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BOLERO (Paramount, 1934), directed by Wesley Ruggles, stars movie tough
guy George Raft(1895-1980), in a change of pace playing a dancer, not
in the sense of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, but that of an ambitious
night club dancer working solely on a "strictly business" deal with his
female partners, in spite of how some try to throw themselves on him.
The plot: Raoul De Baere (George Raft), working as a coal digger by day and dancer on amateur shows by night, is an unscrupulous young man determined to succeed. Advised he would do better with a partner, he borrows a large sum of money from his brother, Michael (William Frawley) to set up a dancing act for himself. He lands a job dancing at a Hoboken Beer Garden, moves to France where he rises from tea salon gigolo to featured dancer at the Cabaret Montmarte. After acquiring the temperamental partner, Leona (Frances Drake) and Lady Clare D'Argon (Gertrude Michael) as his sponsor, he joins professional forces with the self sufficient Helen Hathaway (Carole Lombard). Starting his own night club, Chez Raoul, he plans on dancing the "Bolero" with Helen on opening night, surrounded by black natives pounding the drums. During their debut performance, patrons have more interest discussing the war outbreak in Europe than watching the dance. Raoul cancels his performance and announces he's enlisting in the service for his native land Belgium. When Helen finds that Raoul enlisted in the Army as a publicity stunt rather than showing his true patriotism, she leaves him. After the war ends in 1918, Raoul returns to civilian life, diagnosed with a bad heart. Going against doctor's orders, he reopens his night club to resume where he had left off five years ago, dancing the "Bolero." Helen, who has since married, to Lord Robert Coray (Ray Milland), are both seated with the crowd to watch the re-opening of Chez Raoul. Because Annette (Sally Rand), Raoul's new partner whom he had known before, arrives drunk, he cancels her out intends on doing a solo dance instead. As for Michael, more worried about the risk Raoul is about to take and knowing how important this night is to him, goes over to Helen to see if she would consider substituting for Annette.
In spite of many dance numbers, BOLERO is not a musical, and should not be categorized as one. It is, however, a drama about a dancer. There are no songs or vocalizing whatsoever, only instrumental scoring to dance numbers to popular songs from the 1914-1918 era, including "In My Merry Oldsmobile," "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (time-stepping solo by Raft), "The Missouri Waltz," "The Tango," among others. Aside from Raft taking much of the spotlight on the dance floor either alone or with a partner, the story does break away once from Raft on Sally Rand, in a very rare movie role, doing her famous fan dance, lasting three minutes, leaving Michael (Frawley) to comment, "I never get tired looking at that number."
George Raft has always credited BOLERO as a personal favorite of all his movies, as well as Carole Lombard as his best dancing partner. While the story is about dancers, Raft and Lombard portray dancers, but for the "Bolero," they were doubled by professionals, Veloz and Yolanda, in the long shots and difficult movements. This had been a well-kept secret until revealed in a mid 1970s documentary, "That's Hollywood" narrated by Tom Bosley, and shortly after-wards in a segment from "Entertainment Tonight" profiled by Leonard Maltin. Aside from the now famous "Bolero" dance, Raft and Lombard earlier in the photo-play perform a dance to an untitled jazzy tune, once in a dressing room with Lombard in her undergarments, and later, in a night club act with Raft sporting top hat and tuxedo, and Lombard all gowned up.
George Raft is ideally cast as a self-centered dancer who won't let anything stand in his way. He performs well opposite Carole Lombard, with whom he appeared again in RUMBA (Paramount, 1935), a rehash to BOLERO, but not as good. RUMBA is as forgotten as BOLERO is better known. William Frawley as Raoul's half-brother, best known for his recurring role as the grumpy, bald-headed landlord, Fred Mertz, in the classic 1950s TV series, "I Love Lucy," starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and Vivian Vance, not only has a sizable role here, but a full head of dark hair, probably a toupee. Ray Milland, some years prior to achieving star status and an Academy Award for THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), has several small but key scenes as the wealthy Lord Coray, sporting a mustache, loving Helen from a distance and following her wherever she's performing. Contrary to the fact to when the story takes place (1914-1918), Maurice Ravel's composition of "Bolero" was actually written in 1928, making it totally impossible for Raoul and Helen to perform a dance that didn't existed then.
