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Film / The Big Bus

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The Big Bus is a 1976 comedy film parodying the 1970s Disaster Movie genre, directed by James Frawley and featuring an All-Star Cast including Joseph Bologna, Stockard Channing, John Beck, Ned Beatty, José Ferrer, Ruth Gordon, Harold Gould, Larry Hagman, Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Lynn Redgrave, René Auberjonois, and Stuart Margolin.

The plot revolves around the maiden journey of the Cyclops, an enormous nuclear-powered bus (equipped with a bowling alley, cocktail lounge, swimming pool, and dining room) designed to carry 110 passengers in comfort on a non-stop journey across the continental United States. The driver is haunted by past disaster, the passengers have a variety of personal problems, and shortly into the journey the bus is sabotaged by a sinister consortium of oil magnates who wish to discredit nuclear-powered vehicles.

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This film contains examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: After the bus is left teetering precariously over the end of a cliff, it is saved in part by Dan using a chandelier as a grappling hook to help pull the bus back onto the road.
  • All for Nothing: After surviving numerous near-disasters, Cyclops triumphantly starts driving down the mountain the remaining 25 miles to Denver. And breaks in half as the credits begin to roll...
  • Artistic License – Cars: After the pickup truck crashes into the bus, Dan identifies it as "a '53 Chevy pickup". While it is indeed a Chevy pickup, it's actually a 1954 model due to the grille.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The entire reason for Cyclops to exist. It's got an incredibly dangerous and expensive nuclear reactor for power, an automatic tire replacement system that would destroy any cars passing the bus at the wrong moment, a ridiculously tiny private dining room for the captain's table, and all to pamper a mere 110 passengers.
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  • Base on Wheels: The nuclear-powered bus Cyclops is a 32-wheel double-decker articulated bus with 110 passengers, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, and many other luxury features for its non-stop cross-country journey.
  • Dark Lord on Life Support: The Big Bad lives in an iron lung.
  • Disposable Vehicle Section: The Cyclops is equipped with an automatic tire changer so the bus can eject punctured tires and replace them with new ones while still rolling along.
  • Earthquake Machine: The saboteurs have one, which they use near the end of the film after more conventional methods have failed to halt the bus.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles: The German title is Die haarsträubende Reise in einem verrückten Bus (The Hair-Raising Journey on a Crazy Bus).
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: Parodied; when a bar fight breaks out, somebody threatens other characters with a broken milk carton.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Spoofed during the bar fight, where one of the fighters knocks the end off a milk carton, and everybody reacts as if to the threat of a broken bottle.
  • He's Got a Weapon!: Early in the film, we see the driver in a bus driver bar, and there's a fight. One guy grabs a quart carton of milk and bashes the end off, threatening someone else with it. "Look out! He's got a milk carton!" The other guy grabs a candle and breaks the end off of it. "Look out, he's got a candle!"
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: After every other attempt to destroy the bus fails, Iron Man (no, not that one) orders the use of an earthquake-generating machine to destroy the bus. Due to the incompetence of his assistant, the earthquake machine is instead aimed at his mansion which is shook to pieces and he is presumably fatally crushed by the rubble while Alex escapes.
  • Honor Before Reason: Why does the driver go out onto the side of the bus for an incredibly dangerous bomb defusing mission instead of stopping and evacuating the passengers? Because it's a non-stop bus ride, damn it!
  • I'm a Humanitarian: "Jeeze! You eat lousy one foot and they call you a cannibal!"
  • Kindly Vet: Dr. Kurtz, played by Bob Dishy, is a disgraced veterinarian having a crisis of what he's supposed to do since he's been drummed out of his practice due to performing well-intended yet highly unorthodox methods on animals such as putting an IUD into a rabbit. When the husband of a divorced couple has a heart problem, he sets about treating the man as if he was an ill dog. This results in a still-living yet very confused man with a dog treat in his mouth and Kurtz having an epiphany that he should become a physician.
  • Lots of Luggage: To stop the bus from going over the edge of the cliff, all of the passengers' luggage is ejected from the bus by way of trap doors.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Dan is disgraced by his fellow bus drivers after a bus he was piloting with another driver crashed in the mountains and left them stranded. He ate the seats, the floormats and the luggage and accidentally ate the foot of a deceased passenger after his co-pilot had gone cannibal and made a stew while neglecting to tell Dan it contained people. They don't much care that it was accidental.
    Dan: "You eat one lousy foot and they call you a cannibal! What a wold!"
  • Road Trip Across the Street: Reporters covering the launch of the nuclear-powered bus are asked to board a minibus, driven around in a circle, then asked to get off.
  • Standard Snippet: When the nuclear powered bus is first rolled out of the garage onto the parking lot for the press to see, the beginning of Also sprach Zarathustra plays.
  • Stealing from the Till: Ironman's henchman first appears posing as a hot dog salesman, complete with a cart. Once the bomb goes off, he books it towards a nearby waiting limousine and the customer he was serving proceeds to help himself to every hot dog and all the cash in the cart's register.
  • Talking to the Dead: Lampooned, with so many people talking in the graveyard the protagonist has to shout in order to be heard above the din.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Apart from people assigned to specific amenities (lounge bartender and pianist, a pool lifeguard, etc.), the onboard bus crew seems to consist of just Dan (captain/lead driver), Shoulders (co-driver), Mary Jane Beth Sue (stewardess)... and Kitty Baxter, who does almost everything else. She's one of the principal designers, acts as hostess/tour guide to the passengers, gives the emergency spiel, briefly takes the wheel, talks Dan through the bomb defusion, and is conveniently in the kitchen when the soda dispensers flood.
  • Truck Meets Bus: As the bus is careening towards Deadman's Curve, a nearby rockslide causes a old Chevy pickup to go careening off road and barrel uncontrollably down the side of a mountain before launching off of a rock that acts as a ramp and smashing through the plate glass window into the bus' lounge which results in the bus having the back half of a pickup truck sticking out of the side for the remainder of the film.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The film is a dead on parody of the movie Airport and its sequels, a full four years before Airplane! came out and popularized that parody film subgenre.
  • Vehicle Title
  • Wire Dilemma: Spoofed. Driver Dan Torrance must defuse a bomb planted on the nuclear-powered bus, guided by radio from the front cabin by girlfriend Kitty Baxter (reading from Jane's Book of Bombs):
    Kitty: It's got a single hand timing mechanism, four wires at the top...
    Dan: Right.
    Kitty: One of these wires leads to the trigger. One leads to the triggering mechanism, one leads to the trigger guard, and one leads to all three. There are also three fake triggers, and four fake trigger guards. One trigger looks like a detonator, one looks like a trigger guard, and one trigger looks like a trigger.
    Dan: Right...
    Kitty: Now, about the detonators. You've got eight detonators, but don't let 'em fool you, they're all fake—
    Dan: Look, this bomb is no fake. I've gotta do something fast. I'm gonna cut the yellow wire.
    Kitty: No, Dan, don't! It could be the blue one! You cut the wrong one and you blow it!
    Dan: I'm cutting yellow. [cuts a wire, bomb stops ticking]
    [Later, after Dan has returned to the cabin]
    Kitty: I spoke to Scotty, and you were right about cutting the yellow wire.
    Dan: Aaah..
    Kitty: What is it?
    Dan: I cut the blue one.
    [bomb explodes]
  • Your Days Are Numbered: One passenger is a man struggling with the fact that he has only six months left to live and spends much of his screentime worrying. Once a beautiful woman taking a bath invites him in (which results in him getting while fully clothed), he has a revelation that he should stop worrying just try to make the best out of his remaining minths.

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