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Bus Stop(1956)

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Bus Stop (1956)

SYNOPSIS

Cherie (Marilyn Monroe), a sexy but no-talent "chanteuse" from the Ozarks who performs in a tacky Phoenix nightclub called the Blue Dragon, captivates the hunky but rambunctious young cowboy Beauregard "Bo" Decker (Don Murray), who is in town for a rodeo. Cherie has dreams of heading to Hollywood and film stardom, but Bo forces her to board a bus with him and his father-figure buddy, Virgil Blessing (Arthur O'Connell), as they head home to Montana. Along the way, a snowstorm stalls the bus at a lonely roadside caf where Bo continues his rowdy and unwanted wooing of Cherie; he considers her his "angel" and wants to marry her. Cherie is physically attracted to Bo but repulsed by his bad behavior until, with Virgil's coaching, he begins to treat her with more tenderness and respect. Other characters interacting during the enforced layover include down-to-earth proprietor Grace (Betty Field), her bus driver lover Carl (Robert Bray) and impressionable young waitress Elma (Hope Lange).

Director: Joshua Logan
Producer: Buddy Adler
Screenplay: George Axelrod, from the play by William Inge
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Editing: William Reynolds
Art Direction: Mark-Lee Kirk, Lyle R. Wheeler
Original Music: Alfred Newman, Cyril J. Mockridge
Costume Design: Travilla
Cast: Marilyn Monroe (Cherie), Don Murray (Beauregard "Bo" Decker), Arthur O'Connell (Virgil Blessing), Grace (Betty Field), Eileen Heckart (Vera), Robert Bray (Carl), Hope Lange (Elma Duckworth), Hans Conried (Life Magazine Photographer), Max Showalter (Life Magazine Reporter, billed as Casey Adams)

Why BUS STOP Is Essential

The movie version of Bus Stop is an adaptation of an important Broadway play by William Inge, considered by most theater historians to be among America's top playwrights. The film marked the second Inge drama to be directed by Joshua Logan, following Picnic and further establishing the reputation of this former theater director as an important filmmaker. He would go on to create such films as Sayonara (1957), South Pacific (1958) and Camelot (1967). With Bus Stop Logan and cinematographer Milton Krasner offered a lesson in the imaginative use of the often-cumbersome CinemaScope process, utilizing a subdued color palette along with a mixture of panoramic landscapes and strikingly composed close-ups. The movie launched the careers of Don Murray and Hope Lange, who continued to be prominent in the realm of film and television for several decades, and showcases the work of such fine character actors as Arthur O'Connell, Betty Field and Eileen Heckart.

Most importantly, Bus Stop marked what is generally considered to be the outstanding performance of a true American icon: Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn had already proven herself as a sensational screen presence and delightful comedienne but, as Logan wrote, her studies at the Actors Studio "had opened a part of her head, given her confidence in herself, in her brainpower, in her ability to think out and create a character." It was an audacious move for Marilyn to dare and follow the highly regarded stage performance of a theater luminary such as Kim Stanley, in a role that required her to present herself as a bedraggled, no-talent wannabe whose dreams would always be bigger than anything she could actually achieve.

Monroe's gamble paid off in spades. Whatever difficulties in achieving it, her performance shines like a beacon through a film that otherwise may seem a bit dated for modern audiences. Her needy character would certainly have benefited from a healthy dose of modern feminism, but Marilyn fully realizes and inhabits the lonely, confused and desperate Cherie without losing her own natural radiance and sex appeal. Her deliberately bad rendition of "That Old Black Magic" manages to be both awful and artful - at once pitiful, funny and erotic. Some critics felt that Monroe surpassed Stanley's highly lauded turn on Broadway.

It's simply a great performance, one that grows more impressive with repeated viewings. There was no justice in the fact that, while Murray was Oscar®-nominated for his one-dimensional, at times almost cartoon-like portrayal, Monroe was not. This was a great disappointment to many including director Logan and Monroe herself. Logan, always an ardent supporter and defender of Monroe's talent, gets the last word: "Marilyn is as near a genius as any actress I ever knew. She is an artist beyond artistry. She is the most completely realized and authentic film actress since Garbo. She has the same unfathomable mysteriousness. She is pure cinema."

