Before there was “Airplane,” there was “The Big Bus.” The granddaddy of the disaster spoof movies came out in 1976, and despite its unevenness, it’s quite the hoot.
No stars, but a very recognizable cast of character actors populate the world’s first nuclear-powered luxury bus on its maiden voyage. Stockard Channing and Harold Gould are the designers of the articulated transport that features an upstairs cocktail lounge and a bowling alley.
Joseph Bologna is the fallen hero, a well-known bus driver disgraced after being the only survivor of a mountain accident in which all the passengers mysteriously disappeared, presumed eaten. One of the best lines in the film, of course, is Bologna’s “You eat one lousy foot, they call you a cannibal.” Makes me laugh every time.
“The Big Bus” relies on sight gags and many of them appear later in versions borrowed by the creators of “Airplane.” No harm, no foul. “Airplane” is a classic and freely borrows from many films.
“The Big Bus,” on the other hand, suffers from its repetitiveness. Many times the jokes are not self-sustaining, like the bit about a wounded man (Gould) who can’t be moved and must stay in the parking lot attended by his physician (Larry Hagman). That bit of business really gets old in a hurry.
Still, there are enough classic comedy scenes in “The Big Bus” to make it a personal favorite. The fight in the dairy bar between bus drivers is hilarious. “Watch out, he’s got a broken milk carton.” Love this movie! You’ll like it, too. Grade: B
“The Big Bus” was released by Paramount Pictures, but is now available on DVD only from Warner Archive.