Bus Stop is, I think, the only time I have watched a Marilyn Monroe film and for at least some of its duration forgotten that I’m watching Marilyn Monroe. That’s not a criticism of her acting in general (I’m a pretty big fan), but there’s some combination here between her losing her trademark breathy voice for a ‘hillbilly’ accent, and being dressed down in clothes that are a long way away from her usual dresses, that helps cloak the usual Marilyn feel within her performance.
Monroe plays Cherie, a bad singer in a small cowboy bar. She is attempting to make her way to Hollywood in the search of a better life, somewhere were she will be respected and even admired. Don Murray plays the inexperienced young cowboy who encounters Cherie when he comes to town for the rodeo. He knows absolutely nothing about women, believing that they should be pursued and broken like the bulls and horses that he is so used to dealing with. The film’s set up could suggest a light comedy about gender roles etc, the kind that Monroe often appears in, and whilst there is certainly an element of that to the film, Bus Stop is one of the rare Monroe films in that it is first and foremost a drama.
Don Murray does well in his first film role, he gives a decent performance as the ignorant cowboy, but the star of this film is easily Marilyn. There’s a strong case to be made for this being her best performance. I don’t think that it is, but it’s certainly amongst her greatest. She gives us a character that’s well rounded, complex, and nuanced. In fact if I was going to suggest a film to answer that, frankly rather boring question of whether Monroe could act or not, this would be my best example for you. I may prefer her in The Misfits and Some Like it Hot, but this is the most easily recognisable performance that’s not ‘just Marilyn playing herself’.
The film’s script is fairly simplistic, the direction isn’t particularly notable, and yet this film comes recommended by me. It’s essential for any Monroe fan, and goes beyond being purely a curiosity piece for others. It’s a nice, funny little film, and although it is rooted in some rather dated gender roles, it still manages to entertain today.