By Roger Fristoe

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Bus Stop (1956)

Bus Stop became one of Marilyn Monroe's most endearing film showcases after a successful Broadway run that won four Tony Award nominations and enhanced the careers of its participants, especially director Harold Clurman and actresses Kim Stanley and Elaine Stritch. For decades the play has been a staple of regional, university and community theaters. During the 1961-62 television season, Inge himself was script supervisor of the hour-long ABC series Bus Stop, based on the play and starring Marilyn Maxwell as Grace, the owner of a bus station and diner located this time in Colorado. The series ran for 25 episodes; the sixth, "Cherie," was an abbreviated version of the original play, with Tuesday Weld, Gary Lockwood and Joseph Cotten in leading roles.

In August 1982 a production at the Claremont Theater in California was telecast on HBO, with Margot Kidder and Tim Matheson in the leads. The play was revived briefly on Broadway in 1996 with Mary-Louise Parker and Billy Crudup as the stars. Major regional revivals have included one at the Williamstown (Mass.) Theater Festival in the summer of 2005, and another at Boston's Huntington Theatre in the fall of 2010. Reviewing the former production in The New York Times, critic Ben Brantley wrote that, under the play's "surface glow of Eisenhower-era optimism, it also pulses with the psychosexual undercurrents in which the Freud-conscious Inge specialized." During the period 2010-2011 there were three productions in Great Britain including a critically praised version directed by James Dacre at the New Vic and Stephen Joseph Theatres. The Guardian described this production as "beguiling...[a] forlorn slice of Americana which mediates on the distance between towns and the distances between people, like an Edward Hopper painting with dialogue."

By Roger Fristoe

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Bus Stop (1956)

Elvis Presley and Fess Parker ("Davy Crockett") were pursued for the role of Bo, but these casting ideas were nixed by, respectively, Colonel Tom Parker and Walt Disney. Rock Hudson also was considered for the part.

Most of Monroe's delivery of "That Old Black Magic" was captured live on camera without lip-synching - a rarity in those days.

Don Murray has said that, in a scene where Marilyn Monroe was in bed, she was actually naked under the sheets because she thought her character would have been.

Murray, a New Yorker, had never been astride a horse until the scene in which he rides one in a parade.

In a scene where Monroe was required to angrily slap Murray with the sequined tail of her costume, she did it with such vehemence that he suffered facial lacerations. Reportedly, for whatever reason, she refused to apologize.

Because Monroe felt there should not be two blondes in the film, Hope Lange's naturally fair hair was darkened to a light shade of brown.

Murray, who was in love with Lange and would shortly marry her, has a scene on the bus where he gives her a disinterested look and says to Arthur O'Connell: "She's purty, Virge, but she ain't my angel."

Executives at 20th Century Fox thought Murray was overplaying his boisterous part and wanted to fire him. Director Joshua Logan stood firm: "I don't want some 'aw shucks' cowboy in the role. I want Attila the Hun and that's what we've got."

Rodeo scenes were filmed at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix.

Upon returning to Los Angeles for further filming after working in skimpy clothing in the cold of Sun Valley, Monroe came down with bronchitis and then pneumonia and was hospitalized for 12 days.

Two years after Monroe played the role originated onstage by Kim Stanley, Stanley starred in The Goddess (1958) as a thinly disguised version of Monroe.

For some early television prints, the title of Bus Stop was changed to The Wrong Kind of Girl.

Quotes from Bus Stop:"I hear your name and I'm aflame..." -- Cherie (singing "That Old Black Magic")

"You don't have the manners they gave a monkey! I hate you and I despise you! Now give me back my tail!" - Cherie

"Wake up, Cherie! It's nine o'clock - the sun's out. No wonder you're so pale and white." - Bo

"I just got to feel that whoever I marry has some real regard for me, aside from all that lovin' stuff." - Cherie

"At first I thought she wasn't good enough for you. But now know you're the one who's not good enough for her!" - Virgil

"Virge has been figuring things out. He says that seeing as you had all those other boyfriends before me, seeing as I never even had one single gal friend before you... He figures it averages out to things being proper and right." - Bo

