An egotistical nightclub dance performer named Raoul, has the determination to succeed at all costs, and the only woman in his life that truly matters to him is a dancing partner named Helen... Read allAn egotistical nightclub dance performer named Raoul, has the determination to succeed at all costs, and the only woman in his life that truly matters to him is a dancing partner named Helen.An egotistical nightclub dance performer named Raoul, has the determination to succeed at all costs, and the only woman in his life that truly matters to him is a dancing partner named Helen.
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. (***)
- Jul 6, 2004