03
Sep
11

THE BIG BUS – THE CYCLOPS! TRULY THE BIGGEST STAR CAR EVER MADE!

Of course you have seen “AIRPLANE!” and if you read my updates you probably can quote many lines from the film.  But before “AIRPLANE!” parodied all the Airport movies of the 70’s there was another movie that paved the way and featured the biggest starcar of them all!  THE CYCLOPS from “THE BIG BUS!”

There are only a few shots of the Cyclops on the net. The same Paramount promotional shots posted over and over.    As it wasn’t a big hit at the time not a lot of fan appreciation sites.  So I cobbled together info and photos I could find and added an exhaustive fan description of the movie and cast below for those that just need to know all about  THE BIG BUS!!!!

The Cyclops was a leviathan of a machine and it was fully road worthy in real life and constructed as an exterior prop!!  The bus had 32 wheels in total with two steering axles and a tandem drivable trailer, also at one point in later scenes there was also a 1953 Chevy 3100 involved in the cabin design, but you’ll just have to read on for that.

After a bit of detective work I did locate an old article by David Sandmeier about the cyclops from a now defunct “BUS WORLD” article that I saw mentioned on the web but all the links were dead ends. Here’s what I found below.   Click on them to read the article, amazing stuff you will never see again thanks to CGI!!

Both parts were drivable and there was a quick release for the back half to pull away for emergencies!  This thing must have been a sight to see, but sadly it was dissasembled  after the movie’s release.  It predated “AIRPLANE!” and for your viewing pleasure, I cut together most all of the footage of the bus in action from the movie up above!

If you want to read on, below are “spoilers” if you can call them that 30 some years after it’s release!  A star studded cast that many went on to other shows some that even featured star cars!  So read on for the whole movie story!  Here’s a detailed write up on the plot and stars from “Posidon”.  All I know is no matter how bad the movie is, I need to see it now, to see this monster tearing down the highway!

today I’m going to cast a glance at a somewhat lesser
known spoof that was released in 1976. It was greatly eclipsed by (the
hysterical) Airplane! in 1980 and, because it was not a success
upon release, it slid into obscurity, developing a small, but loyal, following
on pay cable. I got the chance recently to see it in widescreen high-definition
and, though it still doesn’t knock my socks off, there were attributes to it
(the all-star cast, the subject matter, the style of the poster) that qualify it
for some attention here!

The movie is called The Big
Bus
. On the heels of successes such as Airport and
Airport 1975, The Poseidon Adventure,

Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, it drew inspiration for its wacky
storyline from the formula used in those pictures. Inherently ridiculous, it
tells the story of a company called Coyote Bus Lines who have developed a
(beyond!) state-of-the-art luxury cruiser named Cyclops (so called because of
its one gigantic headlight) that is nuclear powered and provides nonstop service
from New York to Denver (!)

Chief scientist Harold Gould has developed
the revolutionary vehicle with the help of his daughter Stockard Channing,
though they are under constant threat of sabotage from a disabled oil tycoon
(Jose Ferrer) who barks order to his sheik

brother (Stuart Margolin) from his iron lung! Margolin is almost like Wile E. Coyote,
trying everything he can think of to mess up the inaugural journey of the big
bus, while also trying to make it look like it’s faulty design, thus the need
for crude oil won’t be affected by the use of nuclear power. Ferrer’s
magnificently appointed mansion features paintings on the wall in gold leaf
frames of such lovely subjects as fiery conflagrations, train wrecks and the
like! (Incidentally, when TCM recently had their month of films concerning the
stereotypical

Arab image, they’d have done much better to run this film than to try to search for
obscure bits of implied racism in other movies.)

Before the vehicle has
even left the hanger, there is an explosion that leaves Gould incapacitated on
the ground of a parking lot. His doctor (Larry Hagman) exclaims that he “can’t
be moved,” so there he stays through heat, rain and whatever else! Keen eyes
will spot another play on this gag later in the movie.

With the driver
and his assistant both out of the picture thanks to sabotage,

it is up to Channing to find replacements (from the short list of qualified bus
drivers) quickly. She reluctantly recruits her old lover Joseph Bologna, a
once-great driver who fell into disfavor when he crashed a busload of passengers
into a remote mountain area and was one of only two survivors. (He was accused
of eating them to stay alive, gaining about fifty pounds in the time between the
crash and rescue, but claimed that it was his co-driver who did so, with himself
eating only the seats, floor mats and luggage – and one foot that happened to be
in some stew, unbeknownst to him!)

