Saturday, June 22, 2013

Anita Ekberg Made Everyone Want to Live "La Dolce Vita"

When I was in college, I wanted to move to Italy after graduation.  That never happened, and it's just as well, because my desire was purely influenced by the glamorous image of Italy that had been instilled in me by director Federico Fellini's masterpieces "La Dolce Vita" (1960) and "8 1/2" (1963).  While I have no doubt experiencing Italy in-person would be a great experience because of the history and culture and people of that great country, I worry that it might not live up to the expectations set by those great films.  "La Dolce Vita," in particular, made mid-century, post-war Roman debauchery and decadence appear to be exciting and larger-than-life and not seedy or sleazy at all.  The movie romanticizes the very elements of the culture that it is simultaneously satirizing and critiquing.  One reason why "La Dolce Vita" was such a glamorous and enticing movie experience was the contribution of blonde Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg, who appeared in a 30 minute sequence early on in the movie as Hollywood starlet and sex symbol, Sylvia Rank, who has arrived in Italy to make a movie and is herself completely entranced by the sensual atmosphere Rome has to offer.  Ekberg's sequence is just one vignette out of many in this great film, but she leaves such a lasting impression that you imagine that her role is much longer than it actually is in the movie.

Throughout Ekberg's scenes in "La Dolce Vita," she dramatizes the experiences of countless Hollywood-based actresses, both before and after her, who left the States and arrived in Italy to make movies because of a variety of factors, including a lack of good roles in Hollywood (or a lack of ANY kind of acting work in the States in films, TV, or theater) or for personal reasons.  These actresses include Linda Darnell, Tina Louise, Jayne Mansfield, Raquel Welch, Carroll Baker, Pamela Tiffin, Mimsy Farmer, Barbara Bouchet, and Ekberg herself.  The enthusiastic response that Ekberg's character, Sylvia Rank, receives by the Italian media and movie industry was likely similar to what these actresses experienced when their planes touched down in Rome.  We never really see Sylvia Rank at work in "La Dolce Vita," but Fellini avoids succumbing to movie star stereotypes by making her a generally likeable individual.  While I wouldn't call Sylvia a deep or substantial person, Fellini at least plays fair with her by avoiding making her a difficult, petulant, or insensitive diva.

I think the reason why people are so responsive to the Sylvia character is because she is so passionate and full of life and has the ability to enjoy both the glamorous milieu of her profession, as well as the little things in life.  Sylvia seems genuinely excited at noticing the chickens on the side of the rural road while riding in a car from the airport ("Oh, Edna, look at all the chickens!"); she energetically climbs the stairs up St. Peter's Dome like a tourist completely unaware of the exhausted reporters and photographers that she leaves in her wake, never complaining about the physical exertion and even commenting, "This is the right way to lose weight!  I must remember to tell Marilyn!"; she does a provocative and joyful dance at the Baths of Caracalla nightclub with Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) and other patrons in attendance; when she and Marcello flee the nightclub after she has argued with her leading man and boyfriend Robert (Lex Barker) she notices the dogs howling at the moon and playfully imitates their nocturnal greetings; she walks barefoot through the streets of Rome in the middle of the night and plays with a little kitten that she places atop of her head; and, in perhaps the most famous scene in the movie, she wades while fully-dressed in the Trevi Fountain just before dawn and invites Marcello to join her.  Sylvia is not an uptight individual concerned about what others think of her and I think it's this genuine quality to her personality that people have always responded to with her character.

But that doesn't mean Sylvia isn't a shrewd professional who knows how to make the most of the media attention showered upon her and maximize this level of interest.  At the airport, when she emerges from the plane, Sylvia knows how to make a grand entrance, looking stunning in a dark dress, even re-enacting her emergence from the plane at the request of the photographers with her cape flowing, while blowing kisses to the cameras, and taking a taste of the enormous pizza the movie producer has brought so that the photographers catch a shot of her sampling, in the words of a radio journalist reporting from the scene "a typical Italian product, which is as colourful and joyful as our country."  Ekberg has virtually no dialogue throughout this sequence, but she does a great job at demonstrating the extent to which her character Sylvia knows how to make the maximum visual impact upon a captivated audience.  I particularly like the scene where Sylvia holds court in her hotel room while conducting a press conference for the reporters who have breathlessly gathered to document every word or gesture she makes.  Ekberg is very good at parodying the sort of clever quips and phrases that movie stars say at press conferences in order to make good copy and remain in the headlines.  Some people have commented that Sylvia's quotes are reflective of a vacuous, brainless movie star, but I disagree.  I think Sylvia knows that whatever she says will be reported on a wide-spread basis, and has learned from experience what she needs to say in order to remains as provocative, mysterious and intriguing to the public as possible.

