Bus Stop (1956)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox

Marilyn Monroe delivers what many acclaim to be her first serious acting performance in this dynamic drama full of humor, hope and passion. When a young and innocent cowboy (Murray) meets the girl of his dreams (Monroe) and decides to make her his wife, he forces her to board a bus headed for Montana. But the road is blocked and their journey is interrupted by an overnight stay at a diner that will change both their lives.

Director: Joshua Logan
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O'Connell, Betty Field
Nominated for Best Supporting Actor-Don Murray. 1957.
DVD: Widescreen 2.55:1/16X9; audio English Dolby Digital 4.0 & Digital Stereo, French Monaural; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 24 chapters; Not Rated; 95 min.; $24.98; street date 5/29/01.
Supplements: Lobby Cards; Postcard; Trailers; Restoration Comparison.
Purchase: DVD | Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B+/D-

Time for some musical trivia! As I noted in my review of 1959’s Some Like It Hot, when I hear that title, I tend to think of the 1985 song from Power Station instead of the classic film. Oddly, SLIH isn’t the only name of a Marilyn Monroe film that has been used, though the other examples of which I can think are more obscure, and I doubt any of them actually were based on the Marilyn flicks.

Of course, the most famous Marilyn link in pop music comes from Elton John’s “Candle In the Wind”, but that doesn’t use a film title, so it doesn’t count in this category. It’s a stretch, but the Kinks’ “Misfits” connects to Monroe’s 1961 film The Misfits. Another example doesn’t require any modification. Tin Machine’s “Bus Stop” perfectly steals the name of Marilyn’s 1956 effort. Are the two related in any manner? None that I can discern, but at least I had a little fun trying to think of additional Monroe-related song titles.

That task was much more entertaining than the film version of Bus Stop itself. Of the six Monroe movies I viewed over the last week, this was the least enjoyable. Even the sappy musical mess that was There’s No Business Like Show Business did more for me. At least that one featured a decent performance by Donald O’Connor, and Marilyn stretched her wings a little without becoming excessively showy. No such positives accompany Bus Stop, a loud and grating experience that left me cold.

At the start of Bus Stop, we meet Beau Decker (Don Murray), a young cowboy who has never left his rural surroundings. His older friend and protector “Virge” (Arthur O’Connell) takes him to a rodeo in Phoenix and also relates the facts of life along the way. Now that Beau’s 21, he needs to rope himself a human filly, and Virge encourages Beau to find a plain, homey gal to live with him on the farm.

Unfortunately, brash young Beau decides that he wants an “angel”, and as soon as they get to the big city, he sets his sights on nightclub “chantooze” Cherie (Monroe). Virginal Beau doesn’t seem like a good match for Cherie since she’s gone around the track many times, but this hard-headed dude won’t take no for an answer. As such, he virtually kidnaps Cherie as he insists that they get married.

The action comes to a head when their return trip stalls at a small bus stop. Snow blocks the road, so the gang - which includes bus driver Carl (Robert Bray) and diner owner Grace (Betty Field) - has to spend a night at this place. That’s where the relationship between Cherie and Beau reaches a climax and matters eventually resolve themselves.

Throughout much of BS, the movie seemed to have trouble deciding if it wanted to be a broad comedy or if it preferred to take a more serious, dramatic tone. Sure, it’s very possible for films to include both tones, but that kind of flick needs to feel more decisive. I never got that impression of BS. The emphasis seemed muddled and confused most of the time, and this left the entire project as something less than solid.

Nonetheless, Bus Stop might have been tolerable had it not been for its leads. Marilyn has received many plaudits for her work as the faded Southern belle, but I have no idea why. Cherie represents one of Monroe’s few stretches; this was a rare part in which she didn’t play a ditzy bombshell. Granted, it’s not much of a stretch, as Cherie doesn’t exactly qualify as Mensa material, and she uses her sexuality to get by in life, but I will acknowledge that the character goes beyond the usual superficial qualities we associate with Marilyn’s persona.

