Directed By: James Frawley
Starring: Joseph Bologna, Stockard Channing, John Beck
Tag line: "AT LAST - THE FIRST DISASTER MOVIE WHERE EVERYBODY DIES (laughing)"
Trivia: In Portugal, this film was released as TROUBLE ON WHEELS
The Big Bus, a 1976 spoof of mega-budget disaster movies, was a cable-TV favorite of mine back in the day, when I thought it was one of the funniest films I’d ever seen. Of course, that was a number of years ago, and as we all know, time can be a picture’s worst enemy, especially if it’s a comedy. Would The Big Bus hold up, or was yet another treasured memory destined for the scrap heap?
The Cyclops is the world’s first nuclear-powered bus, a vehicle so huge that it houses its very own swimming pool. Under the supervision of Professor Baxter (Harold Gould) and his daughter, Kitty (Stockard Channing), the Cyclops is being prepared for its maiden voyage, a non-stop run from New York to Denver. Naturally, there are those who want to see the project fail, including the head of a large conglomerate (Jose Ferrer), who orders his dim-witted brother (Stuart Margolin) to plant a bomb which will destroy Cyclops before it ever hits the open road. While Cyclops is undamaged in the ensuing explosion, the same can’t be said for its drivers, leaving Kitty with no alternative but to contact her old flame, Dan Torrance (Joseph Bologna), a skilled driver with a shady past who hasn’t worked in years. Ready to show he’s still got what it takes, Torrance accepts the gargantuan task, and, loaded with passengers, the Cyclops departs on schedule. What they don't know is another bomb has been planted on-board, scheduled to go off at some point during the long journey, putting the lives of everyone on board in the gravest of danger.
I can’t tell you how happy I was when, right from the get-go, The Big Bus proved as funny as I remember, with jokes and sight gags firing at a rapid pace. As for the cast, I’ve always liked Joseph Bologna, who showed he could handle comedic roles in movies such as Blame It on Rio and My Favorite Year. When we first meet Dan Torrance, he’s sheepishly walking into a dingy hangout for bus drivers. The room grows silent as he approaches the bar, at which point Goldie (Vic Tayback) tells him to get lost, reminding everyone in the place of the El Diablo tragedy, where a bus Torrance was driving crashed in the wilderness, stranding it there for weeks. While he was never charged with the crime, rumor has it that Torrance stayed alive by eating the passengers, 110 in all. He claims he’s innocent, saying it was his co-pilot who ate everybody, though he does admit to eating a human foot. “You eat one lousy foot”, Torrance laments, “and they call you a cannibal”. As for the supporting players, there are a lot of ‘em, including Ruth Gordon, Ned Beatty, Lynn Redgrave and Sally Kellerman. The Big Bus also has a number of hilarious scenes, like the one where they’re performing an open-road test on Cyclops to check its aerodynamics. The question of whether or not it can withstand strong wind resistance is soon answered, leading to the great line: “We’re breaking wind at 90!”
Designed to resemble the disaster films it’s poking fun at, from its overbearing musical score to the plethora of name actors in key roles, The Big Bus is Airplane! made four years earlier. And though it does lose some of its steam in the second half, The Big Bus never stops trying, ensuring we at least have something to smile about until the very end.