"Well, I've been thinkin' about them other fellas, Cherie. And well, what I mean is, I like you the way you are, so what do I care how you got that way?" - Bo

"Bo! That's the sweetest, tenderest thing anyone ever said to me." -- Cherie

"I'd go anywhere in the world with you now. Anywhere at all!" - Cherie

By Roger Fristoe

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Bus Stop (1956)

Bus Stop (1956) began as a Broadway play by William Inge, widely considered one of America's major playwrights and a dramatic poet of the Midwest in somewhat the same way that Tennessee Williams represented the Deep South. Inge, a native of Independence, Kansas, had a string of well-received plays in the 1950s that also included Come Back, Little Sheba, Picnic (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize) and Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Bus Stop was said to have been inspired by people observed by Inge during a visit to the Almeda Hotel in Tonganoxie, Kansas, which also included a diner and a bus stop. The play, directed by Harold Clurman, opened on Broadway on March 2, 1955, running for more than a year while racking up 478 performances. Kim Stanley starred as Cherie, with Albert Salmi as Bo and Tony nominee Elaine Stritch as Grace. The production also was Tony-nominated for Best Play, Director and Scenic Design.

Marilyn Monroe, at the height of her stardom at 20th Century Fox after her huge successes in the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and the comedy The Seven Year Itch (1955), had resented some of the thankless vehicles Fox had selected for her, notably River of No Return and There's No Business Like Show Business (both 1954). Weary of her Hollywood image as none-too-bright sex symbol, she fled to New York, where she studied acting with Lee Strasberg of the famed Actors Studio.

Before returning to Hollywood Monroe was able to renegotiate her contract with Fox, signing a deal that allowed approval of story material, director and cinematographer on her films. This agreement gave her unprecedented creative control and set a new standard for film stars. In tacit recognition of her position as the studio's top box-office draw, Fox also raised her salary to $100,000 per film and agreed that she could appear in films with independent producers and other studios. Monroe signed her fourth and final contract with the studio on December 31, 1955. In the meantime she had formed Marilyn Monroe Productions in association with photographer Milton Greene; she was to star in films produced by the company and he was to attend to all related business matters. The first film the company produced for Fox was Bus Stop, which Greene had purchased expressly for Monroe.

Monroe returned to Hollywood in February 1956 to begin preparing for the film. At a press conference announcing the project, she seemed newly serious in an uncharacteristic dark suit with a high collar. Asked if her attire was part of an effort to present "a new Marilyn," she pertly replied, "Well, I'm the same person. It's just a new suit." Announced as director was Joshua Logan, then primarily known for his work on the stage with such hits as Mister Roberts and South Pacific, although he had made an Oscar®-nominated debut as a film director with Inge's Picnic (1955). Logan wrote in his memoirs that his initial reaction to the casting idea was "Oh, no - Marilyn Monroe can't bring off Bus Stop. She can't act." After working with his star, however, he had a complete change of heart and claimed that he "could gargle with salt and vinegar" over his words because "I found her to be one of the greatest talents of all time."

Inge's play was adapted for the screen by George Axelrod, a specialist in edgy comedy who would later win acclaim for his screenplays for Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Axelrod had become a friend of Monroe while adapting his play The Seven Year Itch as a movie vehicle for her. He commented later that he saw a tragic element in both Marilyn and her Bus Stop character, and that he tried to bring shadings of pathos as he rewrote the role with her in mind. In his screenplay Axelrod both expanded and streamlined Inge's play, which had been set entirely in the bus stop diner. Axelrod included scenes at the Blue Dragon saloon and the rodeo, as well as on the streets of Phoenix and aboard the bus itself. To keep the focus more on Cherie and Bo, Axelrod eliminated one of the play's major characters - an aging, alcoholic college professor with a weakness for young girls.

Don Murray, in his film debut at age 26, was cast as Monroe's love interest after Logan saw the then-unknown young actor performing in Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth on Broadway. Hope Lange, then dating and later to marry Murray, also made her film debut in Bus Stop. For other key supporting roles Logan turned to two members of his cast for the film of Picnic, Arthur O'Connell and Betty Field. A new character, Cherie's confidante Vera, was invented by Axelrod for the early scenes, and the outstanding character actress Eileen Heckart was assigned the part.

