Bolero is an important film in the history of Cannon Films.
Menahem Golan worked with John and Bo Derek to make the movie, which was to be distributed by MGM as part of their ongoing deal with his studio. But when Bo screened the film for MGM CEO Frank Yablans, the studio head hated the movie — and its erotic content that would get an X — so much that he invoked a breach of contract clause to terminate their distribution deal.
But you know, the millions they spent on this movie had to have made since in 1984, when Bo Derek ruled the world. Or the libido of men.
In her teens, Bo Derek quit school, became a beach bum and found her way into the arms and bed of three decades older John Derek, who was married to Linda Evans, who he’d left Ursula Andress for, who he’d left Pati Behrs for. Derek had a thing for young women, as well as using their beauty to further his career, if I can be perfectly frank. After all, the first movie he made with her, Fantasies, was filmed when she was still a minor and is about a young girl in love with her brother and trying to avoid the carnal interest of her grandfather. This may sound like something out of Jess Franco, except that Bo Derek ended up being one of the biggest mainstream celebrities in the world by 1984, thanks to 1979’s 10, a movie in which a cornrowed Bo ran right into every man’s fantasies (and she’s married to Sam J. Jones in that movie). Of course, people tend to forget that once Dudley Moore’s character ends up sleeping with her, he realizes that she’s not the perfect being that he imagined.
Oh yeah — that sex scene is set to Ravel’s “Bolero,” which is the kind of thing John Derek had to think was sheer genius when he named this movie.
This lesson would be lost on everyone that threw money at Bo Derek related projects that came after that film (also, she gets her leg eaten in Orca, so I do have some affection for her). The Dereks made Tarzan, the Ape Man, which has future Ator and Sword of the Valiant actor Miles O’Keefe as the titular character, who barely features in his own movie. Instead, it’s all about Jane (Derek), who is frequently nude, often threatened, occasionally body painted and a chimp sucking from Bo’s teat. You can imagine how thrilled the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate was. Strangely enough, writer Gary Goddard claimed that he was writing a Marvel Comics adaption starring Bo, which would have been Dazzler, a character who has not yet entered the MCU.
Supposedly a remake of the 1934 Carole Lombard and George Raft film that would be written, directed, filmed, shot and edited by John and produced and starring Bo, this seemed like a can’t miss movie for Cannon, as even though the Tarzan film was a bomb with critics, it did great box office.
Sometime in the 20s, Ayre “Mac” MacGillvary — a virginal 23-year-old American, although Bo seems twenty years older than being 28 years old — has just graduated from an exclusive British college, a feat that she celebrates by running naked across the campus and into the protective blanket of her family chauffeur Cotton (George Kennedy, a man always willing to depondably show up no matter how bad a movie is; he’s the American Donald Pleasence).
Now, her goal is to find the perfect man to take her virginity, so she takes Cotton and her best friend Catalina (Ana Obregón, who is also in Cannon’s Treasure of the Four Crowns) around the world to find ultimate pleasure, which should be sexy but ends up feeling like anything but. Perhaps it was because this movie had been so hyped up, but even when I was a just into puberty charged up bundle of sexual frustration hidden behind a fat kid body and frog-like glasses, even this nerd couldn’t see the appeal of Bo writhing cross legged and screaming “Ectasty!”
This is not the first movie with a sex symbol of the 80s playing with the plot of Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik — see Brooke Shields in Sahara — that would cost Cannon money. But it’s also one that has Bo fall for a bull fighter named Angel (Andrea Occhipinti from The New York Ripper) and then nursing her lover back to balling health after a bull busts his balls. Also, she takes a 14-year-old gypsy named Paloma (Olivia d’Abo) under her wing and yes, the movie sexualizes the girl and yes, d’Abo was 13 going on 14 when he made this.
Again, this is not a movie made by a Z grade sleaze director.
This was a major studio movie.
As dumb and unerotic as the honey licking scene is, the true joy of this movie is the insane press war that ensured between the Dereks and Cannon. There were battles before shooting even began, as obviousy Golan realized that he was making a movie with two absolute maniacs, people who fired Fabio Testi because they believed he had herpes and Cannon had to pay his full salary and cast him in another movie, The Ambassador. The Dereks also fired half the cast and crew, at which point Cannon stopped sending money, at which point the Dereks started funding the movie with their own American Express cards, then a leaked memo from Cannon claimed that Bolero was a “total embarssment.”
Even today, when you read articles on the web or in past newspaper and magazine articles, there’s a lot of confusion over who wanted what. Some claim Brooke went to MGM and begged for them to cut out the sex that Cannon demanded. Others say that Cannon knew they wouldn’t be able to advertise the film with an X rating and begged Derek to compromise on his final cut and give them something they could sell.
But when MGM dropped Cannon, they made a thousand prints and got ready to make their own money. Of course, Derek then posed for Playboy, giving the public what they wanted to see before Cannon could put it on screens, all photos shot during the movie for publicity purposes that John ended up selling on his own to the magazine, so both sides went to court. Bo even accused Cannon of stealing publicity photos for the movie out of her out of her bag and using them in the film’s press kit, which seems to be the reason for the photos in the first place.
That sai, the movie still made money. It was a big deal on cable and for years was one of the video rentals that had the “MUST BE 18 TO RENT” handwritten sticker at my local video store. I kind of love that this movie has the Don’t Look Now urban legend that the final sex scene is real when obviously it looks faker than the hot tub sex in Showgirls. To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle, “John Derek, I have watched 125 movies by Jess Franco. I have watched him film his wife Lina Romay with many woman and men. Jess Franco and Lina Romay seem like friends of mine. John Derek, you’re no Jess Franco.” In short, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy willing to cuck himself while the cameras roll on.
Bo also claimed that Golan and Globus were so disappointed with the film that they threatened to take away the Derek’s family ranch, which sounds like something Cobra Commander — and not the Go-Go Boys — would do.
With MGM out of the picture, Cannon was free to make all the money from Missing In Action. As for the Dereks, they’d go on to make Ghosts Can’t Do It. I think in this war, Golan and Globus were the winners.
You can learn more about Bolero — a movie that Austin Trunick said was “one of the few that was a chore to get through” — in The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.
You can listen to The Cannon Canon podcast about this movie– it’s one of their best ones — here.