When asked by the radio reporter whether she loves Italian cuisine, knowing that her words will be picked up by the Italian public, Sylvia enthusiastically makes sure to tell them, "Oh, I adore it!  Especially spaghetti and cannelloni!"  When asked if she sleeps in pajamas or nightgowns, Sylvia leans forward, plucks a grape from the fruit basket placed on the table in front of her and coyly responds, "Neither...I sleep only in two drops of French perfume."  When asked what she likes the most in life, Sylvia slips on a pair of shades and tells the reporters, with an air of mystery and sensuality, "I like lots of things.  But there are three things I like most.  Love, love and love."  As the reporters applaud her answer, Sylvia takes a self-satisfied drag on her cigarette, knowing full well that she's got these journalists eating out of the palm of her hand.  When a reporter asks Sylvia, as she playfully tries on a wig in front of a mirror with all the reporters observing her, why she works in pictures, with the wig and shades still on, she playfully thrusts her bosom forward in the direction of a capturing camera and tells the crowd, "Because they discovered I've got great talent!"  Clearly, Sylvia doesn't take herself overly seriously as an actress or as an individual, but she still enjoys a self-possessed quality because she has figured out how to successfully play the game as a celebrity.

I think another reason why people like Sylvia's character is because she doesn't have an overly pathetic or tragic quality to her personality that other movie star characterizations are tainted with.  Her personality is simply too strong to ever allow that to happen to her.  The only downside to her life is her clearly unhappy relationship with her leading man Robert, who is perpetually drunk, insults her in front of the others at the nightclub, and slaps her in front of the reporters and photographers when she returns to the hotel in the morning after staying out all night with Marcello.  But I don't get the impression that Sylvia is the type who would put up with Robert for very long.  She responds to Robert's insults at the nightclub by fleeing with Marcello and stays out all night with him.  When Robert cruelly slaps her in front of the reporters, Sylvia doesn't quietly respond to the abuse.  As she walks away from him, into the hotel, she emotionally cries out "You shouldn't do things like that!  Particularly in front of people!"  When Robert scolds her and tells her to go to bed, Sylvia again retorts, "I haven't done anything Robert!"  Because Sylvia isn't willing to just suffer in silence, doesn't feel any sense of shame about herself, and talks back to him, I sense that she'll eventually come to her senses and dump this sleazeball when she's had enough of him.  I think her bad relationship with Robert will be one of the life lessons that will allow Sylvia to develop survival instincts so that she can handle any challenge, personal or professional, that her life or career will throw in her way.

There's a very basic, animalistic quality to Sylvia that inspires her to be a very physical and expressive individual, particularly at the sequence at the nightclub where she dances with Marcello, her actor friend Frankie (Alain Dijon), as well as the other club patrons.  (This quality is probably the reason why Sylvia was so responsive to the chickens, the howling dogs, and the little kitten she found on the streets--she identifies to a certain degree with their earthy and primal nature.)  At first, as Marcello dances with her and showers compliments upon her, Sylvia is completely lost in her thoughts and in the mood of the romantic, music and setting of the club.  Her expressions of contentedness show the extent to which she is completely at ease with her environment.  Then, with Frankie's encouragement and with the audience clapping along, Sylvia makes provocative, playful, sensual moves on the dance floor that may have seemed risque in 1960, but now appear wonderfully classy compared to what passes for dancing in 2013.  At one point, Sylvia kicks off her high heel shoes from her feet, and into the air, and attempts to catch them as they land.  As Frankie lifts her on his shoulders, Sylvia balances upon him with her arms lifted up, as if she's riding the wave on a surfboard.  When Frankie does hand stands on the dance floor, Sylvia seductively crooks her finger for Frankie to gravitate towards her so that she can playfully move her arms back and forth, in a pulley motion, while tugging at his dangling legs and feet.

