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The Cannon Files: BOLERO (1984)


(US - 1984)

Written and directed by John Derek. Cast: Bo Derek, George Kennedy, Andrea Occhipinti, Ana Obregon, Olivia d'Abo, Greg Bensen, Ian Cochrane, Mirta Miller, Mickey Knox. (Unrated, 105 mins)

One of Cannon's most controversial releases, BOLERO opened on Labor Day weekend 1984 riding a wave of publicity due to its troubled production and explicit sexual content involving iconic star Bo Derek. The actress had been offscreen since 1981's TARZAN THE APE MAN, a film that began a decade-long stretch where she was starring exclusively in films directed by her husband John Derek. John, born in 1926 and 30 years his wife's senior, was a former actor who once held his own with Humphrey Bogart in KNOCK ON ANY DOOR (1949) and an Oscar-winning Broderick Crawford in ALL THE KING'S MEN (also 1949) and had prominent roles in epic blockbusters like THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) and EXODUS (1960). John was married to original Bond girl Ursula Andress when he quit acting in 1966 to focus on filmmaking and photography. After he and Andress divorced, John was married to Linda Evans until their divorce in 1974. The divorce came after John met 16-year-old Kathleen Collins a year earlier and whisked her away to Europe. Upon returning to the US after Kathleen turned 18, the pair married and he rechristened her "Bo Derek," managing every aspect of her career and even handling the photography for her numerous Playboy pictorials. She landed a supporting role in the 1977 JAWS ripoff ORCA and in 1979, skyrocketed to international stardom as the object of a midlife crisis-stricken Dudley Moore's obsession in Blake Edwards' zeitgeist-capturing megahit 10.

Bo followed 10 with a very similar role in 1980's A CHANGE OF SEASONS, which had Anthony Hopkins in the Dudley Moore midlife crisis part. By this point, the Dereks, with their age difference and John's Svengali-like management of her career--he resented the "Svengali" implications but trolled his detractors by naming his company "Svengali Productions"-- became a lightning rod for tabloid controversy. They had such a ubiquitous media presence and Bo-mania was such a pop culture phenomenon that Fleer even released a set of "Here's Bo" trading cards. 1981 saw the release of the incestuous love story FANTASIES, a film the Dereks shot in Greece in 1973 during their sojourn to Europe where John wouldn't be inconvenienced by California's 18-as-the-age-of-consent statutory rape laws (when they returned to the States and while Bo was shooting 10, John also found time to direct the 1979 hardcore porno LOVE YOU! with Annette Haven). But the Dereks made their biggest splash of 1981 with their sexed-up remake of TARZAN THE APE MAN, a film that veered so far from the source story that the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs tried to sue. Highly publicized thanks to Bo's barely-there Jane outfit and her numerous nude scenes, TARZAN saw Bo not using her 10 fame to further her own acting career but rather, the couple using her fame to get big-studio budgets for John's crummy movies. A director with an eye for beauty but no idea how to tell a story, John Derek's films during his marriage to Bo accomplish little aside from John Derek showing the world how hot his young wife is. TARZAN THE APE MAN generated enough interest--and enough people still wanted to see Bo naked--that it became a hit, but nobody liked it and it was immediately and rightly ridiculed by critics and audiences, earning multiple Razzie nominations and making John a major-studio pariah.

A set photo from early in BOLERO's shoot, as
evidenced by the presence of the soon-to-be-fired
Fabio Testi on the far left (thanks to
William Wilson for supplying this pic)
Undaunted--and still winning since, as he was quick to point out, his wife was incredibly hot--John set up a deal with Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus at Cannon for the couple's next film, BOLERO, its title a reference to the Ravel piece that was prominently featured in 10. Golan and Globus were in the middle of a lucrative distribution deal with MGM/UA, and that allowed them to supply John with an even bigger budget than he had with TARZAN, and to further stroke his ego as if that was even necessary, they also gave him final cut. Shooting began in the summer of 1983 and almost immediately ran into problems when Bo became alarmed over a cold sore on the lip of the male lead, Italian actor Fabio Testi. The two stars already weren't getting along, and there was a lot of chatter in the press that Testi had herpes and was forced to exit the movie. The official diagnosis was "atypical facial dermatitis," and an already-under-contract Testi was yanked off of BOLERO and sent by Golan to another Cannon production, J. Lee Thompson's THE AMBASSADOR. Testi was replaced by another Italian actor, the much-younger Andrea Occhipinti (Lamberto Bava's A BLADE IN THE DARK, Lucio Fulci's THE NEW YORK RIPPER), but John wasn't satisfied with his physical appearance and, according to a February 1984 article in People, tried to talk him into bulking up with steroids. Following the advice of his doctor, Occhipinti refused, but agreed to physically train with Scottish co-star Ian Cochrane, who had some bodybuilding experience. Shooting mostly in Spain, John's directing style alienated much of the local crew, but the real clashes came later when Golan screened the finished film for MGM/UA personnel, including studio head Frank Yablans, who was put in charge of the company in early 1983.

