Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Movie review - "Bolero" (1934) **** (warning: spoilers)

George Raft came to movie fame as a gangster but before that he was a renowned dancer - and this movie gave him the chance to strut his stuff. He's a coal miner who loves to dance (can't have anyone think he was a nancy boy, but it's good conflict). He forms a successful dance partnership with Sally Rand but can't help banging her, making her jealous when he goes after other women. So the team breaks up... Raft enlists Carole Lombard (who doesn't appear until half an hour in) as his new partner, they're a success, he starts sleeping with her, then World War One breaks out... They break up because she's offended by his fake patriotism. He goes on to serve, is badly wounded, so much show he's told he shouldn't exert himself or he'll die; he meets Lombard after the war, when she's married a member of the aristocracy (Ray Milland in a creepy moustache); they dance on more time, to "Bolero", then Raft dies.

Raft does look like a young Valentino here with his swarthy good looks and slicked back hair. His voice is very New Yawk though and you can't help laugh when he says things like "I'm a Belgian". It is a great character - compulsive womaniser, dancer, ambitious, sexual, basically decent. I really liked it how he kept selfish for most of the running time (his career always comes first) but they give give him a lot of redeeming qualities, like a comic relief half brother (William Frawley in the William Demarest role), having a dream (to open a night club, which propels him for the whole film), giving him some gentle moments (like visiting the graves of his family, which makes the female lead fall in love with him... I think they re-used this in Nob Hill), have him pine for Lombard.

I also liked it how they had it that Lombard didn't want to go back to him at the end - she'd moved on with Milland and was very happy. Her dances with Raft were sexy - in the final dance at the end they're panting and exhausted and relieved like they'd had sex... at the end she's clearly still attracted to him and loves dancing but she's not in love with him anymore. He kind of dies with that not sinking in... which made it very moving.

Raft gets to do a bit of dancing, including what I think was a version of Charleston at the beginning, and moves very well. I got the impression he and Lombard were doubled in a lot of their dance scenes because so many of them are done in long shot. Raft's dancing at the end (to the title tune, with Lombard) contains some of his best ever screen acting.

Lombard is lovely. She wasn't a professional dancer but she covers well; very beautiful, and warm (Raft needed a strong co-star). She had Raft have genuine sexual chemistry. This is pre-Code so her character is allowed to be adult: she and Raft definitely have sex before they break up; she's allowed to be ambitious and marry a man who isn't Raft and not be punished.

Other adult stuff: Raft dances with older women for money; a woman goes to Raft "coming home with me?"; Raft flirts with older women to help progress his career; the women are all aware of the importance of money; William Frawley suggests Raft seduce Drake to keep her wage demands down; Lombard dances for Raft in her underwear; both Raft and Lombard are highly aware how sexually attractive other people find them.

Good support from William Frawley and Frances Drake (v beautiful). I recognise a lot of this is silly stock melodrama (coal miner who dances), much of it felt rewritten and full of "bits" but it's got Raft dancing, Lombard, Sally Rand, and a surprisingly moving ending.

No comments: