Sunday, 28 July 2013

Your face, my FARCE! - The Big Bus (1976)

It became rather fashionable during the 70s for films to be made about large scale disasters, and thus the "Disaster movie" genre was born.
Films like "The Towering Inferno", "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Airport" drew hundreds of people to cinemas worldwide and told melodramatic stories of situations gone horribly wring in various settings.
Inevitably though people got bored of this type of film and satirists began making parodies of the genre, "The Big Bus" being one of them.

Ostensibly a farcical parody of disaster movies in general, "The Big Bus" takes a familiar disaster movie trope, that of a new and untested vehicle intended for public use (similar to how The Poseidon Adventure used a large ship), and subjects it to a series of farcical events in order to maintain a coherent plot, an endeavour in which it is largely successful.

The plot centres on the efforts of the "Coyote Bus Company" (An obvious parody of the Greyhound  bus company) to create a bus capable of travelling from New York to Denver non stop, a feat which has never been done before and is considered to be a milestone in human engineering (stay with me on this one...).
The end result is the "Cyclops", a ridiculously massive double decker bus, powered by a small nuclear reactor and containing such luxuries as a swimming pool, restaurant/cocktail lounge and even a bowling alley. The irony of this is is that although the bus itself is massive and contains all this luxury, it can only really carry a small number of passengers, and even then its cramped confines don't allow for them to travel in comfort, even though the bus is classed as being a "1st class luxury conveyance".
Things don't go according to plan though as even before the Cyclops sets off on its epic journey, an iron lung bound billionaire named "Iron Man" (Jose Ferrer) conspires with Arab oil sheiks to destroy the Cyclops in order for them to maintain their monopoly on petroleum based energy.

The film stars some bigish names, Stockard Channing plays the Cyclops' designer and acts as the films love interest, John Beck stars as the inept co-pilot of the Cyclops, Larry Hagman stars as a hapless and rather inept private doctor, and even Rene Auberjonois stars as a priest who wants to break with tradition and actually go out and get laid, much against the wishes of his cardinal.

Most of the films humour comes from the farcical situations the bus crew and its passengers find themselves in, and from a series of visual and auditory gags, for example when the Cyclops sets out on its journey, they test the aerodynamics of its hull by accelerating to its theoretical maximum speed of 90 mph, which allows the bus to break through the barrier encountered by air resistance, which is referred to by the bus's captain as "Breaking wind".

This film performed extremely poorly at the box office due to its farcical nature and a barely coherent plot, which in honesty consists of a series of sketch based comedy routines and non squiturs.
I just love how all the actors and actresses manage to deliver their lines deadpan, even though the stuff they are saying is simply nonsense most of the time, but they all manage to deliver it in such a manner that they really do sound serious.
The film also contains a series of running jokes, which, if I'm honest, aren't particularly funny, they probably sounded great on paper but did not translate well on to film, for example the numerous references to "captain" Torrances supposed cannibalism, which he is said to have committed years ago when the bus he was driving broke down in a remote area and he and his co-driver were said to have eaten the passengers in order to survive, something which he strongly denies but admits he did inadvertently eat someones foot in a stew that was cooked up by the co-driver.

I recall seeing this film on TV only once during the mid 90s, where a slightly edited version (to remove some of the films sexual references) was shown on BBC1 as a piece of Sunday afternoon filler in between the"Eastenders" omnibus and "Songs of Praise". It left a big enough impression on me though that when someone mentioned it on facebook i just had to hunt it down and watch it again, even though I knew it wasn't a good film.

To sum up, "The Big Bus" isnt going to give you jaw ache from constant laughing, in many ways its a somewhat cringe worthy effort at comedy, but it does have its moments, especially in its faux action sequences.
The main star of this film though is not the actors playing the roles, but the Cyclops itself, which was actually built as a fully functioning roadworthy vehicle, although one not capable of actually transporting passengers.

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