When the band starts playing rock and roll music, by doing a cover of Little Richard's "Ready Teddy," a barefoot Sylvia commandingly leads the entire club patrons in a musical march through the outdoor establishment, "Come on, everybody, just follow me!"  As Sylvia passes an older, staid gentleman in a tuxedo standing at the sidelines watching her dance, she flounces the train of her dress in his face as she playfully invites him to join her by telling him, "Come on, young man!"  When they return to the dance floor, Frankie lifts Sylvia horizontally above his head as he starts spinning her around 360 degrees.  What's amazing about Ekberg throughout this sequence is the way she makes Sylvia's uninhibited dance moves completely classy and elegant.  She is extremely sensual, but she never comes across as tasteless or crass in this sequence.  I think this is because of the joyful quality that Ekberg brings to Sylvia's character in this scene.  Sylvia is very sexy, but she's not performing a striptease in an objectified manner to try and arouse any of the male bystanders at the nightclub.  Sylvia is expressing her passion for living and inviting the patrons of the club to experience what she's enjoying along with her, rather than enjoying it at her expense.  Sylvia's dancing still seems classy because neither Fellini, nor the other characters in the story, are ogling her throughout this sequence in a blatantly exploitative way.

Sylvia's uninhibited quality is exemplified by the famous scene where Sylvia wades in the Trevi Fountain still fully dressed in her glamorous evening gown.  As I pointed out before, she's able to enjoy the little things in life, which is why she takes such pleasure in wading in a public fountain that most people who live and work in Rome have seen and probably take for granted in their daily existence.  For such a glamorous individual, Sylvia doesn't seem the least bit concerned with getting her hair or makeup damp, or with potentially ruining her dress by getting it soaked.  The famous close-up of Sylvia, with her eyes closed and head thrown backwards, enjoying the rush of the flowing waters of the fountain, has such impact because we sense how much Sylvia wants to freeze this moment in time forever.  It's the one moment of genuine peace and solitude in the hustle and bustle of Sylvia's movie star existence.  When she invites Marcello to join her in the water, it's not so much because she's sexually attracted to him and inviting him in to seduce her, but because she wants him to also experience the sense of contentedness that she feels at that moment.  In fact, the movie makes it clear that neither Sylvia nor Marcello make much of a huge emotional impact on each other's lives in the course of the movie.  Eventually, Sylvia's vignette in "La Dolce Vita" ends and the film moves on to examine other aspects of Marcello's life, with Sylvia left behind.  As such, we realize that these two glamorous and romantic individuals merely experienced a fleeting moment that can't be captured again, which is exemplified by how the waters of the fountain stop flowing the moment Marcello is about to kiss Sylvia.  In "La Dolce Vita," nothing lasts forever.

Even though Anita Ekberg's role in "La Dolce Vita" is relatively short in the context of the movie's overall 3-hour running time, you never feel cheated because Fellini created such a memorable character for Ekberg to make the most of.  If Sylvia returned and reappeared later in the movie, I think that might have taken away some of the mystery and intrigue to the character because she already had a full and satisfying story arc.  We don't need to learn more about her because Fellini and Ekberg did such a great job at allowing us to understand the essence of this woman.  "La Dolce Vita" was, without a doubt, the high point of Anita Ekberg's offbeat and lengthy movie careerAs I've blogged about before, she started out in Hollywood in the 1950s, playing mostly decorative roles in movies.  She developed a reputation in America as another stoic, blonde sex kitten in the wake of Marilyn Monroe.  Some people considered her a bit cold in her Hollywood movies, but I think some films like "Back from Eternity" (1956) demonstrated how Ekberg was capable of creating a sympathetic and nuanced character.  "La Dolce Vita" surprised her naysayers by demonstrating how Ekberg was capable of breaking out of this "ice queen" mold and giving a raucous, witty, full blooded, and passionate performance.  Ekberg abandons the low-key, subdued manner that she usually delivered her dialogue in her Hollywood movies and demonstrates her husky, full-throated speaking voice for probably the first time on-screen.  That she's able to give Sylvia quiet moments of vulnerability and humanity shows how Ekberg was indeed someone who had her own special quality as an actress.