Out of circulation on the commercial television markets in various states since the mid 1970s, BOLERO was resurrected on cable channel's American Movie Classics (1990-91) with some fine informative insights by its host, Bob Dorian. Never distributed on video cassette, BOLERO was the sort of movie Raft needed to break away from some offbeat assignments Paramount offered him. With few musicals to his credit, he would seem to always return to the pattern of gangsters or hard-boiled tough guys, the sort of roles that suit him best. At least Raft had BOLERO to his long list of screen credits as something personal and special in his career. (***)
George Raft is excellent as an ambitious dancer (he was a Broadway
dancer before coming to Hollywood) who is never satisfied. He works his
way up thru beer gardens and honky tonks in the US to the height of
London and Paris supper clubs, finally owning his own nightclub. Even
if some of the long shots are doubled by a dance act, there is enough
footage here to show that Raft could dance. Not an Astair or Kelly, but
Raft could certainly move--in total opposition to his screen persona as
rigid tough guy. Bolero is one of Raft's most likable and best film
Carole Lombard, in horrible makeup, cashes in on her breakthrough year of 1934 (this film and Twentieth Century) in her role as Helen. Lombard and Raft were a good team and are quite believable as dancers. Lombard slinks thru a few numbers here before the big Bolero production number--she even danced in her underwear for her audition. Quite racy. Lombard remains one the the screen's great treasure even 60 years after her death.
Sally Rand is surprisingly good as Annette, and yes Rand does her famous "fan dance" complete with see-through negligee. She has a couple of really solid acting scenes as well. William Frawly is good as the Irish brother (Raft plays a Belgian), while Gertrude Michael and Frances Drake are solid in support. Ray Milland has a small role as Lombard's husband.
Bolero was a hit, a change of pace for Raft, a star-making role for Lombard. It spawned 1935's Rumba, which was not a hit. And even if the long shots are of Veloz and Yolanda, they are extremely well done. We see enough of Raft and Lombard in dance action to believe that ALL the dancing is done but them.
Nice film though I wish the Bolero dance number had been longer. This and Night After Night rank among Raft's best performances.
This is a dance film very much in the classic mold. An arrogant but popular
dancer is dumped by his/her partner/lover and takes a new partner in order
to win a contest against the former, only to fall in love again, this time
"Saturday Night Fever" any one?
What makes this movie so worth watching is not the plot, nor even the dancing: it is the manner in which it is presented.
George Raft, sleazy as ever, tells Carole Lombard, who has come to audition in his hotel room, to do so in her underwear. She complies without complaint. Later in the film Sally Rand performs her famous Fan Dance. Properly done, a woman hides her complete nudity behind two enormous ostrich feather fans, while keeping herself and the fans in constant motion.
It is safe to say that neither of these scenes would have been possible a year later, nor for another thirty after that.
If you enjoy precode films, and would like to see how far the studios would go in order to get those depression dollars, or could go to irritate the censors, this is a fine example.
This is a surprisingly good '30s dance film from Paramount. It is
neither a frothy comedy nor a dated revue like so many musicals of the
day. There's a bit of a story, some nifty dialogue and a whole lot of
The story follows Raoul (perfectly cast George Raft) as he rises from coal mine laborer to be a top dancer in pre-Great War Europe. Unrelenting and egocentric, he goes through a line of dance partners from whom he flees romantic entanglements until war changes everything. As unlikely as the plot sounds on paper, director Wesley Ruggles easily guides the action from Raoul's unfortunate experience in an amateur theater to a beer garden to a Paris nightclub to a London club to his own hot spot. Along the way there is the desperately possessive Frances Drake, erotic fan dancer Sally Rand, and best of all Carole Lombard as Helen, the woman Raoul really falls for.
Those who are watching the film just to see Lombard have to wait a while before she first shows up. In fact, it is even longer before we first hear the music of "Bolero" itself. But it's all worth the wait.
The dances are a great representation of Raft's vaudeville and nightclub act before he hit Hollywood. The portrayal of the first Paris club, in fact, recalls a very young Raft's real employment as a tea-room gigolo - dancing with dowagers for tips with the possibility of having to fulfill other obligations afterward. Sex has a constant presence here, as is usually the case with Raft's adult fare. The hint of it spices the dialogue and drives the action. Rand's famous fan dance is a sensual highlight, and Lombard easily strips down to her skivvies as well.