Unfortunately, Monroe overplays the role so heavily that any nuances are completely obliterated. Her corn pone accent comes and goes, and Marilyn wants so badly for us to regard her as an Actress that she bludgeons any distinct personality or charm the character may contain. Monroe was aptly able to portray Cherie’s tired, trod-upon aspects, but otherwise I felt she seemed lifeless and unconvincing.

In comparison with her main costar, however, Marilyn looks like Oscar material. As Beau, Murray offers one of the all-time terrible performances. He emotes so heavily that he’d be too raucous for Hee-Haw. Murray makes Beau into the absolute stereotype of the cowboy. Murray’s loud, overbearing, and darned near unbearable. Yes, he quiets down toward the end of the movie, but this change of tone simply appears unbelievable because of his prior excesses. Beau would probably be a tough character to like under the best of circumstances, but the lack of subtlety and compassion with which Murray plays the part ensures that much of the audience will despise him.

Actually, I probably shouldn’t speak for others, so I’ll leave it at this: I loathed Beau, and I didn’t enjoy Bus Stop. It was a weak excuse for a romantic comedy, for a character drama, and for pretty much anything else I can imagine. This film enjoys a solid reputation among Marilyn fans, but I can’t figure out why, as it seemed like a dud to me.

The DVD:

Bus Stop appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Note that the DVD’s case incorrectly indicates that BS uses a ratio of 1.85:1. This clearly was not accurate, and since the film featured dimensions that were identical to the other three widescreen movies in the “Diamond Collection”, I felt that 2.55:1 seemed most correct. The box also mistakenly indicates that the film runs for 105 minutes, whereas it’s actually about 10 minutes shorter than that.

In any case, Bus Stop generally looked good, but it provided a few concerns along the way. Sharpness largely appeared quite positive, as most of the film was acceptably crisp and well-defined. Some mild softness interfered with a few wider shots, but these were rare instances. As a whole, the movie came across as distinct and nicely detailed. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no concerns, but print flaws were moderately heavy when compared to the other four “Diamond Collection” films. Grain was a minor problem throughout the movie. Some of those elements were caused by process shots on the bus; those images often bring along defects due to the extra layer of photography involved. However, grain wasn’t limited to process shots, as it also appeared during many other scenes in which it made less sense. The grain never seemed extremely heavy, but it was quite noticeable throughout much of the film.

In addition, Bus Stop suffered from a variety of other flaws. Small speckles and grit cropped up from time to time, and a few examples of blotches, spots, and nicks also appeared during the film. While the result still seemed rather clean for such an old film, I thought it looked dirtier than the other four movies in the collection.

Colors appeared generally acceptable, but I thought they could be somewhat thick at times. Flesh tones occasionally appeared a little brown, and while the rest of the hues seemed pretty vivid and accurate, they weren’t quite as bold as they probably should have been. BS lacked the mild drabness of The Seven Year Itch, but it never approached the glories of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or There’s No Business Like Show Business. Nonetheless, colors usually were reasonably vibrant and accurate, so I had no extreme complaints about them.

Black levels were fairly deep and dense, and the movie exhibited positive levels of contrast. Shadow detail seemed a little more variable, but most low-light scenes worked well. Some of the shots on the bus could come across as a bit too dark, but these generally appeared appropriately dim but not too opaque. Ultimately, I wasn’t wild about the picture of Bus Stop and I thought it was the second-weakest image in the “Diamond Collection” after How to Marry A Millionaire, but that’s more of a testament to the lovely transfers afforded all five of the film. Even though I thought Bus Stop showed some problems, it still looked very good, especially when one considers the age of the movie.

When I took the film’s vintage into consideration, I found the Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack of Bus Stop to be even more impressive. No, this isn’t a mix that will show off your home theater, but I felt it worked nicely for a 45-year-old recording. Not surprisingly, the soundfield remained fairly heavily anchored within the forward spectrum. In that realm, audio seemed neatly localized and distinct for the most part. Music showed fine stereo separation and meshed together well, and effects popped up from logical areas within the environment. Most of the latter tended toward ambient sounds, but they still created a reasonably realistic atmosphere. The surrounds added a decent kick to much of the music, and the effects also got minor reinforcement as well.

