Singing matador Juan Battista (Peter Sellers) arrives in Barcelona to find fame and fortune by impressing theatrical impresario Francisco Carbonell (former Bond baddie Adolfo Celi). “I sing before, during and after the bullfighting”, he declares, proudly. “But not so much during. I find it difficult to concentrate.” While Carbonell is none too impressed with what he sees (and hears), Juan proves so persistent he makes him a deal. In return for his chance on the stage, Juan must successfully woo Olympia Segura (Britt Ekland), the most desirable woman in Barcelona, in three days.
If The Bobo is remembered for one thing it’s the sight of Peters Sellers completely covered in blue dye as “The Blue Matador.” Aside from that, it’s a muddled morality tale, adapted from a novel by Burt Cole (a.k.a. Thomas Dixon). Less laugh-out-loud funny, more a comic fable about greed, desire, true love and the things people will do to get ahead. Olympia is a shrewdly manipulative minx who strings a series of lovers, including geeky journalist Pepe Gamazo (Kenneth Griffith), affluent car dealer Silvestre Flores (Ferdy Mayne), and suave playboy Carlos Mattabosch (Rossano Brazzi), she milks for money, fancy gifts and fast cars. Although slightly deluded about his own talent and prone to scamming food off friends, Juan is an endearingly philosophical, resolutely upbeat hero. He woos Olympia with an ingenious scheme, posing as the emissary of a wealthy count. When Juan wins Olympia over with his improvised love songs (which, thanks to composer Francis Lai, are actually rather pleasant), and refuses to take advantage of her while drunk, or describe their lovemaking to the odious Carbonell, the film seems to be heading in a sweeter, romantic direction.
But that is not how things play out. The oddly melancholy finale undercuts whatever moral they’re aiming for, as Olympia carries on as before while poor Juan languishes with his dreams unfulfilled. Further muddying things, maid Trinity Martinez (Carry On stalwart Hattie Jacques) asserts Olympia is kind to orphans, old people and animals, when we see no evidence of this, and paints Juan as the villain on account of his gypsy heritage. The film’s title supposedly comes from an old gypsy saying: “in Barcelona, a bobo is a bobo.” Nope, I have no idea what that means, either.
The Bobo boasts an appealingly glossy, studio bound look - shot mostly at Italy’s Cinecitta studios - and outstanding production design. A dizzyingly impressive opening aerial shot swirls from the statue of Christ across the sprawling city, while the credits come floating at us. Later a charming scene has Juan and Olympia marvel over an opulent hotel room, decorated in the style of Louis XIV but equipped with an array of outlandish gadgets. One striking sequence features a flamenco dancer clicking her heels with wild abandon, but these slices of Spanish culture are superficial. They add nothing to the narrative aside from local colour.
That said, Parrish was fired mid-way through filming by Peter Sellers, who then assumed directing duties himself. With its preoccupation with sports cars, gadgets, pretty but supposedly manipulative women and gypsy prejudice, this draws elements from Sellers' own life which further suggests he was its guiding light. Plus the camera lovingly lingers on his then-wife Britt Ekland, all pouting lips, sunny blonde locks and mod mini-dresses. This was their second film together, following Vittorio De Sica’s After the Fox (1966), although by this stage the couple were feuding furiously. Often criticised as a limited actress, Ekland is quite good here, maybe channelling her off-screen rage into a sparky performance. And yet it’s largely a waste since The Bobo strives for pathos, but winds up a fable with a heart of stone.