Review: Bus Riley's Back In Town (1965)
A spiritual predecessor to 1967's The Graduate, Bus Riley's Back in Town depicts the suburban ennui of the oddly-named title character, played wonderfully by Michael Parks, who seems to be having a lot of fun in his feature film debut after several years of guest starring on episodic television. Bus is just back from a stint in the military with a new tattoo and plans to ease back into the life he left behind before his service. It's not going to be easy; between family struggles, finding a job, and learning that his ex-girlfriend (Ann-Margret) is now married to a wealthy businessman, civilian life will prove to be a bigger challenge than he thought.
There's a tonal inconsistency that I appreciate here. Like many movies from this part of the sixties, the film seems to promise big, swingin' fun. The score that opens the story is full of brassy bombast and it looks like we're about to enjoy a sexy comedy. Before long, though, the film reveals deeper layers about the unhappiness behind the white picket fences and dinner parties of residential life. The movie offers commentary on the unfulfillment of the post-War promise of a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot. I won't spoil it here, but we learn why Bus enlisted in the military in the first place...and it wasn't patriotic conviction. The truth behind what drove him away is still relatable half a century after the film was made.
Michael Parks makes a huge impression in his big-screen debut. The role itself is demanding, calling upon him to display a full range of emotions as his character experiences constant disappointment, disillusionment, and plain old apathy as he seeks to discover his place in a world that seems to have left him behind. Ann-Margret was coming off the success of Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas, but her role here embodies the more dangerous, subversive elements of her work in the previous year's Kitten with a Whip. Character actor buffs will appreciate spotting Kim Darby, James Doohan (Scotty on Star Trek), David Carradine, Larry Storch, and Parley Baer in supporting roles.
Bus Riley's Back In Town does occasionally struggle with pacing, but it has enough going for it (namely the two attractive leads) that it's easy to recommend. Consider it as part of a 1960s coming of age marathon that includes The Graduate and Coppola's You're A Big Boy Now.