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.