From all reports, Monroe felt that this would be her most important role and provide a real stretch for her as an actress. She was eager to draw upon what she had absorbed from her studies of Method acting in playing her lonely and confused character, and to prove to her studio that they had made a good decision in giving her the artistic freedom to choose her own vehicles and colleagues.

By Roger Fristoe

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Bus Stop (1956)

Production began on Bus Stop on March 3, 1956, with filming in Phoenix, Arizona. Other locations would include Sun Valley and other spots in Idaho, with interiors shot at the 20th Century Fox studios in Los Angeles.

Monroe felt that Cherie, although she is a very sexual character, should have a slightly shabby look as a pale and cheaply costumed saloon singer. Working with Milton Greene, director Joshua Logan and her makeup artist, Allan Snyder, she opted for an almost-white facial and body makeup that made Cherie look washed-out and faintly unhealthy, as if she slept all day and avoided the sun. Hairstylist Helen Turpin changed Monroe's platinum-blonde hair to a subdued honey-blonde that offered more contrast to the white skin. Studio executives thought Marilyn should always be "honey-colored" all over, but she and Logan stuck to their guns. In subsequent films she would continue to favor a lighter, more luminous makeup even when her hair was once again platinum.

Monroe rejected most of the original costume designs by Travilla and rifled through the studio costume department to find things she thought suited the character. The black-lace blouse that she wears in the early scenes was originally worn by Susan Hayward in With a Song in My Heart (1952). Logan recalled how Monroe accepted the studio-designed outfit for her musical number, "That Old Black Magic," but then exclaimed to him, "You and I are going to shred it up, pull out part of the fringe, poke holes in the fishnet stockings, then have 'em darned with big, sprawling darns. Oh, it's gonna be so sorry and pitiful it'll make you cry!"

Monroe, who had seen and loved Kim Stanley's performance in the Broadway production of Bus Stop, patterned her accent on Stanley's and on those she had heard during her own time in the South. She worked diligently on the "hillbilly" twang, speaking quite differently than in other films, and subverted her natural singing talent to make it painfully clear that Cherie was not gifted in that department.

Despite her dedication and determination, however, Monroe remained hampered by her insecurities once the camera started rolling. Some of this she was able to channel creatively into the character's own confusion and uncertainty; at other times she had great difficulty in simply getting through a scene and remembering the lines. Screenwriter George Axelrod, although very fond of Monroe, was quite blunt about her problems in an interview with Pat McGilligan: "Poor Marilyn... She was a sad, sad, sad creature. She was sick. In a rightly ordered world, she would have been in a nuthouse. She was psychotic. Once you got to know her, one couldn't feel sexy about her. She was pathetic, sad. You just wanted to comfort her, cuddle her, father her, say, 'It's going to be all right, child.'"

When going up in her lines, Axelrod said, Monroe wouldn't improvise her way around them but would become emotional and leave the set. "She had reached a point in her neurosis where if anybody said, 'Cut!' she took it as an affront, burst into tears and ran to her dressing room. So director Joshua Logan stopped using the word and simply let the cameras run while he talked her back into the scene, with dialogue director Joe Curtis feeding Monroe her lines. "He was a huge man, Josh," Axelrod recalled, "so most of the time the screen was filled with Josh's behind and Marilyn's face, with this voice coming from the sky reading the lines that Marilyn would parrot."

Special problems were created in a scene on the bus, with Cherie pouring her heart out to Hope Lange's Elma as rear projection creates the illusion of a moving landscape. It took four days to shoot this scene, but Axelrod said it "cut together like a dream," partly because Lange behaved so professionally and was always prepared for a reaction shot that could cover Monroe's lapses. "Little pieces of what Marilyn would do were inspired, magical, but interspersed with tears and "Oh, ----!" and "What the ----!" and getting her back together - all of it with the camera running because you couldn't say cut. God, the goings-on!" Logan recalled, however, how brilliant Monroe was in the sequence, so involved with the emotions of her character that her skin visibly flushed and she shed real tears. As it turned out, much of this sequence was cut from the final film, deleting what Monroe felt were some of her best acting moments. She never quite forgave Logan or the studio for the cuts.