Yablans was already pissed off about the quality of product Cannon was bringing him with low-budget films like TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS and HERCULES and big-budget money-losers like the expensive Brooke Shields adventure SAHARA and the raunchy Faye Dunaway period piece THE WICKED LADY, both of which bombed. REVENGE OF THE NINJA and BREAKIN' were two of the very few hits under the MGM/UA-Cannon deal, and when Yablans attended the disastrous private screening of BOLERO, during which numerous MGM/UA brass started laughing out loud in all the wrong places, he'd reached his breaking point. Golan was just as upset about John Derek's finished cut as Yablans, but he got an even bigger surprise when an irate Yablans drew the line and flat-out refused to distribute BOLERO. The topic was brought up in Mark Hartley's 2015 Cannon documentary ELECTRIC BOOGALOO and Yablans, who was out at MGM/UA by 1985 and who died in 2014, appears on camera still stewing about Cannon, and over BOLERO in particular. After the teen comedy MAKING THE GRADE flopped later in the summer of 1984, Yablans had seen enough and pulled the plug on MGM/UA's relationship with Cannon. As a result of the falling out with Yablans, Golan and Globus were on their own and began self-distributing most of their films, starting with BOLERO (1985's LIFEFORCE, produced by Cannon and released by Tri-Star, was an exception, and several 1986-87 Cannon productions would be released by Warner Bros). While BOLERO barely made back its budget thanks to, once again, people wanting to see Bo Derek nude (it opened in third place that Labor Day holiday weekend, behind TIGHTROPE in its third week and GHOSTBUSTERS in its 13th, then plummeted to 8th place in its second weekend), the resulting film was so terrible that it did irreparable damage to what remained of the Dereks' credibility in Hollywood.

Make no mistake--BOLERO is an awful film. The only positive thing one can say about it is that the budget is up there on the screen. With lavish sets and location shooting in Spain, Morocco, and the UK, the only thing John gets right--other than Bo's gratuitous nude scenes--is a certain sense of spectacle. Set in the 1920s, the threadbare plot has 28-year-old Bo as Ayre "Mac" MacGillvary, a wealthy orphan just out of boarding school, armed with her inheritance and ready to search the world for the perfect man to whom she can gift her virginity. Accompanied by her best friend Catalina (Ana Obregon) and her chauffeur/guardian Cotton (a bewildered-looking George Kennedy), Mac travels to Morocco where she meets a London-educated, narcoleptic sheik (Greg Bensen, in his simultaneous acting debut and swan song) who seduces her and covers her in milk and honey but falls asleep before he can deflower her. Then it's on to Spain where she meets bullfighter Angel (Occhipinti). The two fall in love and Mac loses her virginity in an over-the-top sex scene that has John employing a wind machine as Mac reaches orgasm, in addition to zooming in as close to the actors' grinding and thrusting as he can to vividly show the friction of their pubic hair (in a later climactic sex scene, Derek gives us a clear shot of Occhipinti's nutbag). The couple's passion is threatened when Angel is gored by a bull (in a scene where John shows shocked onlookers, including a reaction shot from a barking dog) and is unable to perform sexually. Never fear, though--Mac gives him a thumbs up and promises "That thing is going to work! I guarantee you this!"

