Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Bolero (1934)

BOLERO is the story of the rise to fame of an egotistical, driven dancer (George Raft). The film was released just a few months before the end of the pre-Code era.

Raoul De Baere has a hardscrabble background and a determined desire to be a dancing star, even when he gets the hook on the vaudeville stage. Raoul goes to Europe, where he initially makes a splash as a sort of dancing gigolo, earning money dancing with wealthy women in a nightclub.

Eventually Raoul and a partner, Leona (Frances Drake), become a star dance attraction performing at a supper club. As Raoul's career progresses, he discards Leona for the effervescent Helen (Carole Lombard) and opens his own club. Then, just as the club opens, WWI intervenes...

BOLERO has an excellent opening credits sequence, set to the famous title music, but then the first third or so of the film is fairly ho-hum, with the only likeable character on the screen being Raoul's devoted brother and manager Mike (William Frawley). Watching Raoul flop in vaudeville, earn money partnering older ladies, and fight with his dance partner is simply a bit dreary.

When Carole Lombard finally comes onscreen over half an hour into the movie, the previously draggy film suddenly explodes with energy. She's absolutely mesmerizing as a dancer who is determined to be Raoul's new partner and share his rise to the top. I found the film quite worthwhile for Lombard's performance.

I also enjoyed watching the dancing carefully to note what Lombard was doing on her own and what was doubled. Raft and Lombard, who are doubled in spots by Veloz and Yolanda, are reasonably credible as dancers, although I actually found Raft's sensuous routine with Frances Drake more interesting than the dances he did with Lombard.

I also very much enjoyed Ray Milland, who has a small role, with few lines, as a nobleman who falls for Helen hook, line, and sinker. He's somewhat hidden behind an unfortunate mustache, but the Milland charm shines through.

I have to say I really don't get George Raft. I find him okay, though nothing special, in later dramas such as THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1941). Here, though, he plays a completely unlikeable, fairly sleazy fellow; in one notable scene, he has Helen (Lombard) audition in her underwear! Raft's character is somewhat reminiscent of Gene Kelly's driven dancer in FOR ME AND MY GAL (1943), another film about dancers impacted by WWI, but Kelly at least had charisma and played a redeemable character. The only plus for Raft's character is that he worked hard to pull himself out of life as a miner.

I find Raft's acting rather oily, without any personal charm to compensate; he doesn't have an ounce of warmth. Raft was extremely popular in the '30s -- I remember he was a particular favorite of my grandmother -- but to this point it's hard for me to understand.

BOLERO was directed by Wesley Ruggles and the uncredited Mitchell Leisen. The black and white cinematography was by Leo Tover. It runs 83 minutes.

BOLERO does not appear to have ever been released on either VHS or DVD.


Blogger VP81955 said...

Hey, who could complain about seeing Carole Lombard in her underwear? :)

7:19 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

And that's why I love RUMBA, with George Raft and Carole Lombard much more than BOLERO. I disliked this movie for most of the reasons you list. RUMBA is much more passionate, Raft plays a much more interesting character, and it's a much tighter story. I've watched it a couple of times, where I've only seen Bolero once.

But I do adore George Raft, and I know I'm in the minority. LOL! But I've seen a whole ton of his movies now, and what I love him for most are the more sympathetic characters he plays, like in SOULS AT SEA, and SPAWN OF THE NORTH, EACH DAWN I DIE, and those type films. I also find him very handsome, and he's very graceful, physically. I could watch him dance or fight all day. He got saddled with some awful movies, though, that sure is true!

9:01 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Deb, thanks much for the feedback on RUMBA and other Raft films. I need to track down RUMBA now to compare! :) I think BOLERO would have been much better if there weren't so much screen time before Lombard appears. Perhaps RUMBA is more successful in that regard?

I recently picked up an inexpensive Region 2 DVD of SOULS AT SEA (big Frances Dee fan here!) so I'll be very interested to watch it and see if I like Raft better in it. I've also recorded a couple of his movies with actresses I like such as Joan Bennett and Lynn Bari. Perhaps when I see a wider cross-section of his films I'll find more to enjoy in his performances.

In any event, I was really glad to see BOLERO at last despite my dissatisfaction with the leading man. :)

Best wishes,

9:25 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

nice review Laura!
I like Raft OK, not my fave by any means, but great in the right type of role. recently enjoyed him in RED LIGHT. I have to re-read that part in his bio but I could swear I remember reading he was crazy for Lombard, about the time she started dating Russ Columbo (?) Anyway you are totally right on the long stretch and slow pace until she shows up. She really was glam to the max in this one. And the theme music alone adds so much drama! Also, credit goes to Karen (Dark Pages, Shadows&Satin) for getting this movie in MY hands, before I could pass it on to you. Now, just to get RUMBA!

10:03 AM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Another Raft fan here! I must admit that my first reason is that I find him very attractive. *g* However, I do love him on-screen: he has a snappy vitality and earnestness that overrides his okay acting skills. Plus, he had a good sense of humor about his career. You should try to see him and Sylvia Sidney in "You and Me"--very adorable and romantic.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kristina and Evangeline, thanks for the additional recommendations of Raft films, I'm taking notes! :)

And a big YAY for Karen making it possible for us to see BOLERO!!

Best wishes,

1:40 PM  

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