Release Date(s)1984/1989 (January 12, 2016)
Studio(s)Cannon Films/Triumph Releasing (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: N/A
Never has The Digital Bits’ letter grading system felt as inadequate as it does when using it to quantify the guilty pleasures of John Derek’s Bolero and Ghosts Can’t Do It. By most conventional standards of dramatic filmmaking – emotional involvement, narrative coherency and plausibility, pacing and suspense, etc. – both movies are virtually without redeeming virtue. Yet a D or F doesn’t accurately reflect the immense entertainment value that comes from both films’ sheer deranged wackiness – I’ve gotten a lot more enjoyment over the years from Bolero in particular than I have from a lot of other “respectable” pictures. So I’ll split the difference and call it a B- or C+, even though for connoisseurs of off-kilter cinema these are both essential viewing.
Derek, of course, was the husband of sex symbol Bo Derek, who became a huge star in Blake Edwards’ 10 before sublimating herself to her actor-turned-director husband’s vision in movies like the two under review and the slightly more mainstream Tarzan, the Ape Man. To witness Bo’s acting in John’s films is to recognize Edwards for the genius that he was, because clearly Bo Derek was the opposite of a natural actress. Her lack of ability is hilariously exacerbated by the unplayable situations thrust upon her by her writer-director beau; both Bolero and Ghosts Can’t Do It reach almost surreal levels of absurdity when their nonsensical premises intersect with Bo’s limitations as a thespian. In the first film, released in 1984, she plays a young virgin fresh out of finishing school determined to lose her virginity. Somehow this becomes more of a struggle than one might expect, as director John alternates between scenes showcasing his wife’s admittedly extraordinary body and clunky dialogue scenes in which she either tries and fails to get laid or talks about trying and failing to get laid.
These interchanges have to be seen to be believed – they’re often supposed to be funny, but are so lame they go from being so bad they’re bad to so bad they’re good and back around to being funny again. Ultimately Bo does lose her virginity, to a bullfighter who gets gored in the gonads almost immediately afterward, thus inspiring Bo to spend the final act of the movie doing whatever she can to get him aroused again. The soft-core premise is directed to lavish melodramatic extremes by John Derek, who, armed with a decent budget and international locations courtesy of the Cannon Film Group, shoots what’s essentially a late-night Cinemax movie like it’s a David Lean epic. Admittedly, John D. has a strong pictorial sense in both films, but his sensitivity to light, color and composition only makes his nonsensical stories more jaw-dropping. Ghosts Can’t Do It (1990), for example, is so inept at the screenplay level that it makes Bolero look like Chinatown. In it, Bo plays the much younger wife of Anthony Quinn – their initial kissing scenes are some of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen put on film – who dies and spends the rest of the movie as a ghost trying to get inside the body of a young man so he can keep screwing Bo. The supernatural rules are confusing at best, and what we’re mostly left with is a series of increasingly hilarious scenes in which Bo emotes about her lost love.
Does this make it sound like I don’t like these movies? I love these movies. They’re not exactly good, but they’re also never boring, and they are the product of a distinctive vision – John Derek is indeed some kind of auteur, albeit one obsessed with a fairly narrow problem (that of gorgeous women unable to have sex). The supporting casts of both movies are filled out with old Hollywood stalwarts (Quinn, George Kennedy, Don Murray), nubile newcomers (Olivia d’Abo), and actors who were justifiably never heard from again yet provide kabuki-like turns under John Derek’s peculiar direction. Perhaps the oddest – and most spectacularly entertaining – casting choice comes when Donald Trump (yes, that Donald Trump) pops up in Ghosts Can’t Do It giving a surprisingly good performance as a Donald Trump-esque tycoon who spars with Bo over an incomprehensible business deal. His scenes with Bo are among the most unintentionally hilarious in movie history – hopefully this new Blu-ray release will help them achieve the viral success they so richly deserve.
Unfortunately the only extras on Shout Factory’s double feature disc are a couple of trailers. A making-of documentary for Bolero would have been great given its historical significance as the widest release ever for a near-pornographic film (a staggering 1000-plus screens in 1984 – them’s almost Ghostbusters numbers, folks), and as the film that allowed MGM to get out of its distribution contract with Cannon after becoming increasingly frustrated by that company’s level of dreck. (Ironically, Cannon’s library changed hands so many times over the years that the movie wound up back in MGM’s vaults – the company couldn’t get rid of it no matter how hard it tried.) The transfers of both Bolero and Ghosts Can’t Do It are serviceable but unremarkable – the print quality of Bolero in particular is far from perfect. Yet overall the beauty of John Derek’s cinematography (he served as his own D.P. as well as writer and director) is nicely showcased, and the functional DTS-HD mixes allow one to appreciate the insane dialogue in all its nuances.
- Jim Hemphill