Bologna is shown in a seedy bar that’s frequented by lots of drivers and, of course, he
is an outcast. A fight breaks out (with one weapon forged out of a broken paper
milk carton!) and he is aided by a fellow driver, handsome John Beck. Beck has
his own share of issues, however. Not only is he nicknamed “Shoulders” because
he tends to drive onto the shoulder of the road, but he also has narcolepsy! He
falls asleep at the wheel sometimes without notice… just what you would look
for in a driver!

Nevertheless,  both  Bologna and Beck are hired on to pilot Cyclops. At the opening ceremony,
complete with brass band, Channing and the crew emerge and she’s obliged to
bring out with her a live coyote, the bus line’s mascot!

In true
disaster movie fashion, the
parade of passengers is then shown boarding and we are introduced to them all.
The stereotypical bickering couple, in love one moment and seething with rage
the next (sometimes blending the two emotions!) is played by Richard Mulligan
and Sally Kellerman. A priest who has lost his faith in the church (shades of
the recent hit The Exorcist) is portrayed by Rene Auberjonois.

Bob
Dishy plays a veterinarian whose career is in the toilet. Richard Schull is a
meek man with only months left to live. There’s a flamboyant, nymphomaniacal
fashion designer played
by Lynn Redgrave. In Helen Hayes-ish inspired stowaway style, Ruth Gordon pops
up, dotting various dialogue exchanges with her “shocking” remarks. There’s also
a smarmy piano player (Murphy Dunne) who provides running commentary as he
tickles the ivories and a blonde, curvy attendant (or whatever a bus line’s
equivalent to a stewardess would be) named Mary Jane Beth Sue (played by Mary
Wilcox.) The announcements at departure include the demonstration of an
insulated suit that drops from the ceiling in the case of a nuclear power leak!

Rounding
out the cast are two technicians, Ned Beatty and Howard Hesseman, who squabble
with each other over the best way to remedy the endless situations taking place
on the bus. Their spats and reunions begin to take on a nearly marriage-like
quality. Vic Tayback (Mel from TV’s Alice) has a bit part as a
belligerent bus driver and the ubiquitous Vito Scotti shows up briefly and
Ferrer’s barber (shown above earlier, with Ferrer.)
Just
as Paul Newman, part of the truly mammoth assemblage of stars in The
Towering Inferno
, said, “We all know who the star of this picture is.
That damned fire!,” in this movie the true star is the bus itself. While it is
sheer lunacy to develop a nuclear-powered bus
that still has to ride the expressways of America where it might be stuck behind
some granny driving in the fast lane or get caught in a wolf pack of rush hour
commuters, the vessel itself is quite a sight to behold. More than two stories
high (watch out for those underpasses!), it uses an airline staircase to board
some of the passengers and is the length of two large buses fused together! It’s
debut on-screen is impressive indeed (Trailways bus line helped to make the
vehicle, a true drivable machine.) It’s eased out of the hangar like an aircraft
by a small tow tractor. (Somehow, between being pulled out of its housing and
the time it is viewed full on, it has gained an extra top level solarium
section!) If the film fails at anything else, it succeeds in the creation of the
title vessel.
One
of the other chief assets of the movie is the deliberately (?) tacky 1970s
design and décor. Hot colors at this time included the bold rusty orange and
golden yellow that accent the bus itself, but the inside of the bus is where
things really get interesting. The
passenger areas have incredibly garish rainbow colors on the walls and seats,
there’s a hysterically bad private dining room done in bicentennial furnishings
and wallpaper from hell (complete with a waiter dressed as George Washington)
and there’s an Oriental-themed piano bar in the front with as much bric-a-brac
as could be built in. Then, there’s also a glass-enclosed swimming pool on the
top of the bus, a mini-bowling alley and a private bathroom, complete with tub,
all done in black and gold. Naturally, because this is, after all, a bus which
must fit into a single highway lane, everything it amusingly scaled-down and
cramped!
The
vehicle has a variety of wild features such as a tire changer that can replace a
flat while the bus is still moving! Likewise, a gigantic roller brush and
foaming soap can be called upon to give the exterior a wash while it is en route
to its destination.

