The Big Bus, a 1976 cult classic spoof of the popular disaster movies, makes its way onto Blu-ray by way of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
I have to be honest. Up until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of this film. But with watching several disaster movies in recent years, I knew I had to watch it. I cannot explain it but every now and then, my headspace will only allow for disaster movies. This is a film that captures our attention as soon as the opening prologue is read on screen:
“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 busting…And now a Movie about…”
Coincidentally, René Auberjonois, who appears as Father Joseph Kudos, also appeared in The Hindenberg.
The gist of the film is that the Cyclops, operated by the Coyote Bus Lines, is a nuclear-powered jumbo bus. It is set to make a non-stop trip from New York to Denver. Unfortunately for the bus and everyone riding it, a man known only as “Ironman” (José Ferrer) is working with oil sheikhs and his brother, Alex (Stuart Margolin), to stop it. If the Cyclops succeeds in its mission, it could put them out of business. They never miss an opportunity to sabotage the bus trip. Even before the bus goes into operation, there’s a bombing that injures Professor Irwin Baxter (Harold Gould) and kills both drivers. Finding new drivers leads to comedic hysterics in and of itself–it is up to Cyclops designer Kitty Baxter (Stockard Channing) to recruit her ex, Dan Torrance (Joseph Bologna).
Before the bus starts running, Alex manages to plant a bomb on it. Once it goes off, all chaos breaks loose leading to Dan and “Shoulders” O’Brien (John Beck) to improvise and do what they can to prevent them from certain death. While all this is happening, the film hits the audience with no shortage of laughs. It does feel somewhat forced at times. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team would have done something differently for a non-airplane genre spoof. This film came out at a time when you didn’t have all of the ZAZ spoofs out there. But alas, I found myself watching this film in my apartment instead of with an audience. It’s definitely the type of film where laughter is contagious.
Beyond the drivers and Kitty, the passengers include divorcing couple Claude (Richard Mulligan) and Sybil Crane (Sally Kellerman), Father Joseph Kudos (René Auberjonois), veterinarian Dr. Kurtz (Bob Dishy), the dying Emery Bush (Richard B. Shull), and Camille Levy (Lynn Redgrave). Levy’s father died in the Mount Diablo bus crash that killed 110 passengers and ruined Torrance’s career as a bus driver. Almost everyone in the film has their own quirks, including lounge singer/pianist Tommy Joyce (Murphy Dunne). Dunne would later be cast in The Blues Brothers because of his work in this film.
I haven’t even discussed the final set piece! Because of the bomb, the brakes go out and the bus loses complete control. Next thing you know, it’s hanging off of a cliff, much like what happens in The Italian Job. There are so many funny gags alone during this aspect of the film. You have to see it to believe it!
What surprises me the most about the spoof is director James Frawley’s filmography. The very next thing in his filmography is The Muppet Movie. He also directed The Three Stooges TV-movie that aired on ABC back in 2000. In any event, he’s got a good grasp of the direction and getting the best out of the performers. When one looks at the disaster movies hitting theaters in the 1970s, The Big Bus does a solid job at spoofing them.
The Big Bus goes for laughs at every conceivable point but when it hits, it hits. Everyone remembers Airplane! and rightfully so but this spoof is so underrated even though it achieves the same things but without the same star power.
- Brand New HD Master – From a 4K Scan of the 35mm Original Camera Negative
- NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson
- TV Spots
- Theatrical Trailer
DIRECTOR: James Frawley
SCREENWRITERS: Fred Freeman & Lawrence J. Cohen
CAST: Joseph Bologna, Stockard Channing, John Beck, Ned Beatty, José Ferrer, Ruth Gordon, Harold Gould, Larry Hagman, Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Lynn Redgrave, Richard B. Shull
Paramount released The Big Bus in theaters on June 23, 1976. Grade: 3.5/5
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