As I understand it, Ekberg has suffered some challenges in the last few years after her home was burglarized and later destroyed in a fire, broke her hip in a fall, and has faced financial difficulties as a result of these setbacks.  I am saddened to hear that Ekberg's golden years have not been as peaceful as one would have hoped, but I have a feeling that she'll continue to survive and thrive because these challenges appear to be the result of bad luck as opposed to anything self-destructive.  Because of her association with "La Dolce Vita" and Fellini (she ultimately made a total of four films with him), Ekberg has been the subject of some well-deserved tributes that demonstrate the extent to which she is a survivor who is still able to command interest and attention.  I hope she'll someday write her memoirs so we can read her insights into her intriguing life and career.  I think the reason why Sylvia in "La Dolce Vita" has such vitality and warmth, and never comes across as a victim (even with her bad relationship with her lover Robert), is because Anita Ekberg instilled the character with a lot of her own heart and personal resilience.  Ekberg could obviously identify with aspects of Sylvia's life that she knew how to ensure that the character remained a human being and didn't just become a gross caricature.  There were lots of blonde bombshell sex symbols from the 1950s and 1960s who have come and gone, but Anita Ekberg is still here. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jayne Mansfield Makes "The Wayward Bus" a Worthwhile Journey

I've always liked Jayne Mansfield ever since I discovered her while I was in college by watching her in director Frank Tashlin's "The Girl Can't Help It" (1956) and "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" (1957).  Moreover, I always liked her better than Marilyn Monroe, who I've never particularly cared for.  I guess it has to do with the fact that Mansfield is continually regarded as a poor-man's Monroe that I always end up rooting for her no matter how bad her movies became later in her career.  Mansfield had a larger-than-life quality on-screen that people have dismissed as a caricature, but I think at her best she managed to instill her characters with warmth and likeability, and brought a sense of humanity, which helped to undercut that sexpot image.  No doubt Mansfield's best work in comedy was in the Tashlin films, but her best overall work as an actress was her dramatic role in the underrated "The Wayward Bus" (1957), made at the height of her popularity right after she was signed by 20th Century-Fox.  Also featuring an equally impressive and underrated Joan Collins, playing an atypically unglamorous role, "The Wayward Bus" gives Mansfield a thoughtful, fully-realized character that allows her to demonstrate her untapped potential as a straight dramatic actress.

In "The Wayward Bus," which was based on John Steinbeck's novel, Rick Jason and Joan Collins star as working class couple Johnny and Alice Chicoy.  Johnny drives a beat up bus he nicknames "Sweetheart" and Alice operates a restaurant/bus stop at a rural California crossroads called Rebel Corners that caters to customers who are passing through by bus.  On a storm-ridden day, Johnny is transporting a motley assortment of passengers from Rebel Corners to San Juan, Mexico including Ernest Horton (Dan Dailey), a middle-aged traveling salesman; nasty, vile and evil businessman Elliot Pritchard (Larry Keating), his uptight wife Bernice (Kathryn Givney) and their rebellious teenage daughter Mildred (Dolores Michaels); Norma (Betty Lou Keim), a starstruck girl who used to work in Alice's restaurant but who quit after being verbally abused by Alice; Ed Carson (Dee Pollack), Johnny's young assistant; Mr. Van Brunt (Will Wright), a cantankerous old man who insists on reaching San Juan no later than 3:00 PM that day; and beautiful, blonde Camille Oakes (Jayne Mansfield), a stripper on her way to a hired gig in San Juan.

Before they depart, Johnny and Alice get into an argument, which causes her to drown her sorrows in alcohol after Johnny leaves.  Ernest and Camille become better acquainted during the trip and start to fall in love with each other.  Mildred seizes upon the opportunity to flirt with Johnny whenever she has an opportunity.  Malicious Elliot Pritchard discovers Camille's true identity and shares the information with Ernest, which causes him to call off their engagement.  The bus and its passengers survive a landslide, endure crossing a rickety bridge that spans across raging river rapids, and emerge from a near crash after the bus' brakes fail, causing the vehicle to spin out of control.  When Johnny goes off to look for a tractor at a nearby farm to help tow the bus out of a ditch, Mildred follows along and seduces him.  When they return, they find that Alice has arrived in order to make amends with Johnny after hitching a ride with a highway patrol helicopter.