The passengers carry on with their various personal
inter-reactions while Margolin plans to bomb the bus, causing Bologna and
Beck to jump into action. That crisis is eventually averted, but pales next to
the biggest emergency when an old pick-up truck with a hillbilly family becomes
lodged in the front of the bus and the bus teeters over the side of a cavernous
canyon. Then Channing soon has a major league problem of her own in the kitchen
when, as part of a rescue strategy, the soda fountain starts spewing soft
drinks, several flavors at once, into the small galley, nearly drowning her!
Somehow,
in these days long before CGI, the makers truly did teeter the gargantuan bus,
with actual people in the front of it, on the edge of a precipice, amidst
a vast landscape of rocky terrain, trees and valleys. It’s a rare case when a
film’s poster depicts something that really does occur in the movie! Again, I
must stress that in pan and scan, this couldn’t possibly play as well as it does
in high-def widescreen. While I’m sure the drop-off isn’t actually as severe as
it looks, this entire segment of the movie looks surprisingly dangerous.

Thanks to the injection of cold mountain air into the passenger cabins,
Redgrave has to dole out her chiffon and feather-laden fashions – her new spring
line – so that people can stay warm (even though these are not materials known
for their thermal qualities!) Thus, Auberjonois winds
up in green satin and Mulligan has on a wedding dress complete with veil and
Redgrave fusses around to make sure everyone’s done up just right!

Since
it’s all in fun, I don’t have to tell you that the situation is resolved.
However, the movie ends with a bit of a cliffhanger (more than a bit, actually),
so we never do learn for certain if Cyclops makes it to Denver unscathed…

There
are elements of the then-popular disaster movies being spoofed, of course,
throughout The Big Bus, but what’s most interesting to me is
how this 1976 film somehow foreshadows the later Airport ’77 in
its overall scheme. There’s even a sequence with passengers looking out the
windows as the driver/captain, outside of the vessel, attempts a rescue. More
than that, however, is how incredibly similar the plotline of this film is to
1980’s Airplane!, a film released by the same studio
(Paramount), but by completely different hands (Jim Abrams and The Zucker
Brothers.) Airplane! features a once-capable pilot, now down on
his luck after a controversial incident, who finds himself flying
a plane alongside his former girlfriend, a woman who has lost her faith in him.
The pilot, in flashback, is also present at a crazy bar fight. Also, the
girlfriend, who is helping to guide the plane is sexually accosted by the
inflatable autopilot. Here, Channing is done similar damage by an asleep at the
wheel Beck, whose arms are still about her as she drives! The similarities are
quite intriguing, even considering the narrow subject matter from which these
spoofs could draw their plot lines.

Even
the promotional photos seemed to be handled by someone in the know. Look how
this cast shot mirrors one from 1960’s The Crowded Sky, a flick
about a navy jet ramming a passenger liner, right down to the placement of the
crew and passengers! While the highly successful Airplane!
seemed to clamp the lid on the genre for more than a decade, The Big
Bus
came out right in the middle of the disaster craze’s heyday.
Perhaps people were still getting enough legitimate enjoyment out of the various
big-screen cinematic catastrophes that
they weren’t yet ready to see them made fun of. Upon release, The Big
Bus
barely made a dent at the box office. It wasn’t until several years
later on cable that it really began to amass the fans it now has. It goes
without saying (even though I keep saying it!) that, if you’re going to see it,
see it in widescreen since the bus is so long!

Bologna, not the very
first name who comes to mind for this sort of thing, had previously scored a hit
as a playwright (along with his wife Renee Taylor) with the 1968 Broadway show
Lovers and Other Strangers. That was adapted into a film in 1971 and was a big
hit. He and Taylor followed it up with Made for Each Other,
this time writing and starring in the movie. He later won acclaim for his role
in My Favorite Year opposite Peter O’Toole and was featured in
Stanley Donen’s final feature, the lascivious Blame it on Rio
with Michael Caine. He still acts today, though he is in his late seventies, and
has been married to The Nanny‘s Taylor since 1965. (By the way, check
out the amusingly tacky – and oh-so-’70s – carpeted spiral staircase behind him
in the cockpit/driver’s area!)

Channing is certainly a familiar face to
most people thanks to her iconic role as Rizzo in Grease and
many other projects. This
was two years before Grease and she appears fleshier and more
mature than she would in the hit musical. In fact, for whatever reason, she’s
decked out throughout The Big Bus in clothes that evoke a 1970s
Elizabeth Taylor, with hair to match! A Broadway actress from 1971, she had
garnered attention for the 1973 black comedy TV-movie The Girl Most Likely
to…
, directed by Joan Rivers, and costarred with Warren Beatty and Jack
Nicholson in 1975’s The Fortune. She continues to act in film
and on stage today and enjoyed a fairly high profile stint on The West
Wing
for several years.

