Confected from the stage play by William Inge, it tells the story of Beau (Don Murray, in a too obvious movie debut), a Montana back-country cowboy leaving home for the first time to find his fortune at the big-city rodeo championship in Phoenix. Naïve and aw-shucks in (as written and performed) an atrocious Jethro-Gomer hayseed caricature, Beau is an innocent in every way, including "the ways of women." He's 21 but he's never even kissed a girl. Naturally his elder traveling companion and mentor, Virge (the marvelous Arthur O'Connell) says that it's time for him to be thinkin' 'bout such things. So when Beau and Cherie (that's SHAY-ree, "It's French") find each other, they exchange cloying dialogue and sweet smiles. After she gives him a friendly kiss of encouragement, he decides that she's the "angel" he's gonna marry and take back to Montana after winning the rodeo. When instead she runs away to L.A., he does what any proper man would do finds her, kidnaps her, and forces her onto the bus bound for Montana. Thanks to a blocked road, the bus stops at Grace's Diner, where his kidnapping fails to deter their true love. Beau, you see, figures that since he has no experience with love and she has "too much," maybe they can meet somewhere in the middle. And dang if he ain't right in the end. (All that, plus Cherie's spanking at Beau's hands, makes this nominal "romantic comedy" play today as a relic from a previous Ice Age, and as a reminder of what Women's Lib was up against.)
Bus Stop drips heavily with the corn syrup and risible sociology, but it works, almost entirely because of Monroe. She manages to maintain a convincing hillbilly accent and deliver a sweet performance built on her charisma and some feeling for the creation of an authentic character. (The fact that Cherie has more than just a physical resemblance to Norma Jean Baker might have aided Monroe's Method acting here. Probably it's just a Marilyn-watcher's nostalgia at work, but at least one of Cherie's lines "I just got to feel that whoever I marry has some real regard for me, aside from all that lovin' stuff" feels like autobiographical Monroe every time.) Critics and audiences alike noticed her good work. In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther opened his review with, "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!" Meanwhile, her rendition of "That Old Black Magic" while lit by red flames maintained her reputation as a sexy songstress with one of the spotlight moments in her career. Other performances worth noting come from Eileen Heckart, Betty Field, and Hope Lange in her screen debut.
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Fox's DVD release of Bus Stop, part of the six-disc Diamond Collection box set, delivers a splendid anamorphic transfer in the film's original CinemaScope 2.55:1 dimensions (never mind the box's misprint of "1.85:1"). The Technicolor is vivid and sharp in a clean, carefully restored print. Audio options are a new DD 4.0 mix with the music separated right and left front with Marilyn commanding the clear and strong center channel and DD 2.0 stereo. Extras include the theatrical trailer, lobby cards, and (best of the bunch) a restoration comparison. Keep-case.