Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 13, 2013)
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. Hot 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. 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 taken many a turn around the track, 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) – needs 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 Stop, the movie seems to have trouble deciding if it wants to be a broad comedy or if it prefers to take a more serious, dramatic tone. Sure, it’s possible for films to include both tones, but that kind of flick needs to feel more decisive. I never get that impression of Stop. The emphasis seems muddled and confused most of the time, and this leaves the entire project as something less than solid.
Nonetheless, Bus Stop might be tolerable if not 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 cinematic 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 cornpone accent comes and goes, and Marilyn wants so badly for us to regard her as an Actress With a Capital “A” that she bludgeons any personality or charm the character may contain. Monroe aptly portrays Cherie’s tired, trod-upon aspects, but otherwise she seems 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 cartoony for Hee-Haw.
Murray makes Beau into the absolute stereotype of the cowboy, as he’s loud, overbearing, and darned near unbearable. Yes, he quiets down toward the end of the movie, but this change of tone 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, or 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 seems like a dud to me.
One footnote: as I watched Bus Stop, I couldn’t help but notice how much Cherie sounded like Luanne from King of the Hill. I don’t know if Brittany Murphy consciously emulated Marilyn’s performance, but I think clear similarities arose.