Bo (Don Murray) is a rough cowboy who comes to the city for the first time with his worldlier friend, Virgil (Arthur O’Connell), to compete in a rodeo. They meet Cherie (Marilyn Monroe), a good-hearted girl who sings and hustles drinks in a saloon. Cherie’s casual affection persuades Bo that she is the one he wants to marry, and he carries her off, without her permission, on the bus.
The roads are snowed in, and they get stuck at a bus stop. Bo will not listen when Cherie insists she is not going with him. With the help of the others at the bus stop, she persuades him that he cannot make her marry him. Then it emerges that she is afraid she cannot live up to the vision he has of her. She has had “many boyfriends.” He is crushed at first but, after talking to Virgil, tells her that since he has never had any girlfriends, they balance each other out. After a gentle kiss, she tells him she would go anywhere with him. He wraps her in his warm coat and puts her back on the bus, at first objecting when Virgil says he is not going with them because it is time for him to move on, but finally accepting it. He does not need Virgil to take care of him anymore; he has to take care of Cherie.
This is probably Marilyn Monroe’s finest performance as a dramatic actor. The way she sings “That Old Black Magic” tells us a lot about Cherie’s dreams of herself as a singer, and Monroe has the courage to make Cherie a far less talented performer than Monroe was herself. In her dealings with Bo, Cherie insists on her right to make her own choices, but Monroe also lets us see how much she longs to be loved the way Bo wants to love her, how much she wants to deserve it.
The movie also shows nicely the way that people must allow themselves to be vulnerable by being honest in order to be known and loved. Bo adds to his natural bluster because he does not want to let Cherie see how panicked he is by his overwhelming feelings for her. He longs to be close to her, but is afraid she won’t want to be with him if he lets her see he is not always strong and confident. He finds out she responds to his vulnerability because it is honest, because it allows her to play an equal role, and because she wants to be needed. Cherie fears she does not deserve the level of devotion he offers. When he is willing to love her after hearing what she is ashamed of, she can allow herself to love him.
Parents should kow that the movie has mild bad language and references to Cherie’s promiscuous past (subtle by today’s standards). There is drinking in a bar and a brief fistfight. A theme of the movie is tolerance differences.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Bo is so insistent on making Cherie come with him. Why doesn’t he listen to her? How can you tell she has mixed feelings about him? What are they? What purpose do the other characters in the movie serve? What makes Cherie change her mind? What does it show us when Bo gives Cherie his coat? Why does Virgil decide to leave Bo?
The movie is based on a play by William Inge, author of Splendor in the Grass. Older students might like to read the play, which takes place entirely at the bus stop, to see how it was expanded and adapted for the screen.