A major part of the consistent mood is Leo Tover's cinematography. He dramatically captured the dances as well as emphasizing the performances of the actors with light and shadow. Even in the distance shots of the Bolero number when dance doubles do the heavy lifting, there is never a break in the moment. Tover and Ruggles set up the film to play to Raft's strengths and let Lombard be Lombard.
As with so many movies, the grotesquely gruesome World War I is hacked down to about two minutes, but it does cause a huge turn in the plot. And believably so, as the long-term effects of poison gas really did ruin the lives of those who survived the war itself.
It is odd to see Raft and William Frawley playing brothers (they are almost different species), and it is not explained until very late in the film that they are only half-brothers. Also coming late is the sudden information that Raoul's mother was Belgian, making it convenient for him to join the Belgian army as a publicity stunt.
But the movie isn't about plot - it's about mood and style. This is the only "A" musical Raft was fortunate enough to get. The studios threw him into other musicals occasionally, but they were all cheaper, slap-dash affairs (like the vastly inferior "Rumba" with lover Carole again) trying to make the same buck without half the production value and certainly without quality direction.
This movie from 1934 shows the viewer an era that must have seemed alien at the time and downright forgotten and strange to modern audiences.. Watching it is like a history lesson. George Raft shows us why he was known as the fastest dancer in the world at the beginning of the movie when he was a young man and just starting out on his career. The story line is not something we would see again especially as it is set in Europe. We get to see Paris and Brussels amongst other great cities with horse drawn-carriages, strange dance routines and the basic idea that you can dance your way out of poverty in nightclubs and make that career last. Carole Lombard stripped down to her underwear with stocking and suspenders to say the least, is a sight to behold. A year later and this wouldn't be allowed, the crotch of her panties on view. In a scene where Raft tells her that if she stripped naked he wouldn't be interested shows us how much more natural films were before the Hays code ; granny wasn't so innocent. Raft's lecherous and lascivious grin in one particular dance routine put him at odds with the cool elegance of Carole Lombard. They seem an odd couple -I believe at the time they had a romance- when not dancing and it is easy to see why she marries some-one else. Nothing comes between Raft and his dancing. A rare screen appearance by Sally Rand shows us that this lady's talents were limited to her fantastic fan dance, but who can tire of watching that????? Not enough of Bolero though, the theme of the movie being this music but we see very little of the dance routine or music considering the length of the composition. Raft is a better actor here than in many later parts in better movies, he knew this world and felt comfortable with it . Watch and enjoy.
Bolero, the film named after Maurice Ravel's classic instrumental
orchestral composition is one of George Raft's very few non-gangster
successes. That's because it takes advantage of Raft's other great
talent, that of a dancer. It's how he started out in show business and
like James Cagney, got to display that aspect of his talent way too
Raft is perfectly cast as the stop at nothing to get to the top man who uses and discards women partners like Kleenex. The only one who really understands him is his down to earth brother William Frawley who serves as his manager. But when Carole Lombard comes into his life, it throws his game plan off kilter. But just a little bit.
The film is set in the years before, during, and just after World War I. Just as he's really got it made with the opening of his own club in Paris, the war breaks out which Raft considers something done to hurt him personally. But he decides unlike Gene Kelly in For Me And My Gal to turn things to his advantage. The war will be over in a few weeks he reasons, why not enlist and get great publicity as the biggest patriot in show business. That enlistment sets off a chain of events that ends in tragedy.
Speaking of Gene Kelly, if Bolero had been done at MGM instead of Paramount a decade or two later this film would have been great for him. Raft was a good dancer, but he was not a creative individual the way Kelly was. Look at what he did with An American In Paris, this could have been another film like that.
Still it's not bad, Raft and Lombard, make an exciting couple on the dance floor, especially doing that dance to an abbreviated version of Ravel's Bolero. There's also good performances by Frances Drake and Sally Rand as a couple of Raft's discarded dames and by up and coming Ray Milland as the English lord also interested in Lombard.
In other hands though, Bolero could have been a classic.
