When I watch older films, I try to be as forgiving as possible. I have seen enough to realize they originated in a different time and society than what I have known. Some human aspects hardly change over time, and others change significantly. I realize these films reflect certain societal codes and values that have since dissipated. Rather than act overly-critical, I try to accept this, and that the time I live in fails as the greatest and most innovated ever. Basically, older films reflect what people had, just as films today do. Who am I to judge?
This mode of thought backfired when I watched Bus Stop this weekend. Released in 1956, and starring Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray (who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance), the William Inge-inspired film follows a sheltered, yet obnoxious (to put it lightly) cowboy, Bo, who ventures to the big city to ride in a rodeo and find a wife. He prioritizes the marriage bit, and after spying saloon singer Cherie, he becomes convinced she marry him. Cherie, with her own Hollywood dreams and general issues, refuses him, and Bo feels so entitled, he forces her on a bus back to his ranch.
While some fans of the film regard it as one of Monroe's best, I felt disturbed watching it. Murray's performance as Bo particularly got me. He walks in front of cars, stands on tables and shouts at people, and lassos Cherie at the bus station (I would like to add, while this may not prove convenient for the plot line, I cannot believe the many witnesses did not try to help her or call the police). Furthermore, he fails to initiate a decent conversation with Cherie. Instead he yells at her, hits her, and refuses to acknowledge her by her name. Supposedly he cannot be bothered to learn to pronounce a "fancy" name like Cherie properly, so he calls her "Cherry" throughout. This pronunciation continues through the film's end, even when he claims he changed. His rage and forcefulness annoyed me at first, then scared me. I felt sorry for Cherie, and her implied marriage to him at the end. I wish Monroe could have played a stronger character, but I suppose no one wanted to market her that way. Instead, she portrays a woman who gives up her dreams and identity, for a man who MORE than represents, in my opinion, misogyny. And stalkers.
The fact that this ending came off as "happy" also concerns me. It's not happy when a woman enters an abusive relationship. Bo's calling Cherie "Cherry" at the end proves he will never change. Poor girl. I realize 1950s gender roles differed greatly from today's, and perhaps my own beliefs remain too strong, but I could not handle this one. It was a little too much.
Here is the trailer if you would like a peek at Bo. "Hollywood's newest hunk of man" ... charming.