Bus Stop (1956) Blu-ray Review: Marilyn Monroe Finally Goes to Acting School

Fifty-one years after her tragic death, Marilyn Monroe has managed to land a number of personas in the public eye. First, there’s the Iconic Model Marilyn, whom we all know and love, if the numerous cutouts of her in various low-key ’50s-themed diners across the country is testament to anything. Next, we have Naughty Marilyn: that which is attributed to her drug and alcohol abuse, as well as the many highly publicized and clandestine affairs she (often allegedly) had during her brief period on Earth – including several husbands, two Kennedys, and God know who else. Why heck, there’s even Postmortem Marilyn – wherein conspiracy theorists speculate whether or not her death was suicide or homicide!

And then, sandwiched somewhere in-between like a wilted piece of iceberg lettuce, there’s that which Marilyn Monroe probably hoped she’d be remembered for more than anything else: Actress Marilyn. Sadly, it was this facet of the late sex symbol’s personality that probably earned the most lambasting of all. You see, despite her incredibly strong ambition to be a star – a position that may have come to pass thanks to a certain other, promiscuous side of her character – Marilyn really wasn’t the best actress on the face of the Earth. But of course, Hollywood has never let such a thing as talent interfere in the ascension of one’s livelihood: a quick look at half of today’s highest-rated stars should clue you in there!

So, much like the Megan Foxes of today (Fox even sports a tattoo of Marilyn on her arm, amusingly enough), audiences of the ’50s were made to suffer through Marilyn’s acting – until she grew weary of portraying dumb, ditzy blondes onscreen and demanded to be taken seriously. Thus, Marilyn went to acting school. During this time, Monroe also began to wedge her star power into the fray, giving her more control over the projects she signed herself to. It was then, in the beginning of this period in her life, that we were given Bus Stop. And, although the title might give one the idea it is based on the play of the same name, such an assumption would only be about half right. And it’s a very loose half, at that.

Prior to his growing up and becoming the totalitarian governor of the city doomed to spawn the entire original Planet of the Apes (see here), Don Murray began his own career in the moving pictures by opening Bus Stop. Here, Murray is cast as a Wyoming cowboy named Beauregard – a fellow who has spent his entire life on a ranch, and, as such, is as socially inept and crass as they come. Boarding a bus for the first time, Beauregard heads for a rodeo competition in Phoenix with his father figure, Virgil (Arthur O’Connell) – who has the unenviable task of keeping this first-time-out beast tame the whole time.

Naturally, such a task is nearly impossible – and Virgil’s suggestion his virginal protégé become “acquainted” with a member of the opposite sex results in disaster once the naïve wannabe rodeo star sets his sights on Chérie (Monroe): an untalented singer in a seedy bar who hustles patrons for drinks at the behest of her equally-seedy employer. From there on in, Murray’s character stalks and harasses Monroe’s endlessly: dragging her to the rodeo and forcing her to return to Wyoming with him to become his bride. It’s really rather depressing, actually (and I must confess to being utterly confused as to which parts I was supposed to laugh at), especially when you stop to realize that both leads are perhaps too genuine for their own sakes. Murray was cutting his acting chops here (and did such a fine job in being over-the-top, that he earned an Oscar nomination), much like his character is green in the gills in the ways of the world, while Monroe’s Golden Globe nominated portrayal of Chérie seriously borders on mirroring her own tragic existence.

And then, towards the finale of the film, the actual Bus Stop portion of the story at long last comes into play. It is here that the movie finally goes from being strained dramedy (or was it supposed to be comedy?) and gets serious. It is also at this point that I began to take an interest in the feature itself – especially once bus driver Carl (Robert Bray, of TV’s Lassie fame) decides he’s had enough of our young brazen cowboy’s foul attitude, and gives Beauregard the thrashin’ he’s been asking for since the first reel. With the long belated beating administered, “Bo” learns some humility, which in turn prompts Chérie to stand up for herself for a change.

So what happens after that? Our leads fall in love for realsies and there’s a happy ending.

Fucking Hollywood!

Bus Stop makes its way to Blu-ray in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer that brings out the best the DeLuxe Color film has to offer. Since it wasn’t a Technicolor production, the color palette appears paler than most contemporary titles would look – which gives Monroe’s colorless makeup an almost anemic feel, sadly. Detail is quite fine here, and contrast and black levels are exceptionally well done for an old catalogue title like this. On the plus side of nerdiness, Fox’s 50GB disc presents us with a DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 mix that preserves the film’s original quadraphonic soundtrack. Additional 4.0 audio options are presented in French and German, and there are DD 2.0 and mono selections in assorted languages (as well as a shitload of subtitles).

Strangely enough, for this being such an acclaimed feature, the selection of bonus materials for this cinematic letdown are extremely limited. All we get here is Bus Stop‘s original theatrical trailer (in HD) and additional previews for several other Marilyn Monroe movies.

But, of course, that was enough for me. While Marilyn’s enrollment into acting school was a wise move indeed, the impoverished script adapted from two entirely different plays and the apparent lack of care altogether ultimately finds this Bus Stop at the that precarious “too little, too late” spot on the route.

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Luigi Bastardo

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