By Scot Haller
September 03, 1984 12:00 PM

When we last saw our heroine in February, she wasn’t exactly riding off into the sunset. In fact, her troubled saga was closer to that of Lady Godiva than Lady Luck. After spending nearly two years and $7 million to make Bolero, star-producer-pinup Bo Derek, 27, and her husband-director-soulmate John, 58, looked as if they might not enjoy another opening of another show. According to the mogul who financed Bolero, Cannon Films chief executive Menahem Golan and MGM/UA, the studio that was set to distribute it, the skin-and-sin period piece was unreleasable. It was deemed inept in execution and too overt in sexual matters. But next Friday, Aug. 31, with a few changes and much acrimony, Bo’s Bolero gets massive indecent exposure in 1,022 theaters—probably the widest release of any no-one-under-17-admitted movie in Hollywood history.

Although John calls the situation “a Mexican standoff,” each side claims to have won part of the battle.

“We and the Dereks don’t make movies to keep them on the shelves,” says Golan. And Derek claims that this version is his vision: “There’s not a frame out that isn’t out because we wanted it out.”

Bolero’s creators describe the film as a fantasy—and not simply because Bo plays a virgin. Set in the 1920s, the plot introduces Bo as a finishing school graduate longing to lose her virtue. Off she goes to Spain, where she lands a bullfighter who works on horseback. He has all the right moves—until a bull gores him in the wrong place. But Bo’s bedside manner overcomes even this handicap. Besides explicit love scenes, Bo rides bareback bare and takes steam baths with other women. One taboo remains: There is no male frontal nudity.

Ironically Bolero isn’t X rated, although, according to the board that rates movies, it should be. When screened for the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings review, the film was deemed a probable X. “They demanded cuts—or it would be given an X,” says Golan. “You would have had a half hour left.” Says John, “X is telling the public what it is. We would happily go with the rating they gave us.” But Cannon would not and MGM could not. The latter’s in-house policy bans releasing X movies. Prompted by the Bolero brouhaha, MGM terminated its agreement to release all Cannon films, whereupon Golan decided to release the movie without an MPAA rating and impose a voluntary restriction against moviegoers under 17. The predicament has perplexed the Israeli-born moneyman. “In Europe, this kind of movie is considered Walt Disney,” he insists.

Despite its $4 million promotional budget, Bolero hasn’t corralled some of the best neighborhood theaters. Golan says that General Cinema, the nation’s largest theater chain, refused to play the film. So did the 791-screen chain, American Multi-Cinema Inc., some of whose shopping-mall theaters have lease restrictions that prohibit the showing of X-rated films. Says senior vice-president Arnold Shartin, “I don’t know that we’ve ever shown anything with frontal nudity or insertion or simulation of insertion.”

Cannon has kept Bolero under wraps. The usual press screenings and sneak previews have been skipped. “I have made the film I wanted to make,” says Derek, who wrote and directed Bolero. “I’m not going to take it to the public for screenings.” After the flap of last February he trimmed Bolero by 10 minutes to its current one hour, 50 minutes running time. But none of the sexually explicit scenes was cut. Instead he pruned dialogue. Might audiences laugh at the wrong scenes in Bolero? Says John, “There is no wrong time to laugh.”

The skirmishes between the Dereks and Golan haven’t subsided. Derek protected his contractural right to the final cut, but laments that he “unfortunately” has no say over what has always been his greatest talent: the selling of Bo. Cannon retains control of advertising and promotion. Although their lawyers talk (frequently), Derek and Golan no longer do. Derek says that Cannon owes a final $300,000 payment to the duo, whose contracts were for $1.5 million. Their last court battle concerned 1,000 publicity stills, some of which, Golan says, Derek sold to Playboy without his permission—and without splitting the $50,000 fee. Cannon won a verdict to regain possession of the slides, but the Dereks are appealing the decision.

If there’s a happy ending to this drama, the scenes will take place at the bank. Bolero needs to gross only an estimated $20 million to break even. Bo’s last film, 1981’s Tarzan, the Ape Man, grossed $30.5 million. Cannon and the Dereks will split the profits evenly. Golan says that rights to the videocassette version, due out in six months, were sold for $1.5 million, and reportedly Home Box Office paid $2 million for exclusive cable rights. Judging from those figures, Hollywood’s last laugh may not be a guffaw. Says one studio vice-president, “If it’s a bomb, we can all applaud the fact that we don’t have to talk to them. But Bo is still a name and she will still get financing. No one is too much trouble if they’ve just come off a hit.”