Bar-room singer Cherie in Bus Stop was Marilyn Monroe’s first screen performance after she had retrained at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio and set up her own production company. It is certainly her most complete and considered piece of work. Monroe chose her own costumes, determined her own make-up, worked hard on her accent and won a face-off with Josh Logan over juve lead HOPE LANGE’s hair which the star insisted must be darkened. Logan, by the by, was a great Broadway stage director whose occasional forays into movies were usually handled in a gallumphing fashion. He was quite as unstable and unpredictable as his star.
Cherie touched on many of Monroe’s most intimate concerns. Though working as a “chantoose”, Cherie can’t really sing, just as Monroe was acutely aware that the Hollywood establishment believed she couldn’t act. Cherie, like Monroe, demanded respect and longed to be taken seriously. In the scene where Cherie tells Hope Lange’s character about herself, Monroe found the material much too distressing to get through in a single take and Logan had to patch it together from dozens of attempts. Perhaps a more film-sensitive director – or a less rigid production system – would have countenanced putting the emotion in the final cut but even a shot of Monroe with saliva on her lip was cut, to her fury.
A problem for the shoot lay with Don Murray who played Bo Decker, the unreconstructed cowboy who falls for Cherie but treats her like one of his steers, “a poor helpless little animal” as Cherie observes, and – somewhat radically for the time – has his misogyny beaten out of him by another man. Murray and Monroe did not take to each other. Their sex scene, which Monroe played nude, led to icy hostility and later, when she accidentally cut his face, she refused to apologise. As if to turn the knife in Monroe’s wounds, it was Murray who was nominated for an Oscar for the movie and, following an on-set romance, married Hope Lange though they divorced five years later.
For all that, the movie works well within a well-worked genre of chalk-and-cheese romances and drifter-coming-home stories. Monroe is so continuously compelling, her inept rendering of ‘That Old Black Magic’ entirely poignant and the tale’s lapses glossed over by its sheen. Eileen Heckart’s waitress who supplies Cherie with her gags is feisty as ever. A 1961 television series was loosely based on William Inge’s play from which this movie’s screenplay was taken and, by a curious twist, it featured Marilyn Miller, the former vaudeville singer from whom Monroe took her own professional name.
USA / 1956
Director: Joshua Logan
Writer: George Axelrod after the play by William Inge
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O’Connell, Eileen Heckart, Hope Lange, Betty Field, Hans Conried, Casey Adams