A stage actor from the age of sixteen (six
if you count his earliest school performances), Auberjonois, a
highly distinctive looking actor, seemed to be everywhere in the 1970s, be it in
movies like The Hindenburg, King Kong and
The Eyes of Laura Mars or onstage opposite Katharine Hepburn in
Coco (for which he won a Tony Award.) He later appeared as a regular on Benson
and assured himself a place in the sci-fi cult community when he took on the
role of Odo in Deep Space Nine, a gig that lasted from 1993 to 1999.
After that, he worked on Boston Legal from 2004 to 2008. He continues
to stay busy on TV, sometimes using only his voice.

Beck won his film
professional screen credit when he guest-starred on an episode of I Dream of
Jeannie
in 1965. Many
film and TV roles followed, notably Woody Allen’s Sleeper in
1973 and the harsh, futuristic Rollerball, with James Caan in
1975, thus by the time of The Big Bus, he’d covered both the
spoofy comedy and the sci-fi action genres separately already, giving him the
experience to tackle his role here. Having worked with Larry Hagman on
Jeannie
and in the 1974 TV-movie Sidekicks, prior to this, he
would do so again from 1983 to 1986 when he played Mark Graison on the popular
nighttime soap opera Dallas. Now pushing seventy, he only appears
sporadically these days.

In
his day, Ferrer had been one of the most celebrated actors around, winning the
first ever Best Actor Tony Award for Cyrano de Bergerac in 1947 and then an
Oscar for the film adaptation in 1950. By this time, he was entering something
of a schlock phase with The Sentinal, Crash!
(in which he also played an invalid) and The Swarm coming soon
after. Things got even worse as the ’80s dawned with Bloody
Birthday
and Blood Tide. He died in 1992 following a
bout with colon cancer.

Elderly Gordon had made her first film (albeit
as an extra) way
back in 1915! Her impressive career on the professional stage began that same
year. Having made only a limited number of appearances in the cinema, she took
the world by storm as a crafty old biddy in Rosemary’s Baby in
1968 and copped an Oscar. This led to a substantial rebirth as opinionated and
amusing old lady character actress, with her largest roles being in What
Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?
and Harold and Maude, but
also including the Clint Eastwood orangutan comedies Every Which Way But
Loose
and Any Which Way You Can. She was still working
in films when she died at eighty-eight in 1985.

Gould
was a very familiar actor in many films and multitudinous episodes of popular
television series. Already a veteran of countless roles by 1976, he was starring
with Stefanie Powers on The Feather and Father Gang while also
portraying Valerie Harper’s father in a recurring role on, first, The Mary
Tyler Moore Show
followed by Rhoda. He also made sporadic
appearances later on The Golden Girls as Betty White’s love interest
Miles.

Beatty,
who made such a memorable debut in 1972’s Deliverance, worked
on two subsequent films with costar Burt Reynolds and then appeared in both
Nashville and M*A*S*H. 1976 was a good year
for him as he had featured roles in not only this minor movie, but also
Mikey and Nicky, Silver Streak, All
the President’s Men
and Network, for which he earned
an Oscar nomination. Two years later, he worked on the first of a few
Superman movies as Lex Luthor’s sidekick. He continued to give
masterful supporting performances and still does now, though, like some others,
he sometimes uses only his voice.

Hesseman
had been kicking around for close to a decade in film and TV roles, but would
soon score quite a hit with the 1978 series WKRP in Cincinnati. That
gig lasted until 1982 when he began recurring on One Day at a Time and
then in 1986 was the teacher on Head of the Class, staying there until
1990. Still an active performer, he is seventy-one as of this writing.

Mulligan was another actor who’d appeared on I Dream of
Jeannie
. One of those faces (like many in The Big Bus) who
seemed to be everywhere at the time, he went the year afterwards into the hit
sitcom Soap for four years. In the late ’80s, he was able to take part
in a Golden Girls spin-off
called Empty Nest that ran from 1988 to 1995. Since shortly after that
show’s cancellation, he’s been in semi-retirement and is now sixty-seven.

Though she hit her stride in the early ’70s, Kellerman had been acting
in movies and on television since the late ’50s. 1970’s M*A*S*H
gleaned her an Oscar nomination (as Hot Lips O’Houlihan), which led to other
work, though some of it (like 1973’s Lost Horizon) constituted
more of a disaster than a sabotaged nuclear bus! Like Redgrave, she sports some
fun ’70s duds here, changing for nearly every scene! Now in her mid-seventies,
she still works, including a couple of appearances on the revamped version of
90210.