One area in which the track succeeded better than any of the prior “Diamond Collection” flicks related to speech. All four of the widescreen films in this package used localized speech to some degree. The first two - Millionaire and Show Business - went “wide”, as they tried to use the entire spectrum for the lines. This didn’t always work, mainly because the speech echoed and bled between channels to a moderately annoying degree. Itch went for a more subdued approach. It still displayed dialogue in the side channels, but little of this went quite as far to the right or left as I’d heard in the earlier two films. Because of this, I experienced much less of the bleeding between speakers, but the lack of ambition seemed a little disappointing.

Bus Stop proved the sound designers could get it right - almost. As a whole, the use of speech tended to be wide along the same lines as the first two films, but BS lacked the echoed quality or the mushy localization heard in those movies. For the most part, dialogue was well-placed within the spectrum. A few lines tended to crop up in vague places, but these were in the minority, so I found the track to provide a largely satisfying soundfield.

Audio quality was also very good for the era. Dialogue appeared a little thin but it usually sounded relatively warm and natural, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility. Some louder lines showed slight edginess, but these were rare, as most of the speech seemed distinct and clean. Effects also appeared reasonably accurate and realistic, and they showed no signs of distortion. Music was the highlight of the package, as BS boasted fairly bright and vivid songs throughout the film. Highs seemed to be nicely crisp and clear, and low-end displayed modest but solid depth and tightness. No, the track didn’t provide great bang, but I thought it sounded very good for such an old movie, and I found it to offer a rather satisfying experience.

Less exciting are the supplements that accompany Bus Stop. The Seven Year Itch, the prior film in the “Diamond Collection”, included the best extras of the entire bunch, so it was a little disappointing to return to the usual grab-bag of minor tidbits. Here we find four lobby cards, one post card, and the movie’s theatrical trailer. All of the other “DC” DVDs tossed in foreign ads as well, so it was odd to get only the US clip here.

In addition, we get trailers for all four of the other Monroe movies that are part of the “Diamond Collection”: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Seven Year Itch, and There’s No Business Like Show Business. We also find a promo for the “Diamond Collection” as a whole.

Lastly, this DVD features a “Restoration Comparison”. In one part of this two-minute and 40-second piece, we see a contrast between the film restoration and a combination of film and video restoration, while the rest of it demonstrates the differences between the film/video restoration and the old video master. The comparison is most distinct in the latter instance, mainly because the new transfer cleaned up a lot of flaws. After watching restorations for four other Monroe flicks, the process has gotten a little tiresome by now, but these demonstrations remain moderately interesting.

However, I’d prefer to check out 95 minutes of “Restoration Comparisons” rather than sit through Bus Stop again. Through five prior Marilyn Monroe features, I’d generally enjoyed her work, but the appeal of this clunker escaped me. From stiff pacing to a ham-handed script to painful acting, BS misfired on virtually all cylinders. On the other hand, the DVD provides mildly flawed but generally solid picture plus relatively fine sound; it lacks substantial extras, though. In any case, Bus Stop did almost nothing for me, and it should probably be left for the Marilyn obsessives in the audience.

Note that Bus Stop can be purchased on its own or as part of Fox’s Marilyn Monroe “Diamond Collection” set. The latter includes four other movies - How to Marry a Millionaire, There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Seven Year Itch, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - plus a sixth DVD, a documentary called Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days. That disc only appears as part of “The Diamond Collection”, a package that’s really a steal for Monroe fans; in addition to the bonus DVD, it costs only $99.98 list as opposed to a total of $124.90 for the five films on their own. Granted, you’d need to really love Marilyn to want that much of her material, but if you fall into that category, it’s a great idea.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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