Realizing that Johnny has cheated on her with Mildred, Alice refuses to speak with him on the final leg of the trip to San Juan.  Heartbroken because Ernest cannot accept that she is a stripper, Camille urges Alice not to be a fool and to make up with Johnny before it is too late.  When the bus arrives at San Juan, we learn that elderly Mr. Van Brunt was eager to arrive by 3:00 PM because he was trying to arrive in time for his wedding at the Justice of the Peace.  Ernest realizes that he loves Camille no matter what she does for a living and asks her to marry him again.  And Johnny chases after a bus to Reno that he believes Alice has boarded, until he realizes that Alice, who has taken Camille's advice, is actually sitting behind him in the bus, waiting for Johnny to turn it around so they can return home to Rebel Corners.

People accustomed to the presumed image of Jayne Mansfield as a vacuous sexpot are always pleasantly surprised by her intelligent and thoughtful performance in "The Wayward Bus."  Mansfield lowers the pitch of her voice and restrains her usual mannerisms in order to make Camille a sympathetic and down-to-earth individual.  The result is undoubtedly Mansfield's finest work as an actress.  In her hands, Camille is a woman who has seen it all and has learned how to protect herself from being used and hurt by men.  She has a healthy skepticism against getting taken advantage of, but has managed to not become as cynical as she could be.  Camille is a smart and perceptive woman, but her heart is still open to falling in love when the right man enters the picture.

When Camille first meets Ernest at Alice's restaurant at Rebel Corners, he offers to open the door and carry her luggage for her as she is about to enter the establishment by saying "I wish you'd let me handle those things for you."  Camille smartly brushes him off by telling him "Thanks, can't afford a tip."  Camille clearly doesn't want anyone to act like a "gentleman" with her so that she doesn't have to owe them anything later.  When Elliot Pritchard tries to make conversation with her at the diner, and mentions that he believes he recognizes her from somewhere else, Camille smartly dismisses his inquiry by telling him, "I don't think so.  I've been living in Chicago...I used to do things around a dental clinic."  When Pritchard asks if she worked as a receptionist, Camille puts an end to the conversation by telling him, "No, no more like saying 'Spit out, please!'"  Camille has dealt with enough wolves in her lifetime that she knows how to handle jokesters like Pritchard.

However, Camille's experience with sleazy men like Pritchard in her lifetime has conditioned her to expect all members of the male species to be as unscrupulous as he is.  As such, she initially fails to recognize that Ernest is actually not cut from the same cloth as Pritchard and that he is a genuinely kind human being.  When Ernest pulls up a seat next to Camille at the diner and attempts to start a conversation by telling her, "Well, Miss Oakes, you and I are strangers at the moment.  Perfect strangers meeting at this desert crossways, right?...You'd be surprised how unlike strangers strangers can be when they aren't strangers anymore.  Right?...You and I have got a long way to go today, so who knows what might happen?"  Camille maintains a bemused smile at Ernest's introduction and responds by telling him, "Mr. Horton, everybody knows what might happen.  So for the fifty miles, let's see if we can't just stay acquaintances, hmm?  Think we could?"  What I like about the way Mansfield plays this scene is her heightened sense of awareness as to herself and how men perceive her to be based on her looks.  Camille is not oblivious about herself and the men in her environment the way one might expect from her.

There's a certain poignancy to Camille's wizened view of the world, particularly in the scene when Camille is on the telephone in the diner making a phone call to the client who has hired her to perform a strip tease act for friends in San Juan.  "Hi, Mr. Stanton?  This is Camille Oakes...How do you do?  I hate to bother you at your office but my bus doesn't get in 'til 2:00...Oh swell.  I'll be looking for you then at the bus station....Hmmm?...Well, if your friends want music and colored lights and that stuff that's entirely up to them...What magazine?...Which number?...No, I didn't...Humph, I'm glad you thought so...That?  That was strictly a frame-up!  (sigh)  Yeah, see you later."  Mansfield is very good in this scene, which is shot in one long and continuous and unbroken take, bringing the right sense of wariness, authenticity and concern to the phone conversation.

