One could easily feel slightly embarrassed for even reviewing a film like Bolero, but fortunately your humble scribe feels no shame at all even in the ace of the trashiest of movies, so here goes.
Bolero was conceived by writr-director John Derek as a starring vehicle for his wife Bo Derek. She had enjoyed some success in the movie 10 a few years earlier. 10 had the advantage of having a director who knew what he was doing (Blake Edwards) and two capable leads (Julie Andrews and Dudley Moore). All Bo Derek had to do was to look stunning, which was just about within her acting range. Although she attracted most of the publicity Ms Derek in fact played a minor supporting role.
John Derek however believed she could be turned into a real honest-to-goodness movie star. Unfortunately without a director who knew what he was doing, and without two experienced leads to carry most of the acting burden, Ms Derek was out into the position of having to carry the film herself. In retrospect that was never ever going to work.
Now there are some people who think that making bad movies is easy. That might be true of regular bad movies, but to make something spectacularly awful, something in the Mrs Doubtfire class, requires a concerted effort. John Derek was certainly equal to the challenge. His first masterstroke as to cast his wife, who was nearly 30, as a teenage virgin. His second masterstroke as to set the movies in the 1920s. The only reason to do this would have been to take advantage of the clothes and hairstyles of the 20s, but Bo Derek simply doesn’t have the right look for 1920s fashions, and her early 80s California blonde beach babe hairstyle looks absurdly out of place.
All that is bad enough, but Bolero has major weaknesses in the plot department as well. The plot involves young Bo’s attempts to lose her virginity, and that’s about it.
Perhaps the worst thing about it is that there is a germ of a good idea here. The movie opens with scenes of silent movie heart-throb Rudolph Valentino. And Bo’s two lovers are a shiekh (just like the one played by Valentino in the movie of the same name) and a matador (just like the one played by Valentino in Blood and Sand). There was some potential here to exploit the idea that our heroine was seeking to relive the romantic fantasies of the countless young women who idolised Valentino, or even to bring in an element of the fantastic as Woody Allen was to do so successfully in The Purple Rose of Cairo. But in Bolero the idea goes nowhere, and Derek’s approach is much too literal.
There’s also the problem of exactly what kind of movie this is supposed to be. Is it intended to be funny, or whimsical? There are occasional hints that this may have been intended. Is it intended to be a romance? Or a steamy sex film? This seems plausible since the movie’s main selling point was that Bo Derek gets naked, but there really isn’t enough skin to make it a decent skinflick.
The only real hope for this was that it might triumph as an exercise in camp. It does have its moments when this ambition look like having a chance of being realised, but again it just doesn’t push things far enough.
On the other hand it does have a certain wtf factor going for it, and there is a kind of morbid fascination to it. Connoisseurs of cinematic train wrecks will find themselves forced to keep watching. If you lay in a sufficient supply of strong alcoholic drinks (the stronger the better) and plenty of junk food you may find some perverse enjoyment in this effort. And Bo Derek does get naked.