The Runaway Bus Cover You know what they say about buses, don't you? You wait ages for one to come along, only for three to come along all at once. Look. Here comes one now. One Directed by Val Guest; and Starring: Frankie Howerd, Petula Clark, Margaret Rutherford, with Terence Alexander. It parked up sometime in 1954, and pulled off 78 minutes later. Beep-Beep!

The Runaway Bus

'Get on that coach' they tell me, 'Then drive those airport passengers to Blackbush, because the thick London fog is stopping any aircraft's from taking off'.

I mean, would you Adam and Eve it? How dare they speak to me like that? Me. Percy Lamb (Frankie Howerd). The replacement bus-driver who's got the take this miserable lot to somewhere I've never ever been before. You know. This lot...

  • Lee Nichols (Petula Clark) -- Hey! Of course I don't mean my 'Nikki'. She's my instructor during this journey don't you know. Nice girl she is. Has a great set of lungs on her.
  • Cynthia Beeston (Margaret Rutherford) -- Oh! Don't get me started on this old battleaxe. She a right pain in the ass I can tell you.
  • Ernest Shroeder (George Coulouris) -- No. I'm not too sure about this one either. He seems nice. Sure. But in my eyes he looks like a very shrewd character indeed.
  • Henry Waterman (Toke Townley) -- Unlike Cynthia, Henry is a very-very nice chap. In fact, he's so nice; he even helps me direct my couch through the Fog by walking in front of it.  
  • Peter Jones (Terence Alexander) -- Nah. If truth be told he reminds me of Ernest. He seems nice too, yet... hmmm... I'm reserving my judgment on this so-called pilot.
  • Janie Grey (Belinda Lee) -- Or as I'd like to call her, 'The Thrill-Queen', because she enjoys reading all of those silly book's she has on her.

Huh? What's that you say, mate? One of my passengers has robbed a bank? And has somehow hidden a bag load gold bullion at the back of my coach? Cor' Blimey! That's most probably why what next transpires hits the skids when I crash my vehicle into a deserted village. As HQ gets in touch - a mumbled plot-line is a bit too much - a shooter hits the clutch - and at the end of the day a bank-robber ends up having to go Dutch.

So there he was, Frankie Howerd, back stage at the 'London Palladium', topping the bill in a long running variety show he was performing in at the time. When suddenly, out of the blue, the producer, Val Guest, walked into his dressing room, and asked him if he wanted to star in his own movie. 'Films?' said Frankie. 'Oh no, that's a dangerous game. If no one will go it'll be all my fault! Thank you, but no thank you!' he continued.

However, Val being the kind of a man he was, he eventually got Frankie to star in 'The Runaway Bus', by agreeing to his following three demands. Firstly, Val had to devise a comedy-thriller, so that if the comedy part didn't work, the thriller part might. Secondly, Frankie didn't want his name first above the titles. And thirdly, he wanted his favorite comedy actress, Margaret Rutherford, to be in it with him.

The Runaway Bus with Frankie Howerd
Yeah. This is a true story, folks! Slightly paraphrased. I agree. But true nonetheless. Just like these filmic facts. (1) 'Val Guest Productions' first released this picture on the same day the award winning science fiction author, Iain M. Banks, was born -- the 16th of February, 1954. (2) The majority of this movie was shot at Southall Studios, situated in the English county of Middlesex. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled 'The Bus Disappeared' in Denmark; 'Gold in the Fog' in Finland; plus was given the working title, 'Scream in The Night', during pre-production. (4) After this movie was made, Margaret Rutherford played a nurse in the comedy, 'Mad about Men', whilst Petula Clark played a woman called 'Gay' in the comedy, 'The Gay Dog'. (5) This was the first 'full length' feature film for both Frankie Howard and Michael Gwynn. (6) Four years after this film was finished, Frankie and Val worked together again in the 1958 naval comedy, 'Further up the Creek'. (7) The next production Val produced after this one was the 1959 Cliff Richard musical, 'Expresso Bongo'.

The Runaway Bus Lobby Card with Frankie Howerd, Petula Clark, and Terence Alexander

OK. So now you've had the history and the facts, next you'll get my opinion on 'The Runaway Bus'.  Or as I would like to call it, 'Speed 0 Goes to Ye Olde England'.

The Runaway Bus Movie Poster
Well, if I'm going to be honest with you, folks, in a rather diluted fashion this flick does remind me slightly of the 'Speed films'. You have the simple 'built-up' pretext. You have the cast of semi one-dimensional characters. You have the bi-polar emotional story-line. And you have the ending that's as obvious as the beginning.

Granted, there are a couple of things in this comedy which isn't like 'Speed'. Like the uninspired camerawork for example. The evident staged sets. Plus the timely yet bold joviality of an all English cast that are very cartoon-like by nature.

Of course, Frankie and Margaret are the most overt within this piece. Hamming it up in that very grandiose way of theirs', without really slipping out of character at any given moment. Also, I have to say that the rest of this cast weren't that bad either. Especially Petula and Terrance. Who do seem to 'take charge' when the need arose.  Grabbing this flick by its proverbial horns and steering it into some sort of suspenseful structure.

The Runaway Bus Lobby Card - with Frankie Howerd, Petula Clark, and Margaret Rutherford,

However, dear reader, that's precisely where the error lies with 'The Runaway Bus'. It's structure. On a conceptual level it's tonally all over the place, and dashes at the screen comedy, thrills, and preconceived ideas that don't always appear to work in execution.

The Runaway Bus with Petula Clark
Hey! Please don't take my words the wrong way. This movie isn't a bad-bad movie. At times it was very funny and very suspenseful. Having said that though, it's not a very good movie either. It just didn't have that kick to it that made me go 'Ha! This is a classic'. Instead, it made me slump down into my chair and groan 'Oh! I wished it was better'.

Now I do apologize Frankie and Margaret fans. I do mean this with all due respect. But I'm afraid to say that even though I was very happy to watch this film, at the same time I wished that the production values, the script, plus the overall narrative had a more defined driving force behind it.

Ops! Please excuse the obvious pun. Nuff said.