As she looks at her surroundings throughout the conversation, to ensure that no one is overhearing her, we see how Camille is uncomfortable with people knowing about her true profession and the lengths she goes to hide it from others so as not to be treated differently by society.  This is emphasized by how she goes over to the magazine rack after the phone call to find the issue of the tabloid scandal sheet that features a story about her, and how she tries to hide the magazine at the back of the rack.  It suggests the extent to which Camille still has hopes that she may meet the right guy so that she can quit being a stripper and have the sort of family and home life she clearly yearns for.  Even though she doesn't realize it yet, Camille has indeed met the right guy in Dan Dailey's middle-aged, jokey, but ultimately sincere Ernest.

On board the bus, Camille sits with Norma, the star-struck girl who quit working for Alice moments earlier.  Norma is impressed with Camille's sense of sophistication and asks her for advice about what she should do once she arrives in Hollywood in order to pursue stardom.  Mansfield is very endearing and sympathetic in the scenes between Camille and Norma, as the wizened and worldly lady takes a liking to this younger girl and mentors her.  When Norma expresses how she believes Camille can help her land a job at a drive-in restaurant in Los Angeles, in order to earn a living before she gets discovered, Camille pointedly tells her, "The things I could help you with wouldn't do you any good at a drive-in, honey...Well, I tell you.  There are two ways of getting discovered, honey, coming and going.  You better figure on both."  Even though I sense Camille wouldn't want Norma to find out she's a stripper, you get the impression in this scene that she'll do what she can to try and help Norma find a foothold in Los Angeles once she arrives.  Camille might be skeptical and world-weary, but she hasn't become hardened to the extent that she won't help others if she can.

Ernest witnesses this exchange between Camille and Norma, and senses Camille inherent warmth and decency, and attempts to initiate another conversation with her.  When Norma learns that Camille has never been married and asks why, Camille explains, "The right guys had the wrong ideas."  Ernest interjects by asking Camille, "How about if the right guy had the right idea?"  Ernest eventually softens Camille's resistance to him with self-deprecating humor, as he jokingly demonstrates the products and knick-knacks in his suitcase that he sells, which allows her to see a more genuine and playful side to him.  When Ernest gives Norma a compact as a free gift, Camille later compliments Ernest on his selfless generosity, "You know, it was real nice of you givin' the kid that compact."  Ernest responds, "Well, I am nice."  Camille laughs, "And smart, too, I suppose."  Ernest says, "If I was smart, I'd be settled down and married instead of peddlin' stuff around like this.  Hey, how about that?  Married, you and me, huh?"  Camille opines, "It's original, no question about it."  Ernest continues to joke, "Simple as A-B-C."  Camille pointedly responds, "S-E-X you mean.  Look, you're a salesman.  So am I.  We both know what the score is.  It's even.  So why don't we call it that and quit.  OK?"

After Camille tries to put an end to their bantering, an act of God suddenly occurs that changes the course of both the movie and Camille and Ernest's relationship.  As Johnny drives through a canyon road, the bus is suddenly caught in the middle of a landslide caused by the torrential rains.  As the rocks and dirt race downhill towards the bus, Ernest instinctively covers Camille in order to protect her.  This causes broken glass from flying debris to cut the side of Ernest's face.  When Camille realizes that Ernest has been injured while trying to protect her, she immediately becomes concerned about his well-being and softens her stance against him as she tends to his wounds.  I like how the filmmakers depict Camille as someone calm and resilient during the landslide, but who is quick to tend to Ernest's needs once the danger is over.  When the trip has resumed, Camille is now sitting next to Ernest and the two are genuinely falling in love with each other.  Mansfield and Dan Dailey have natural chemistry in these scenes as Ernest asks Camille if she's in love with anybody.  She tells him no, and he asks "You feel like being or not?...Would it be fantastic if we...I mean you and I sorta possibly could wind up...?"