Dishy
has worked on Broadway in many productions spanning 1955 to 2004. His face might
be most familiar to fans of The Golden Girls since he guested on one of
that hilarious series most annoying episodes, playing Mr. Terrific, a wacky
boyfriend of Rose’s. His busy career as a character actor included sporadic
appearances on Law & Order and appears to have dwindled since about
2008. Schull was another Broadway actor (though a stage manager at first) and
was hot off a Tony nomination for Good Time Charley in 1975 when he was cast in
The Big Bus. Afterwards, he starred in the brief TV series
Holmes and Yo-Yo and gave many further TV, movie and stage
performances. He died of a heart attack while appearing in a Broadway play at
age seventy.
Redgrave,
apart from some rather yellow teeth, looks pretty smashing here and is more than
likely my favorite performer in the film. Love the dark hair and heavy makeup!
None of the supporting parts is particularly large, but she seems to be having
fun at playing a vampy, over-the-top persona and I tend to go in for those. As
one of the members of the legendary Redgrave acting family, she had a lengthy
roller coaster career, not quite reaching the level of her sister Vanessa, but
certainly making a mark of her own. Just a year or two prior to The Big
Bus
, she had worked with Ruth Gordon in the Broadway play Mrs. Warren’s
Profession. She
had also just played the title role in The Happy Hooker… Both
she and Sally Kellerman worked on the mammoth miniseries Centennial in
1978. She got a fair amount of attention for 1998’s Gods and
Monsters
, something of a comeback for her, though she hadn’t gone away.
Sadly, she was taken away from us in 2010 from breast cancer at the age of
sixty-seven.
Piano-playing
Dunne is probably quite familiar to fans of The Blues Brothers
and its sequel, Blues Brothers 2000. Margolin is probably best
known for his Emmy-winning recurring role on The Rockford Files with
James Garner. He appeared 40 times on the show between 1974 and 1979 and even
returned for a series of TV-movie updates in the mid 1990s. He remains busy as a
supporting actor in films even now at the age of seventy-one.

Needless
to say, Hagman, who
was in a career transition at this time from his role on I Dream of
Jeannie
to roles in movies like Harry and Tonto and
Mother, Jugs and Speed. Within two years, he would land the
part of a lifetime as J. R. Ewing on Dallas, a part that made in an
international household name and led to many years of money-making success. In
fact, he is slated to appear in his old part again next summer in the 2012
edition, which will focus on the youngest generation of Ewings, born during the
series original run!

I
cannot recommend The Big Bus as a screamingly funny laugh riot
(I don’t know if I so much as chuckled out loud during a recent viewing! Maybe
once or twice…), but I can recommend it as an interesting time capsule and the
chance to see a lot of familiar faces working together in zany circumstances.
Someone out there in cyberspace wrote that the problem with this film versus
Airplane! is that we already expect most of the people in this movie’s comedic
cast to say and do something ridiculous,

 

but where the latter film excels is that it put people who were more known for their
serious work into the loony situations and that’s what helped make it so funny.
I think that’s about right. Nothing in The Big Bus is
necessarily roll-on-the-floor, but there always seems to be something going on,
at least. I can tell you that when I saw it the first time in the late ’80s, I
hated it, but now I don’t. I found myself enjoying it, surprisingly enough. It
now seems sort of clever and it’s comfortably brief as well, in any
case.

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3 Responses to “THE BIG BUS – THE CYCLOPS! TRULY THE BIGGEST STAR CAR EVER MADE!”


  1. 1 Michael Pawloski
    November 15, 2011 at 4:31 am

    Your site is just amazing. This is the most remarkable level of detail that I have ever seen provided on this incredibly strange movie. As a 1st grader who saw this movie in the theater with my parents, I spent the better part of the following year and a half drawing this bus…over and over and over…with different color schemes. It so captured my imagination, I just loved this this bus. It’s a fundamental part of my youth. Thank you so much for making this site.

    • 2 Nate Truman's starcarcentral
      November 15, 2011 at 4:40 am

      Thanks Michael! It’s fascinating that this movie came from Paramount BEFORE Airplane! with much of the same comedy style, but just didn’t catch on like the Zucker Bros. films. The bus is amazing, and I sure wish I could find at least the front end of it somewhere. Alas, I think it is gone from this world! Keep reading, the best is yet to come!

    • 3 Poseidon3
      February 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      I am the original author of this post on “The Big Bus” that was, literally, stripped word-for-word, pictures and all, from my own site and haphazardly pasted into this blog. It was quite surprising to come to this site today and see my work appropriated and then to see the appreciation for its “remarkable level of detail” given to the webmaster of this site!


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