15 April 2000 | Hup234!
Absorbing, taut wartime drama - "Grand Hotel" in a California bus station.
This Warners programmer is rarely seen today, and that's a pity. It does show up occasionally on DVD, and I found a 16mm copy in the Wisconsin State Historical Society. I enjoyed the entertaining World War II-based storyline with its loose-lips-sink-ships propaganda. Warners didn't miss adding a plug for Victory Bonds, either. (Good for them.) It's set mostly within a large bus terminal along the California coast on one dark night shortly after the onset of the War. Within the spacious interior, civilians and military personnel intermingle around the big waiting-room and its ticket counters, the news-stand, cocktail lounge and restaurant, and also eventually in the rear service areas. This interplay allows the opportunity for the human drama to unfold.
At the time of production, there was a real-life submarine sighting along the West Coast, and in "Busses Roar" we see Axis spies and saboteurs scheme to plant a bomb on a coastline bus to create a target beacon for an offshore sub. That plot device pales, though, in comparison to the interesting characters who pass in and through the ornate bus station, each with his/her own traveler's tale to tell.
"Busses Roar" has a multi-personal, kaleidoscopic plot that you'll like, and another terrific plus is the great background music score by William Lava, Howard M. Jackson and Max Steiner. Today's expensive films should have such talent.
The second half of the film has road action on the pre-Interstate nighttime coastline highways, within those long, low-slung, almost sinister-looking front-engine buses with rooftop luggage racks that predate today's boring cruiser-coaches. (Interestingly, they're equipped with radios for background music and war news.)
As the spy plot thickens, there is a chase, failed brakes, and a runaway bus. (The buses do indeed roar as their headlights sweep the night and dramatic camera angles emphasize looming fenders, wheels and grilles. Great stuff.)
The Warners cast pulls it off gracefully with humor and without heavy-handed tactics. Willie Best, of course, steals every scene.
If you like the great 1940s Warner Brothers "look", or wartime-themed films, or great little programmers, or train/bus/plane/ship action films, seek out "Busses Roar". It's high entertainment that deserves being seen.