Marilyn Monroe famously sang the widely popular song, ‘That Old Black Magic’ in the movie, Bus Stop (1956). What audiences didn’t expect was to see Marilyn fumbling about hopelessly singing off key and out of tune with a heavy hillbilly twang. It wasn’t that Marilyn had put in a terrible performance it was purposefully performed that way to show the lack of talent her character Cherie had despite her lofty ambitions to become a Hollywood star. A lesser actress might have struggled with the idea of underselling their performance but Marilyn mustered up the courage (probably thanks to her dedication to studying method acting in New York at the Actors Studio) to make Cherie a far less talented performer than she really was. The result is an absolutely hilarious but cringeworthy yet erotic rendition of a song made famous by Sammy Davis Jr only a year early in 1955.
The scene in question arrives early in the film. But before this scene, we are first introduced to Virgil (Arthur O’Connell) and Beau (Don Murray, in his film debut), a pair of cowboys who make their way to Phoenix to take part in a rodeo. Here Virgil, Beau’s guardian, encourages his quasi-son to look for a bride. The young obnoxious rancher is more than willing to except the challenge, in fact, he refuses to leave Phoenix until he finds his “angel”.
When Beau burst through the doors of the Blue Dragon theatre, it is here that he finally meets the girl of his dreams. He turns to Virgel and says: ”That’s her, Virge….That’s my angel.” As the scene plays out with Cherie absolutely butchering the song, accompanied with some very cheesy dance moves, Beau is unable to take his eyes off her in her beautiful jade green embellished satin leotard. As he makes his way closer to the stage, he realises the unappreciative crowd of cowboys and hillbillies are all too busy talking loudly amongst themselves. Beau is appalled and tries to quieted them all down. Up on stage Cherie is distracted by the commotion and eventually angered when the show comes to a stop with Beau jumping on top of a table and proceeding to lecture the cowboys about manners and respect. Once he is finished he throws it back to Cherie to continue on with her song. When we next see Cherie’s face, she is grinning from ear to ear. Dumbfounded by his chivalry, Cherie composes herself and gives him a cheeky wink and burst into song again. Beau is by now completely aroused and besotted by Cherie and at the end of the performance beelines for the stage to meet his future wife. Little does Cherie know her world is about to be turned upside down, especially when he “kidnaps” her by throwing her on to a bus for Montana.
It’s a great scene. That said, while I realize it was written into the script, Marilyn’s character was so beautiful and sexy, one would have thought that, even given her less than stellar singing, the mostly male audience would have been rapt with attention while she was on stage.
I absolutely agree with your assessment that a mostly male audience should have been more rapted with Marilyn. I guess the whole point of the scene was to show Marilyn’s vulnerability as a stage performer and how only Beau had eyes for her. While she is annoyed at first by his interruption, she is surprisingly taken aback by his shivery. She responses in kind by turning it on, which further greenlights Beau’s infatuation in her. It kind of takes an ugly turn from here when against rules Beau takes Cherie outside the club. They kiss and Beau being a total idiot believes they are engaged. It’s such a misogynist attitude which is meant to further the story.