Camille interrupts Ernest and asks him "Quite honestly, why do you like me?"  Ernest jokes, "Oh, because you're thrifty, you're a good cook, and because you hand-stitch marvelously...Honestly, because you are probably the most physically attractive girl I've ever spoken too...And, on the other hand, I'm a man who never spoke to Ava Gardner!...You sure had me pegged for a fresh guy on the make this morning, didn't you?...And you know something, you are absolutely right...If you scratch the surface just a little, you'll find out I'm really not just a fresh guy.  I have depth, honest, I think I have...Want to scratch the surface a little?"  Because Ernest is candid with Camille that his original intentions about chatting with her were less-than-honorable, and how he's reevaluated his intentions with her, she allows herself to fall in love with Ernest and cuddles up with him on the bus.  An amazed Ernest says aloud with wonder, "Oh, boy.  Nice.  I haven't felt this good in years."  A vulnerable Camille says with equal amazement, "For me, it's been years too!"

Later, after Johnny has accidentally driven the bus into a ditch, Camille and Ernest take a walk and she reveals that she grew up in Salinas, California.  When Camille tells Ernest that he really doesn't know anything about her, Ernest reassures her, "I don't have to know anymore about you.  Everything I said I meant."  As such, Camille allows herself to believe that she's finally found the right guy and that she will get married and leave her days as a stripper behind.  As Camille excitedly tells Norma, "You know, he's never even asked me one single thing about myself...Remember when he said 'Why shouldn't we get married?'  Just kidding?  Well, he said it again!  For serious!  For really and truly!  He's got a little apartment, Spanish type, and he's gonna buy me the latest timing electric stove!  All you do is set it and when the steaks' done it plays 'Tenderly'!"  Mansfield is very touching in this scene, as we see the modest dreams and aspirations that Camille has for her own life.  Since Camille doesn't seem to believe that she's entitled to be happy, we are glad for her that her hopes appear to be on the verge of fruition.

However, Camille's happiness is short-lived after Pritchard, who found the tabloid magazine article which discusses Camille's scrape with a scandalous situation and realizes that he had met her before while she was performing, maliciously tells Ernest the truth about Camille being a stripper.  Mansfield does a great job in the scene when Ernest returns to the bus and looks for the magazine and realizes the truth about Camille.  Mansfield effectively underplays the hurt feelings Camille is experiencing at being rejected by Ernest.  It's a scene with little dialogue, with Camille fighting hard to hold back the tears, and Mansfield makes the most of the moment by bringing genuine feeling and pathos to demonstrate Camille's hurt and disappointment.  Anyone who casually dismisses Mansfield as someone incapable of portraying a sincere and believable human being should watch how effectively she handles this moment.

Later, on the bus, when Ernest attempts to re-initiate a conversation with her by lighting her cigarette, Camille bitterly tells him, "Did I ever tell you I was a school teacher?...I wasn't trying to hide anything from you  I was gonna break it to you gradually.  What do you want me to do, wear a sign on my back?"  When Ernest says he'd still like to see her when they get to Los Angeles, Camille scoffs and says "For old times sake?  OK, might just give you a buzz some time.  Who knows?"  At that, Camille gets up and takes a seat at the back of the bus with Alice Chicoy, who is angry at her husband Johnny when she arrives by helicopter and discovers that he has had an adulterous interlude with passenger Mildred Pritchard.  Even though Camille is heartbroken over being rejected by Ernest, she still has enough compassion for others to try and give Alice advice on how to handle Johnny's betrayal of her.

In probably the best scene in the whole movie, with Fox glamor girls Collins and Mansfield acting opposite one another, Camille explains to Alice, "Mind if I sit here?...None of my business but mind if I tell you what I did to a guy I was in love with once?  Broke a chair over his head after I caught him kissin' some dame at a party."  Alice opines, "Bet he never tried that again."  Camille continues, "Don't know.  Never saw him after that.  But he's married.  Happily married...and I make a living.  Believe me, breaking a chair over a guy's head can sure work miracles.  The kind of miracles that louse up your whole life."  In trying to help Alice realize that she shouldn't throw what she has with Johnny away so quickly, Camille allows us to see how she has made mistakes in her own relationships and how it has led to where she is now with her life.  As such, the character takes responsibility for who she has become and doesn't play victim by blaming her circumstances on others.  She has a maturity and honesty about herself that allows her to be a sympathetic figure in the course of the story.

