The Wayward Bus (Blu-ray)
Directed by Victor Vicas
Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 89 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Review Date: June 4, 2012
With his marriage to alcoholic Alice (Joan Collins) in tatters, bus driver Johnny Chicoy (Rick Jason) embarks on a fifty-mile trip to San Juan, California, in a rickety old bus just as a major storm is brewing. On board are a stripper (Jayne Mansfield) trying to hide her profession from a traveling salesman (Dan Dailey) who’s showing interest, a bickering husband and wife (Larry Keating, Kathryn Givney) who are taking their man-crazy teenaged daughter (Dolores Michaels) away from an older man whom she’s been carrying on with, a grouchy man (Will Wright) who insists he must reach San Juan by 3 p.m., and former counter girl Norma (Betty Lou Keim) who’s movie mad and wants to try her luck in Hollywood. As conditions worsen, the bus must contend with rock slides, a bridge nearly washed out, and the brake drums which are filling with water.
With only the thinnest of plots, the interest in The Wayward Bus lies in the amount of character information we can learn about each person on board as the vehicle trundles along in its own haphazard way toward its destination. The plot and character machinations (some derived from Steinbeck’s book, others pure Hollywood invention by screenwriter Ivan Moffat) are fairly predictable, especially by 1957 standards which conclude with eye-rolling happy endings for the most troubled of the characters, but Victor Vicas does stage the film’s three disaster sequences quite well mixing live action, miniature work, and rear projection mock-ups quite skillfully. (One wonders if director William Friedkin remembered this film when he was staging his gripping bridge sequence in Sorcerer.) Other aspects of the film are sloppy, however. Storms come and go willy-nilly (especially bad continuity occurs when a drenching rain drives Rick Jason and Dolores Michaels into a barn while two miles down the road it’s sunny and nearly cloud free and calm enough to land a helicopter with, of course, Johnny’s wife Alice conveniently on board so she can catch him with the teenager “after the fact”). A cold sore on Dan Dailey’s lip appears mid-film and just as quickly disappears.
Joan Collins gets top billing, and it’s clear she’s trying something different with her role. She’s almost completely deglamorized herself until the end of the film with little to no make-up and playing a character older than her years. Though it’s not her fault that the writing of her character is so contrived, she gives a very strong performance. Jayne Mansfield is also not giving her usual bubble-headed ditz performance as a stripper unhappy with her past and hoping for a different future. There’s only a slight hint of the breathy, squeal-laden Mansfield from earlier films to be found here with most of her performance down-to-earth and genuinely heartfelt. Dan Dailey plays pretty much his stock character (brash but with a heart easily wounded) with effortless ease, and Will Wright is at his grouchy best as the always complaining Van Brunt. Dolores Michaels attempts to give a slightly different spin on her man-hungry teen (less obvious but just as calculating), but it doesn’t quite work. Kathryn Givney as the cold-hearted, über-critical mother is tiresomely spot-on. Rick Jason has some charisma as bus driver Johnny, but he, too, is the victim of conventional plotting and character writing.
The film’s Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is delivered faithfully in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though most of the image is free from artifacts, there are some dust specks to be seen, especially later in the film. Black levels aren’t as deep as possible limiting the grayscale effectiveness just a bit. Contrast is strong, and sharpness is quite good, however, making the use of miniatures and rear projection easy to spot, and the encode handles the checked jacket of Larry Keating's character without flashing. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix very effectively presents the dialogue, sound effects, and Leigh Harline’s entertaining score in a solid mono encode. The volume is just a tad on the low side, so viewers may wish to turn the volume up just a bit for maximum effectiveness. There are no age-related artifacts like hiss or flutter to mar the listening experience.
The audio commentary is contributed by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini. Despite an occasional error in their research (screenwriter Ivan Moffat did not win the Oscar for Giant), the two men provide a laid back but informative running commentary on the film with only an occasional slight pause between comments.
The Leigh Harline music is offered in an isolated score track encoded in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo. It makes for very effective listening.
The theatrical trailer runs for 2 ¼ minutes in 480p.
The enclosed six-page booklet contains plenty of interesting black and white stills, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s entertaining essay on the film’s long production history.
3.5/5 (not an average)
The Wayward Bus is a low-key albeit rather interesting drama rather predictably echoing other screen dramas of the 1950s. Its top-billed stars are attempting to stretch their screen personas and manage to make a passable melodrama worth a second look. Only 3,000 copies of this release are available. Those interested in experiencing it should hop to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. They're also available via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies .