Big Bus, The (1976)

Big Bus, The (1976)

“The aerodynamics work — we’re breaking wind at 90!”

A blacklisted driver (Joseph Bologna) is recruited by his former flame (Stockard Channing) to drive a nuclear-powered bus nonstop from New York to Denver; along the way, he must deal with a neurotic and narcoleptic co-driver (John Beck), a host of wacky passengers, and a bomb planted by the henchman (Stuart Margolin) of an iron-lung-bound oil magnate (Jose Ferrer).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Disaster Flicks
  • Ensemble Films
  • Jose Ferrer Films
  • Road Trip
  • Ruth Gordon Films
  • Satires and Spoofs

Primarily known today as a precursor to the Zucker brothers’ much better known Airplane! (1980), The Big Bus is beloved by those who have fond memories of watching it on television growing up, and claim it’s just as funny as Airplane! — yet the sad truth is that it never delivers on its rich comedic potential. While all the right ingredients are certainly there — including an all-star cast, wacky characterizations, and plenty of disaster-prone scenarios — the jokes fall flat again and again; and while it may be mildly amusing for film fanatics to keep track of all the different films being spoofed (they range from Lucille Ball’s attempt to cook in a moving trailer in The Long, Long Trailer, to more generic big-budget disaster flicks such as Airport), the film as a whole never gels. Comedy is a fickle beast, and others may heartily disagree, but I find little here to recommend, and consider this film worth a look exclusively for its historical relevance — nothing more.

Note: My husband’s primary memory from watching The Big Bus as a boy is the scene in which a tire is replaced while the bus is still moving; he wondered then — and wonders now — where this spare tire could have come from, given that window seats are seen directly above the wheels. With that said, he remains distinctly impressed by the fact that the filmmakers actually built such a massive vehicular beast.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Richard Mulligan and Sally Kellerman as an about-to-be-divorced couple still madly in love with each other

Must See?
No. While it’s beloved by many — and perhaps could be considered a minor cult film — I can’t in good conscience recommend this as “must see” viewing.


One thought on “Big Bus, The (1976)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    Taking the assessment into consideration… indeed, the makers and writers of ‘Airplane!’ and ‘Police Squad!’ (the tv series that became the ‘Naked Gun’ series) learned a valuable lesson from ‘The Big Bus’: this kind of set-up must be as consistently funny as possible; if there are lags, they become immediately noticeable – and they ruin the overall pacing. (It’s a standard rule of farce.)

    To be honest, I think the first half-hour is reasonably successful and there are plenty of solid laughs there. Unfortunately, from that point on, things become strained and the comic inspiration is woefully sporadic. ~ until things just become desperate.

    The cast (many of them quite capable as comedians) is only as funny as the lines they’re given – so they’re left with about an hour of screen-time in which to mostly fend for themselves. Still, Bologna and Channing make for a charming couple and, thankfully, their comic rapport remains steady. (~ unlike Mulligan and Kellerman – who, alas, I just didn’t find funny for a second.)

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