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The Bobo (1967), aka The Blue Matador, is an unusual story of a matador (Peter Sellers) who wants to be a singer and in order to win a contract to sing at a Barcelona theater must seduce a woman (Britt Eckland, Sellers' wife at the time) who refused the theater owner's advances. It was based on David R. Schwartz's play of the same name and the 1959 novel Olimpia by Burt Cole. Schwartz wrote the screenplay and Robert Parrish was the director. At least according to the credits.
Sellers had wanted to direct the film, which was shot on location in Barcelona, Spain and at the Cinecitt studios in Rome. In his book Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers, Ed Sikov quotes Sellers as saying, "The trouble is, my role starts early in the movie and goes right through to the end. So does Britt's. In order to make the most of my role and the scenes with Britt, I've had to concentrate on acting, not directing, this time." Unfortunately for director Parrish, it didn't stay that way. The problems started at the beginning of the film with Sellers' notoriously bizarre behavior. Parrish later said, "After three weeks' shooting in Rome, Peter called me aside and whispered, 'I'm not coming back after lunch if that bitch is on the set.' 'Tell me which one and I'll take care of it,' I cringed. He had already had the script girl fired. I figured it was the makeup girl's turn. 'The one over my left shoulder in the white dress. Don't look now,' he said, and slinked away to charm the cast and crew. The girl in the white dress was his wife and costar, Britt [Ekland]." A short time later, Parrish found them happily together in the canteen. The crew wasn't fond of Sellers, either. He tried to buy their friendship with fake Rolex watches, which, when he handed one to the camera operator, was spat on and thrown at Sellers' feet.
Kenneth Griffith, a good friend of Sellers, was asked to play the journalist Pepe in the film. He told Sikov that he arrived on the set to find Sellers, not Parrish, directing. "The scene I had was with Britt Ekland. I thought, 'Geez, somebody could have warned me. Well, perhaps they forgot.' So I did the scene, which was quite difficult with Miss Ekland. She always showed goodwill and tried very hard, but she was having problems. I think we were into forty-odd takes - which was quite difficult for me because if she got it right it would be printed and that's it. But we went on. At the end of the day I got my makeup off and got changed and sought Robert Parrish - nice man, lovely man. He was sitting alone. I said, 'Robert, you didn't tell me what was going to happen this afternoon.' He said, 'I'm sorry, Kenneth.' I said, 'Is it all with your agreement?' I thought maybe Peter had said, 'Look, I can handle it.' But Robert very quietly said, 'No. He just announced that he was taking over and I felt that I had a duty to sit quietly and be a servant to the film. You know, the number one job is to get this film finished.'" Griffith was approached by the publicity department after The Bobo was completed and asked to write a piece about working with Sellers as a director. Griffith refused and Sellers didn't speak to him for six months. As for Parrish, according to his widow, Kathleen, the film was "a disaster that we considered a death in the family and never mentioned." Sellers obviously didn't think so - he named his new yacht The Bobo in honor of the film.
The critics were clearly divided over The Bobo. The formidable Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times panned it. "It's amazing how labored and unfunny is the screenplay of this pseudo-comic tale...And it is downright pitiful to see how wistful and without spirit Mr. Sellers is as this pretentiously quixotic fellow who succeeds, but then is too honorable to take advantage of the deal. Actually, Mr. Sellers doesn't really get into the film until it has been going almost a half-hour, most of which time is taken in working up the tedious preliminaries of the plot.....Blame a lot on Robert Parrish, who directed, and David R. Schwartz, who wrote the script....They took what humor there might have been in the situation and dismally stomped it to death."
Richard Schickel wrote in Life magazine, "There comes a time in the life of every screen comedian when he urgently feels the need to have the adjective 'Chaplinesque' applied to his work. It is a dangerous moment, with the pitfall of pretentiousness yawning on one side, sentimentality on the other and all the psychological hazards of overreaching buzzing in the back of the mind. It is a pleasure to report that Peter Sellers - that excellent fellow - has not only endured this trial but has mostly prevailed over it...Like Chaplin's celebrated little fellow, he faces absurd misfortune with splendid courage. And more. There is in his character a wonderful scramble of guile and innocence, humility and dignity, not to mention a certain wise, romantic hue that is the real instrument of Olimpia's brief downfall. What is so good about Sellers' performance is that he never insists upon the emotional generalizations at the expense of specific characterization, is never excessively sweet or sour and never, never tries obviously to turn the Bobo into an Everyman, as so many lesser actors have when they have tried to work in a vein that is trickily laced with fool's gold."
Producer: Jerry Gershwin, Elliott Kastner (producer)
Director: Robert Parrish
Screenplay: David R. Schwartz (screenplay); Al Lettieri (dialogue director); David R. Schwartz (play); Burt Cole (novel "Olimpia")
Cinematography: Gerry Turpin
Art Direction: Elven Webb
Music: Francis Lai
Film Editing: John Jympson
Cast: Peter Sellers (Juan Bautista), Britt Ekland (Olimpia Segura), Rossano Brazzi (Carlos Matabosch), Adolfo Celi (Francisco Carbonell), Hattie Jacques (Trinity Martinez), Ferdy Mayne (Silvestre Flores), Kenneth Griffith (Pepe Gamazo), Al Lettieri (Eugenio Gomez), Marne Maitland (Luis Castillo), John Wells (Pompadour Major Domo).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Crowther, Bosley "Screen: 'The Bobo,' With Peter Sellers, Begins Run: Comedy at Music Hall Has Spanish Setting Bullfight Story Fails to Win Ears or Tail", The New York Times 29 Sept 67
Schickel, Richard "Peter Sellers as a Singing Matador", Life Magazine 25 Sept 67
Sikov, Ed Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers
The Internet Movie Database