Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Rio Rita (1942)

For the first half of today’s Abbott and Costello double-feature, we move away from their Universal output over to their 1942 MGM film Rio Rita.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Silly Hillbilly (1949)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 3 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

(Length: 6 minutes, 25 seconds)

Popeye brings his department store out to the hills, where he runs into hillbillies that included Olive and Bluto. Yep, another cartoon with Popeye and Bluto fighting over Olive. I’ll admit, there’s some fun to be had here, even though it seems different from the type, with the city slicker winning out over the hillbilly. But the gags work well enough and I enjoyed seeing this one!

And Now For The Main Feature…

After being fired from their job in a Texas pet shop, New Yorkers Doc (Bud Abbott) and Wishy Dunne (Lou Costello) hop in the trunk of a car, hoping it will take them to New York. However, it belongs to singing star Ricardo Montera (John Carroll), who is returning to his hometown of Vista Del Rio. The owner of the hotel there, Rita Winslow (Kathryn Grayson), was a childhood friend of Ricardo’s, although she is disappointed when he doesn’t recognize her. Trouble is brewing at the hotel, as, unbeknownst to her, the hotel’s manager Maurice Craindall (Tom Conway) is a Nazi spy, who is planning to use Ricardo’s upcoming national radio broadcast to plan sabotage. After they finally get out of Ricardo’s trunk, Doc and Wishy make their way over to the hotel, where they find some food. Maurice and some of his men catch them eating, and attempt to throw them out, but Rita says that she gave them the food and offers them jobs as the house detectives. In return, they try to help her out with Ricardo, who they find with Lucette Brunswick (Patricia Dane), who is distracting Ricardo on behalf of Maurice. Doc and Wishy attempt to bribe Lucette to get her to leave Ricardo alone, but they find themselves involved when an agent of the Secret Service gives them a codebook before being shot. With all this trouble going on, can they foil the Nazi agents and help Ricardo and Rita get together?

After having become a big success on stage and radio, Abbott and Costello had turned their attention towards Hollywood. Signing with Universal, they quickly rose towards the top with their second film Buck Privates. While still under contract with Universal Studios, they signed a three-film deal with MGM. Their first movie of this contract would be Rio Rita, a remake of the 1929 movie based on a Broadway show that featured comedy team Wheeler and Woolsey. The new film included two songs from the original show, “Rio Rita” and “The Ranger’s Song,” while included some new music written for this version. The story was updated to include the likes of a Nazi spy ring, and they also allowed room for Abbott and Costello’s somewhat improvised antics.

Of the three MGM films that Abbott and Costello made, I consider this one to be the middle of the pack. Not quite as much emphasis on the boys as I would prefer, although I do enjoy the supporting cast in this one. While it is one of her earliest roles, I think Kathryn Grayson still shows great promise as an actress. Admittedly, the filmmakers didn’t try to push her into joining in the comedy too much (which isn’t a bad thing), but I still like her. They boys do get a fair number of comedic moments, including doing their routine “Buzzing The Bee.” I don’t know how this movie fares compared against the original film version of Rio Rita, but I do enjoy it. Admittedly, the music is rather forgettable (but at least Kathryn Grayson’s voice makes up for it). Had the boys been given a bit more room for some of their comedy routines, instead of taking over roles previously occupied by another comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey, this one could have been better. Still, I do enjoy watching it now and then, and for that reason I do find it worth recommending!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Ride ‘Em Cowboy (1942) Bud Abbott/ Lou Costello – Pardon My Sarong (1942)

Kathryn Grayson – Anchors Aweigh (1945)

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