Peter’s Retro Reviews: The Big Bus (1976)

September 2, 2013

The Big Bus Posterby Peter Nielsen

”There have been movies about big earthquakes… There have been movies about big boats sinking… Movies about big buildings burning… Movies about big German balloons bursting… And now a movie about… THE BIG BUS.”

My movie pick for this week is a forgotten gem from the mid-70s called The Big Bus. It’s one I’d never seen, and for some reason, I hadn’t even heard of it! That is, not before I stumbled across it at a friend’s house. I thought it would be a perfect choice to present to you guys and gals.

Disaster movies were very popular in the 70s, so it was more or less inevitable that parodies, or spoofs, of that particular genre would be made at some point. And just like the disaster movies themselves had impressive casts, so did the parodies!

I mean, just check out the cast in The Big Bus.

Shoulders, Kitty and Dan

Shoulders, Kitty and Dan

The two leads, Dan Torrance and Kitty Baxter, are played by Joseph Bologna (The Woman in Red, Coupe de Ville) and Stockard Channing (Grease, Heartburn). The co-driver “Shoulders” O’Brian is played by John Beck (Rollerball), and the rest of the supporting cast is made up by the likes of Ned Beatty, Ruth Gordon, Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan and Rene Auberjonois.

Hell, even José Ferrer, Lynn Redgrave, and Larry Hagman are in this movie. And fans of the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati will recognize Howard Hesseman (Dr. Johnny Fever) in a small role. I’m not even going to go into all the different movies the above mentioned actors and actresses have appeared in, because it would be a long list.

Boarding the big bus Cyclops

Boarding the big bus Cyclops

But the main character is actually the giant, nuclear-powered bus. It’s called Cyclops, named so after its large, single headlight. It’s a huge, double-decker bus with the capacity to take 110 passengers on a non-stop journey from New York to Denver.

It is an impressive sight watching it drive along the roads. It’s got a dining room, a cocktail lounge (with the obligatory piano-player present, of course), a swimming-pool and a one-lane bowling alley. It definitely is a luxurious ride, that’s for sure!

According to the movie, these types of buses are supposed to be the future in road travel and will make regular buses obsolete. This doesn’t sit too well with certain oil tycoons, who not only want to destroy Cyclops, but also to discredit it so no more  will be built. The maiden voyage is therefore riddled with “mishaps” caused by a man simply known as Ironman, because he’s trapped in an iron lung all the time. Even before the bus can leave the station, there’s an explosion in the hangar-lab, injuring both the driver and the co-driver. Quick replacements have to be found and this is where Dan Torrance (Bologna) comes in.

Bowling alley AND swimming pool!

Bowling alley AND swimming pool!

It turns out Torrance has been shunned by the whole “bus-driver community” after a bus accident on Mount Diablo. He was accused of eating all his passengers in order to survive, but claims it was his co-driver who was the cannibal. He only ate the seats and the luggage and, well… maybe a foot! But that was ONLY by accident!

The designer of the bus, Kitty Baxter (Channing), and Dan used to date, until she threw him out for being a cheatin’ bastard. So, she isn’t too keen on having him on-board either.

With Cyclops finally on its way, we get to see some of its cool features. Since the voyage is supposed to be non-stop, the bus doesn’t need to stop to change a flat tire. Nope, the crew simply jettisons the flat and a new tire takes its place. Maybe not the safest way to do it, at least not for the surrounding traffic, but hey, it looks cool!

But, wait… what if the bus gets dirty? Don’t they have to stop and wash it? Of course not, because there’s an automatic, built-in washer that takes care of that little nuisance.

Precarious situation

Precarious situation

It’s all a bit silly, but remember we’re talking about a spoof here, and The Big Bus has all the classic elements of one. Even the score for the film, composed by David Shire, suits the genre perfectly. He’s also responsible for the scores of Monkey Shines, The Conversation, Norma Rae and Short Circuit among others. The score for The Big Bus is a great one by the way!

The Big Bus predates the movie Airplane is certainly the better of the two movies, but The Big Bus is by no means a bad movie. There are plenty of funny scenes and silliness to keep you entertained. I actually laughed out loud on a couple of occasions.

“Shoulders” O’Brian blacking out at the worst possible times was a great running gag throughout the film. The married couple who can’t stand each other, but still can’t keep their hands off of each other, was another funny element that causes some awkward moments on the floor, in the seats, and on the dining-room table. There’s also the priest who’s lost his faith, the disgraced veterinarian, and Camille Levy, a woman who’s got her own reasons for being on the bus…

So, my friends, have you seen this one? If so, what did you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

If you haven’t seen it… please do! Bring popcorn, lean back and enjoy the ride!

Until next time!

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