Don Murray also later remembered the difficulties of filming with Marilyn, who was essentially his boss on the movie. Paula Strasberg, Lee's wife, had replaced Natasha Lytess as Monroe's on-the-spot acting coach, and Murray recalled to Ezra Goodman that, while Strasberg was "polite," she constantly "huddled" with Marilyn and paid no attention to anyone else. Murray said that, because of Monroe's problems with lines, every scene with her was "difficult... On some scenes there would be 30 takes. The average film scene requires about five takes. If Marilyn was having trouble getting through a particular scene, and finally got it, they would print it. It did not matter how the other actors did. I had a feeling of relaxation doing the scenes she wasn't in... She was detached, into herself. On the set, she appeared frightened, worried. Just thinking about what she had to do. There was not much interchange."

There were, however, some lighter moments on the set when Monroe would tickle Murray with her unique perspective of matters. In another interview he recalled a scene in which director Logan wanted a "two-head close-up" shot, one of the first in the CinemaScope process being used for the film. Because of the width of the image, the top of Murray's head was out of the frame. "The audience won't miss the top of your head, Don," Marilyn explained. "They know it's there because it's already been established." Another laugh came when Murray mistakenly used the word "scaly" in a scene and Monroe told him it had been "a Freudian slip" because the scene had a sexual connotation. "You see," she continued, "you were thinking unconsciously of a snake. That's why you said 'scaly.' And a snake is a phallic symbol. Do you know what a phallic symbol is, Don?" Murray's reply: "Know what it is? Hell, I've got one!"

Overall, however, Murray's quoted reaction to Monroe was not one of amusement: "Like children, she thought the world revolved around her and her thoughts. She was oblivious to the needs of people near her, and her thoughtlessness, such as being late frequently, [was] the bad side of it." Once filming was over, the two never saw each other again nor had any other contact. As it developed, the warm and friendly Eileen Heckart was the only other actor in the film with whom Monroe appeared to have developed a close rapport off-camera.

Murray's view seems to have mellowed with time. At a tribute to Monroe in August 2012, he quoted Marilyn's famous line, "I don't care about being famous; I just want to be wonderful." He then called her "the most incandescently unforgettable star in the history of the movies. And if you see her as the talent-challenged singer in Bus Stop, you'll see that, while movie lovers like you have made her famous, she has achieved her greatest ambition and made herself wonderful."

Monroe's badly needed champion on the film was her director. Logan, who had studied with Stanislavsky in Russia, understood the needs of actors using "the Method" and had come to adore Marilyn's talent and to respect her native intelligence. "She made directing worthwhile," he said later. "She had such fascinating things happen to her face and skin and hair and body as she read lines, that she was... inspiring." Logan involved his star in script discussions and supported her efforts to "find" Cherie through experiments with makeup, costuming, hairstyles and - above all - intense identification with her character. By allowing the cameras to continue rolling, he gave Monroe every opportunity to find continuity in her role, and listened carefully when she made suggestions about her blocking and camera angles on this, her 24th film. As a friend of the Strasbergs who had directed their daughter, Susan, in Picnic, he was tolerant of Paula's presence and constant influence on Monroe's performance. He did, however, insist that she not be on the sets during actual rehearsals or filming.

Since Logan also was a hypersensitive soul bothered by insomnia and exhaustion, he was sympathetic to Marilyn's personal problems and creative struggles. In later years he described her as a great actress, a combination of Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin. "She was the most constantly exciting actress I ever worked with, and that excitement was not related to her celebrity but to her humanness, to the way she saw life around her." In a 1983 interview with Logan, this writer complimented him on his handling of William Inge's Picnic. "Oh, but didn't you like Bus Stop better?" he asked. "I did, because it had - Marilyn!"

By Roger Fristoe

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teaser Bus Stop (1956)

Marilyn Monroe was the most beautiful woman in the world. This is not an opinion, it is simply a fact. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder: when the beholders number in the countless millions, across all cultures around the globe, then the question of beauty transcends personal taste and enters the realm of objective truth. Back in ancient Troy, this kind of beauty started wars. In the middle of the 20th century, it created celebrities.

