Monday, June 10, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Busses Roar (1942)

BUSSES ROAR is a Warner Bros. WWII-era programmer which last week kicked off TCM's series featuring Eleanor Parker as Star of the Month.

BUSSES ROAR was Parker's feature film debut, following her appearances in the shorts MEN OF THE SKY (1942) and SOLDIERS IN WHITE (1942), not to mention a small role that was cut from THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941).

This "B" movie about attempted Japanese sabotage along the California coastline was filmed just months after Pearl Harbor; it was released in September 1942.

The story concerns Axis saboteurs who plant a time bomb on a bus headed from Southern California to San Francisco; the bomb is programmed to explode as the bus crosses an important oil field.

Much of the film is set in the bus station, where we're introduced to a variety of characters, including Norma (Eleanor Parker) who works in the station; bus driver Eddie Sloan (a very young Charles Drake); Sergeant Ryan (Richard Travis), a Marine; Reba (Julie Bishop), who's flat broke and trying to find someone to lend her the money for a bus ticket home; Police Detective Quinn (Frank Wilcox); porter Sunshine (Willie Best); and Betty (Elisabeth Fraser) and Danny (Harry Lewis), a couple who are eloping.

With that many characters, it's a busy film with a lot going on in 58 minutes! This little movie is interesting on multiple levels, whether it's the variety of characters and attractive young actors like Parker and Drake; the depiction of bus travel and Southern California's wartime blackout policies; and the film's role inspiring the homefront.

I remember my grandmother telling me that there was very real concern that California would be hit in the early days of the war, so this short film was an interesting peek into how the movies translated that fear into a morale-boosting movie less than a year after Pearl Harbor.

Eleanor Parker is charming, and Charles Drake and longtime character actor Frank Wilcox come off best among the large cast. Although Julie Bishop has one of the leading roles, her character veers toward the obnoxious, though she redeems herself in the climactic action sequence.

Richard Travis had recently starred opposite Bette Davis in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942), but he lacked that special something to take him to top stardom; he spent considerable time toiling in "B" films such as this and TRUCK BUSTERS (1943), reviewed here last year.

Coincidentally, Harry Lewis, who played the young groom-to-be, passed away just yesterday at the age of 93. Along with being an actor, Lewis was a restaurateur who founded Southern California's Hamburger Hamlet, which opened in 1950.

BUSSES ROAR was directed by D. Ross Lederman.

This movie is not out on DVD or VHS. Watch for it to return to Turner Classic Movies at a future date.


Blogger Robby Cress said...

This sounds like an interesting fast paced film! I love these quick, short films. Sometimes I don't have the time (or the patience) to sit through anything overly long.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I saw this too! I really enjoyed it. It still amazes me how much absorbing story and pretty graceful moviemaking can be put into unpretentious movies of less than an hour in the great days of he studio system.

Of course, Warner Bros. movies especially were so often full of the kind of energy this one had.

A lot of fun to see Eleanor Parker in her first feature. I think I liked Julie Bishop better than you did in this--for me, her heroine was a delightful and appealing character.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Wasn't it enjoyable, Blake? Lots of energy, as you say.

I bet you'd enjoy it, Robby. I often look for short movies to watch on weeknights when I don't have so much time. This was perfect.

Best wishes,

10:37 PM  

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