By the time the bus reaches San Juan, most of the storylines are tied up in a satisfying manner.  Camille meets her client and learns that her striptease performance is actually for the next night and that the client assumed she was also a prostitute who would be willing to spend the night with him.  The wise Camille responds by telling her client, "I see.  So you thought we might get together for a little 'talk,' hmm?...I do my act tonight or I take the first bus back to'd better start looking around for another gal for tomorrow night, Mr. Stanton, and for tonight too!"  Meanwhile, Pritchard smugly attempts to justify telling Ernest that Camille is a stripper by rationalizing that he's saved Ernest from making a bad mistake in marrying Camille.  Ernest comes to his senses and tells Pritchard that Camille is "nice, kind, even-tempered, sweet.  About the most attractive person I ever spoke to.  And you know something?  Physical attraction is a very important thing!"

In so doing, Ernest subtly tells off Pritchard by reminding the cruel, entitled, and elitist snob that Camille possesses all of the positive qualities that Pritchard's uptight, cruel, unappealing, and racist wife does not.  My only dissatisfaction with "The Wayward Bus" is how the screenplay does not sufficiently punish Mr. Pritchard, his wife, and their daughter for insulting and causing hurt to the other passengers on the bus.  The Pritchards are the true villains of "The Wayward Bus," an evil upper middle-class family who has no understanding, compassion or regard for others.  Mr. Pritchard is particularly loathsome when he is incredulous at Ernest's concern over what will eventually happen to Camille.  It's obvious that someone like Mr. Pritchard only views Camille as a commodity to be exploited and not as a genuine human being.  Some reviewers gave good notices to Dolores Michaels as the irresponsible Mildred, but I find her character as obvious, despicable, and annoying as her father.  As such, I don't really have any sympathy or compassion for her character because she doesn't realize how the consequences of her actions have hurt other people.  The only sense of justice for the Pritchards is that Ernest has reminded Mr. Pritchard that he's trapped in an unhappy marriage and family life, with the miserably uptight Mrs. Pritchard, whereas Ernest still has a chance at true happiness if he can do right by Camille and patch things up with her before it is too late.

And Ernest does right by Camille in the nick of time.  As Camille is about to storm off after quitting her job, Ernest rushes up and tells her "Camille can I speak to you for a moment?  It's really important...It's about our electric stove."  Camille stops in her tracks, becomes happy and elated, and turns to Ernest with a sense of wonder and excitement as she realizes that he is again proposing marriage to her.  She accepts his proposal by asking him, "Electric stove, for our new apartment?" as Ernest takes her luggage and the two walk off to a bright future together.  Jayne Mansfield and Dan Dailey do wonderful work together in "The Wayward Bus" that allows the slowly emerging love story between Camille and Ernest to touch our hearts as something genuinely sincere and special.  We see how these two lonely people are slowly able to drop their facades and reveal who they are underneath the surface, and we are happy for them that they have found one another.

Jayne Mansfield's performance in "The Wayward Bus" effectively demonstrates how she was indeed capable of playing real human beings with feeling and depth.  By eliminating the breathy, breathless dialogue delivery she was known for in other films--and by carrying herself in a dignified manner by using a deeper, more resonant speaking voice--Mansfield gives a great performance in "The Wayward Bus" that should silence any of her naysayers.  We realize how she didn't need to be a cartoon caricature of a sexy woman, as she eventually became in her later, inferior films.  "The Wayward Bus" ranks with "The Girl Can't Help It" and "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" as the best movies that Mansfield ever made, the ones that showed she had something special that was all her own and that she wasn't just a Marilyn Monroe parody.  However, "The Wayward Bus" eclipses those movies because it's the one time on-screen that Jayne Mansfield lives up to her hype as a screen goddess and sex symbol.  With a more low-key makeup and hairstyle and wardrobe, Mansfield is truly beautiful and sexy in this movie in a way that she would never be again.  In addition to highlighting her acting abilities, "The Wayward Bus" allows contemporary audiences to appreciate her natural good looks and sex appeal in a way that never seems cartoonish.  By properly and appropriately balancing both glamor and authenticity, Jayne Mansfield gives the best performance of her career and makes "The Wayward Bus" a worthwhile screen journey.