Living in a spotlight that intense had its price: there was no way to step back out of the spotlight. She lost her privacy. Every move she took was photographed, celebrated, analyzed, consumed, even ridiculed. Case in point: she had enrolled in Lee Strasburg's fabled Actor's Studio to study "The Method." The movie press collectively laughed -- look at the dumb blonde who thinks she can act! "Will acting spoil Marilyn Monroe?" the headlines crowed.

It's not like she hadn't been a dramatic actress before. She had already played it straight in Fritz Lang's Clash by Night (1952), but that had been a supporting role predating her massive pop cultural breakthrough. For those who knew her only as the cartoon sex bomb of The Seven Year Itch (1955), such credits meant little. She had a headlining dramatic part in the low-budget noir thriller Don't Bother to Knock (1952), but that had been belittled by critics of the time (and only recently rehabilitated in hindsight as a fine performance in a clever film). To break the stereotypes, Marilyn Monroe needed to escape the small-mindedness of studio bosses.

Monroe took steps to prove that she meant it. She legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, as if to prove she was no poseur. She was Marilyn Monroe. Then she renegotiated her contract with 20th Century Fox to assert control over her films. From now on, she would choose the scripts, the directors, the technicians. She formed Marilyn Monroe Productions, with herself as President, to administer these new responsibilities.

The first film to be made under this new arrangement was Bus Stop (1956). On Broadway, William Inge's play had been a huge and long-running hit, even nominated for a Tony. Inge was a prestigious playwright -- not unlike Arthur Miller, who at the time was holed up in Nevada, trying to establish residency so he could divorce his wife and be free to wed Marilyn.

Bus Stop had a lot to offer Marilyn in her bid to bridge the gap between Movie Star and Serious Actress. The female lead, Cherie, is an aspiring actress and a terrible singer. "I'm a chanteuse," she says, with her Southern twang making "chanteuse" sound faintly obscene. Cherie has slept her way to the very bottom, but still holds impossible hopes that her dead-end job at a Phoenix saloon is just a way station on the way to stardom in Hollywood. One day. She is, in short, a shopworn sexpot, who does not even realize her best days are already behind her. And therein lies the irony--Marilyn Monroe, playing someone who wants to be like Marilyn Monroe but isn't. How better for Marilyn to demonstrate she could play someone other than herself?

She handpicked as her director Joshua Logan, a man better known for his work on such stage hits as South Pacific and Picnic. He had, in fact, directed the film adaptation of Picnic, which had opened in theaters just as the stage version of Bus Stop opened in New York, with Actor's Studio alum Kim Stanley in the role Monroe would play onscreen. Logan, though, was wary of the New Marilyn. The "old" Marilyn was a notorious flake--always late, unable to remember her lines. Was Marilyn 2.0 a worthwhile upgrade, or did it burden an already buggy system with unnecessary new features? Strasburg confided in Logan that of the hundreds of actors who had studied with him, there were only two he thought really stood out from the pack. Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. This was high praise indeed.

Together they developed Cherie as a cruel parody of Marilyn's screen image. Her skin is as chalky as a vampire's, to show how the poor girl's nocturnal life denies her sunlight. Her wardrobe is tawdry and threadbare, her hair tousled and unkempt. She moves like a gangly puppet, her voice is grating. Fox executives watched nervously, as she studiously undermined everything audiences came to expect from her.

It did not come easily. Logan tried to accommodate her chronic unreliability, but she leaned heavily on that patience and strained it to the breaking point. And then, she strained it past the breaking point. With hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake if she didn't get on set now, Logan dragged her forcibly in a humiliating moment she could not forgive. Meanwhile, newcomer Don Murray, playing opposite Monroe, found himself on the receiving end of her tantrums. It made for a tense set, dominated by mutual hostility and unrelieved antagonism.