In "Bolero," George Raft is in the limelight as part of a dancing duo. This is his passion and his life. But it all comes to a head when his partner wants more. She's the jealous type anyway. Any attention he gives to another woman, she flies off the handle. She's temperamental and fiery. Enter Carole Lombard. When his partner gives him more grief than she's worth, he drops her and takes Carole as his partner and eventual love interest. This early drama is helped by the stars' chemistry, as they make a very intense and sensual couple. But his fame and prosperity are hampered by his health and by his ex-partner's jealousies. This is a very good yet not very well-known film. In my experience, I have noticed an attribute of some of the early 1930s films: they had very abrupt endings. In some cases, they didn't know exactly how or when to end well, and others ended on the pinnacle of drama, when there was nothing further to elaborate on, where less is more. "Bolero" is one of those. And, that dramatic ending is what gives this film another plus. Discover "Bolero" today, if you can and see Raft and Lombard in action.
In his eighties extravaganza "Les Uns et Les Autres" ,Claude Lelouch
tried a new choreography for le Bolero de Maurice Ravel.It cannot hold
a candle to the wonderful Raft/Lombard dancing.This extraordinary
finale has also emotion and heart going for it,an emotion totally
absent of Lelouch's too perfect and terribly cold sequence.
The story takes place in France 1910.A miner (Raft) becomes a Danseur Mondain.He 's not interested in his female partners and is a real heart breaker.His only purpose is to marry a rich woman.Enter a gorgeous woman (Lombard) who registers the same desire :she 's looking for a money match.So both agree not to fall in love with each other.
Outside the finale ,best scene is the first interrupted ballet : Raft realizes his military audience is not watching them ,talking about the war which has just begun.So they stop dancing and the band segues from Ravel's work to "La Marseillaise" oddly sung in English.
George Raft's character, Raoul, is embarrassed at a talent show as the
film opens and he does his very fast Charleston - it really is a sight
to see - and the crowd boos as he is pulled off stage by the "cane
around the neck" method.
He vows to succeed at dancing, and finds a good female dancing partner, but she is demanding that she be his romantic partner as well. Hungry to continue the fame and cash, Raoul pretends that he likes her that way. One night when she quits in a jealous rage, in walks Helen Hathaway (Carole Lombard) and offers to be his dance partner. Raoul accepts on the condition that she pass an audition, and promptly shows the clingy partner the door.
One of the oddest scenes to somebody who doesn't know about the precode era is the scene where Helen auditions. She strips down to her underwear in Raoul's hotel room so she can freely move as Raft says that she could be naked for all he cared, this is strictly business. Six months later this would not have been allowed, but from about 1930-1934, scenes such as this were very common in film.
Helen and Raoul do become a famous dance team, all the time talking a little too much about how they do not care for each other romantically, that they are strictly business. Things look like they might be turning romantic for awhile. Then, while in France, the native Belgian Raoul, noticing all of the soldiers in the audience, stops mid performance to tell the audience he will be enlisting in the army tomorrow. Helen is impressed with his patriotism, only to find out it is all a stunt - Raoul says the war should last "two weeks tops", but will be great publicity after this little skirmish is over. This type of blatant manipulation repulses Helen and she walks out on the partnership and the building relationship. How will this all work out since we know WWI did not last just two weeks? Watch and find out.
Points of interest include Ray Milland with one of the silliest looking fake mustaches of all time as a wealthy suitor of Helen's, Carole Lombard early in her career when she was playing the tall elegant type, not the screwball comedienne, fan dancer Sally Rand doing an actual fan dance number, and of course George Raft being given an entire film in which to display his tremendously graceful dancing talents. Finally, there is William Frawley, later of I Love Lucy fame, as Raoul's brother and irascible agent.
I'd recommend it, if only to see Raft dance. Some movies that were actually about Raft as a dancer such as "Stolen Harmony" seemed to go to great trouble to NOT show Raft dancing. Why I'll never know.
This is really quite a remarkable movie, folks, and one that I strongly
urge you to see.
Why? Because of the dancing? Not so much. But because Raft and Lombard give two very fine performances here, and have real chemistry. (Could it have been hard to have chemistry with Lombard????) The script is more than just the series of clichés one might expect, and the characters have real complexity.
And then there is Sally Rand's fan dance. It is truly very beautiful to watch. There isn't much to the rest of her role, but her 3 minutes dancing are more than worth the price of admission.
This is, in a sense, the original "Dirty Dancing". And it's a great predecessor to that other movie. Before Astaire and Rodgers, and the Hayes Office, we see what dancing could also be used to suggest, and it's quite exciting.
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