"Yep...the picture was called COOL HAND LUKE," sighs
 George Kennedy, adding "They gave me an Oscar for it!" 
From then on, Mac focuses on helping Angel heal in order for them to continue breaking barriers in sexual ecstasy (or "extasy," as she spells it). All the while, Mac is given strong support and encouragement by Cotton, Catalina, and 13-year-old local gypsy girl Paloma (debuting future WONDER YEARS co-star Olivia d'Abo who, in a move that would only happen in a John Derek film, was 14 at the time of filming and somehow does full frontal nudity), as well as Angel's housemaid, who has a brief fling with Cotton (yes, even George Kennedy gets laid in this movie). Never have so many people had to devote so much time and energy to an impossibly gorgeous woman getting some dick. While the numerous sex scenes are vigorous and explicit (give John Derek some credit--he knew how to shoot a fuck scene), and, in the case of Angel's triumphant return to potency, hilarious thanks to John breaking out some lightning effects and an '80s metal fog machine, they're spaced out enough that the rest of the film is a dead-on-arrival bore. John manages to create the illusion of class with the majestic locations (he also served as his own cinematographer), brief and quickly abandoned attempts at paying homage to silent cinema (the film opens with a photo of Rudolph Valentino and the sheik's seduction of Mac plays out with silent movie intertitles in place of dialogue) and the sex scenes scored in overwrought fashion by the legendary Elmer Bernstein, but BOLERO is just bad. Bo's performance is terrible (she won a Razzie for it), and you can barely understand anything Obregon and Occhipinti are saying (around 48 minutes in, Occhipinti audibly flubs a line and John just left it in). The sex scenes were graphic enough that the Dereks knew BOLERO would get an X rating, and since the couple was promised complete artistic control and final cut, the film went out unrated, though stories differ over whether Golan wanted it to be even more explicit. The Dereks said at the time that Golan was pushing for more graphic content, while Golan claimed he asked John to make some cuts. Over 30 years later, it's hard to ascertain the truth, and at this point, no one cares.

A willing participant in the implosion of her once-promising career, Bo Derek was offscreen for six years after BOLERO. When she made another film, it was of course directed by her husband. 1990's GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT, produced by former Trans-World Entertainment partners Eduard Sarlui and Moshe Diamant, is John Derek's worst film by a wide margin, a self-indulgent travelogue/home movie that found Bo as a widowed wife trying to find a younger body to host the spirit of her robust, much-older, and recently deceased husband (Anthony Quinn). Also featuring veteran actors Don Murray and Julie Newmar, the alleged comedy GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT is obviously about an aging John Derek facing his own mortality but is so vapid and empty that it's somehow worse than either TARZAN THE APE MAN or BOLERO, with its only notoriety these days stemming from the presence of none other than Donald Trump in a small role as an asshole corporate raider (in other words, "Donald Trump") trying to take control of Quinn's business. BOLERO and GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT were recently released as a double feature Blu-ray by the fine folks at Shout! Factory, and the very fact that this product exists in the year 2016 should completely debunk once and for all the myth that physical media is dead.

John and Bo Derek at the height
of the early 1980s Bo-mania. 
Not long after GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT predictably bombed in theaters, John's health began to decline and Bo had to branch out and act in other movies. She found herself in several straight-to-video titles like 1992's HOT CHOCOLATE and a pair of 1994 post-BASIC INSTINCT erotic thrillers, SHATTERED IMAGE and WOMAN OF DESIRE. GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT proved to be John's final feature but he directed a pair of music videos for Shania Twain in 1995, the same year Bo had her most significant role in years as Chris Farley's scheming stepmother in TOMMY BOY. This led to some steady work on TV for Bo, which continued after John's death following emergency heart surgery in 1998 at the age of 71. In a relationship with SEX AND THE CITY and MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING co-star John Corbett since 2002, Bo hasn't appeared in a major theatrical feature since 2003's MALIBU'S MOST WANTED, though she's remained busy with a couple of Lifetime movies and guest spots on TV shows like CHUCK and CSI: MIAMI, as well as playing Tara Reid's mother in 2015's SHARKNADO 3: OH HELL NO! Bo Derek will turn 60 this year, and though she hasn't headlined a box office hit in over 30 years, she remains one of the world's most recognizable sex symbols, due mostly to one film: 10. No matter how peculiar or creepy the public perceived their relationship to be, there's no doubt she and John loved one another dearly, but after 10, she probably could've accomplished more than becoming a four-time Razzie winner in every movie she made with her husband--one for each film and then a special award for Worst Actress of the 1980s.

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