Had Bus Stop been a different movie, such on-set stress could have helped establish the on-screen mood. That is, had Bus Stop played its drama as a horror movie. The stuff of a horror movie is all there: Don Murray plays a nave but physically intimidating young man, named Bo Decker, whose sheltered life on his cattle ranch has left him with no understanding of other people, certainly not of girls. He's used to asserting his will on other creatures, and simply cannot comprehend that there is anything else to life. When his friend Virgil (Arthur O'Connell) tries to explain that maybe Cherie resents being hogtied like a farm animal and hauled against her will onto a bus for a life of forced servitude, Bo is bewildered: "How else was I gonna get her on the bus?" He is huge and strong, heedless of social graces and unconcerned what anyone else thinks of him. He is a sort of monster, and his relentless pursuit of Cherie has similarities to various film noir tales of kidnappers and hostages--Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker (1953) for example. Those connotations are there, undeveloped. At no point does Logan attempt to explore the thriller aspects of the story he has in front of him.

This is partly because Murray plays the role for laughs. He yells every line, and swaggers through each scene as if the Beverly Hillbillies' Jethro had been jacked up on coke and let loose. Cherie admits to finding this human freakshow physically attractive; Bo is insulted that she isn't equally attracted to his mind. To demonstrate his intellectual side, he blusters into her bedroom, wakes her up, pins her naked body under his, and screams the Gettysburg Address into her ear. The scene's absurdity masks its terror--Bo is just this side of raping her, but instead of sexual violence, he's hollering a piece of grade-school recital. The audience laughs nervously, because there's nothing to laugh at.

Instead, the story of Bus Stop is not about Cherie's attempt to escape this brute, but her complete inability to escape him. Bo is the sort of fella who won't take "no" for an answer, so the fact that Cherie can only muster up a half-hearted and ambivalent "no" doesn't deter him at all. At every juncture, she continues to beckon him on. She doesn't really want to be tied up, kidnapped, forcibly married, and abducted to an almost uninhabited wilderness...but neither is she entirely against the idea. Because of all the things she wants, being loved -- truly loved -- is the one she wants most, and say what you will about this big lug, he really wants her.

Despite these touches, Bus Stop isn't a thriller. Although Murray plays his role with a broadness that veers into slapstick farce, it isn't a comedy. There are a couple of songs, but it's not a musical. It builds to a mythical fight between cowboys staged at a remote Western outpost, but it isn't a Western. It's hard to say exactly what it is--other than a self-consciously serious vehicle for a self-consciously serious actress.

Marilyn Monroe's career gamble paid off as critics embraced Marilyn 2.0. Setting aside the fractiousness of the shoot, Logan praised her as being "as near genius as any actress I ever knew." Bosley Crowther, the influential and hard-to-please critic for the New York Times opened his review: "Marilyn Monroe has proved herself as an actress." Her performance in Bus Stop was widely praised, but it was costar Murray who got the Academy Award nomination (for Best Supporting Actor), which must have burned a little. Prone to seeing betrayal and intrigue all around her, Monroe was already seething that her best work on Bus Stop had been obscured from the public. The scene in question took place on board the bus, as Cherie confided in a fellow passenger (played by Hope Lange) about her deepest hopes. It was a set-up all but calculated to push Monroe's anxieties to the limit. For one thing, she feared that the deliberately anti-glamorous look she had concocted for Cherie was ruining her sex appeal, and had taken to flirting with Murray in an effort to convince herself she still "had it." But Murray had fallen for Lange -- they were soon married--and so any interaction with Lange chafed Monroe's rawest nerves.

There was another problem. The scene called for Monroe to deliver a long monologue, which needed to be filmed in a single take without cutaways. Never before had the actress successfully delivered so long of a speech at one time. It went as you would expect: Logan started the camera, called "action," Marilyn started talking -- and then would fumble. A misspoken word, a misplaced inflection, a misdirected gesture, something. Logan would call "cut!" and the cycle began anew. Nerves frayed, the day trickled away, and gradually Logan noticed something. Marilyn was more likely to screw it up at the top of the scene, and got better as it went. That first instant, as the camera starts up, was piquant with expectation -- and that was a psychological flashpoint for the fragile actress. Once past that initial burst of expectation, she settled down. So Logan figured whatever he wasted in excess filmstock would be paid for by saved time, and just stopped calling "cut." Instead, he let the camera roll, and allowed Marilyn to restart again and again on her own, until she nailed it. At the pace they'd been going, she might have taken days to get it right; Logan had gotten it from her in hours.

