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Bus Stop (1956)

Bus Stop poster.jpg

This is the film which made people think Marilyn Monroe could do more than wiggle and sing. In fact she does sing, ‘That Ol’ Black Magic,’ in her role as Cherie, the talentless but ambitious saloon singer who is hounded and kidnapped by virginal rodeo rider Don Murray. Critic David Thomson thinks it’s her finest screen moment. George Axelrod adapted William Inge’s play and there is a distinct homosexual subtext to the film if you look at it enough. It’s shot in Cinemascope and Monroe looks odd – that enormous forehead, the far apart turned down eyes, the tiny feet and hands (although she thought they were enormous) but she projects a warmth and has a natural charisma that cannot be imitated (as Michelle Williams found out, try as she might).  Her new ‘look’ was thanks to her co-producer in Marilyn Monroe Productions, Look photographer Milton Greene, who made her look like the cheap saloon singer she’s playing, pale and ill and living on aspirin and coffee. She acted like a field marshal behind the scenes, which stunned everyone who believed the little girl persona for which she was famous. When she was presented with her costume she rejected it and took director Josh Logan to the wardrobe department and selected a horrible green basque and old fishnets which she ripped and ordered that they be darned in a very obvious way. This is the first film she made after her stint in New York at the Actors’ Studio and according to Axelrod, she couldn’t remember her lines. She was joined on set by Lee Strasberg’s wife Paula, who dressed and acted like a malevolent witch and was barred from the set when she interfered with Logan’s directing. Logan thought the Strasbergs were charlatans with their third rate Method ideas – he had actually studied in Moscow himself and was intimately acquainted with Stanislavsky’s techniques at first hand. He and Monroe ultimately fell out and were barely communicating by the time they went on location for the rodeo scenes but the results are on the screen:  probably her greatest performance. She had so much  going on behind the scenes, including a bizarre situation with Ethel Kennedy’s schoolfriend Pat Newcomb who was assigned to her as publicity assistant and Monroe found her in her undies answering the door, pretending to be her:  she fired her and sent her to a psychiatrist, declaring her totally nuts. That Kennedy insider  Newcomb played a very large role in what went on at Monroe’s home August 4th 1962 should not be forgotten and was noted by Rupert Allan, Monroe’s former publicist, who spoke from the safety of Monaco where he worked for Princess Grace by then.  The film is painful to watch nowadays however:  Don Murray plays a really hysterical exaggeration of a young buck and his constant mispronouncing of her name as Cherry in between hooting and hollering is tough to bear. And the comedy really isn’t there. It’s hard to see why Monroe ran out on another western to study in NYC if this was what she was doing as her comeback: another dumb showgirl. However she knows how to fill the frame with emotional gesture, and that’s what the critics were getting at.


About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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