And then Fox executives snipped it from the film. Bus Stop was overlong, they said, and the scene dragged things to a crawl during an otherwise taut sequence. Monroe fumed that Logan would allow her triumph, so hard won and dear, to be discarded like that. Privately, Arthur Miller was growing worried that Marilyn's mood swings and self-destructive tendencies were manifesting as a genuine suicidal risk. History, tragically, would prove him right. But that was still in the future -- first, she was going to save him.

1956 was the pitch of the Red Scare, you see, and the sage lawmakers of the most powerful nation on Earth decided that they urgently needed to interview this playwright about his political beliefs. Others had faced HUAC's paranoid wrath before, and learned that there were but two painful options. Either you 1) refused to answer questions, and appeared to be a traitorous Commie or 2) you ratted out your friends as traitorous Commies. Miller was an honorable man and he thought he'd figured out a third way: be honest about his own past involvement with leftist causes, but refuse to name others. His lawyers urged him to reconsider. They saw his strategy as simply a more foolish version of Choice #1. In the end, Miller lucked into a genuine third way, entirely by accident: he mentioned he was engaged to Marilyn Monroe. HUAC let him go, and instead of an angry press tarring him as un-American, he rode a wave of happy PR. Commies are Commies, but dammit, man, this is Marilyn we're talking about! Yeah, she was All That, and Bus Stop proved she had surprises yet in store.

Producer: Buddy Adler
Director: Joshua Logan
Screenplay: George Axelrod (screenplay); William Inge (play)
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Art Direction: Mark-Lee Kirk, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge, Alfred Newman
Film Editing: William Reynolds
Cast: Marilyn Monroe (Cherie), Don Murray (Beauregard 'Bo' Decker), Arthur O'Connell (Virgil Blessing), Betty Field (Grace), Eileen Heckart (Vera), Robert Bray (Carl), Hope Lange (Elma Duckworth), Hans Conried (Life Magazine Photographer), Casey Adams (Life Magazine Reporter).
BW-96m. Letterboxed.

by David Kalat

Sources:
Sam Kashner and Jennifer Macnair, The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties.
Barbara Leaming, Marilyn Monroe.
Carl Edmund Rollyson, Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress.
J. Randy Taraborelli, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.

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Bus Stop (1956)

"Hold onto your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress in Bus Stop. She and the picture are swell! ... If you don't find Miss M. a downright Duse, you'll find her a dilly, anyhow. For the striking fact is that Mr. Logan has got her to do a great deal more than wiggle and pout and pop her big eyes and play the synthetic vamp in this film. He has got her to be the beat-up B-girl of Mr. Inge's play, even down to the Ozark accent and the look of pellagra about her skin... And, what's most important, he has got her to light the small flame of dignity that sputters pathetically in this chippie..." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"In Bus Stop Marilyn Monroe effectively dispels once and for all the notion that she is merely a glamour personality..." - The Saturday Review

"This is Marilyn's show and, my friend, she shows plenty in figure, beauty and talent." - Los Angeles Examiner

"In Bus Stop she has a wonderful role and she plays it with a mixture of humor and pain that is very touching." - New York Herald Tribune

"Marilyn Monroe gives one of her best performances in Bus Stop, a movie that is also one of her best overall...[She] got to stretch her acting muscles playing a fully three-dimensional character, while 20th Century-Fox still got what they wanted also, namely Monroe very sexy in a highly exploitable part...a slight, sweet, funny, and even sexy character study-romance... She is alternately bemused, annoyed, appalled, yet always attracted to Murray's dumb but handsome, sincere, and ultimately charming cowboy." -- Stuart Galbraith IV, dvdtalk.com (2013)

Awards and Honors - BUS STOP

Academy Award nomination: Don Murray, Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe nomination: Marilyn Monroe, Best Motion Picture Actress, Comedy/Musical
Directors Guild of America nomination: Joshua Logan, Outstanding Directorial Achievement
Writers Guild of America nomination: George Axelrod, Best Written American Comedy
National Board of Review: Top Ten Films of 1956

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