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What a lot of movie buffs may not be aware of is the surprise and delight that the movie audiences of 1929 felt when they first heard Bebe Daniels's singing voice on the silver screen. By the time sound pictures began to appear, Daniels had already been a major silent film star for years, most notably headlining in romantic comedies for Paramount. She was quite popular with audiences, and she was considered a real beauty, too. Yet before the advent of sound, screen audiences (for the most part) didn't know what her voice sounded like... They could only imagine. So at a time when the arrival of sound sometimes killed the careers of heretofore popular movie stars, many so-called "hot" personalities found their personas diminished on the talking screen. Not so with Daniels. No matter what people might have been expecting before the lights went down and the sound came on, as it turned out, in "Rio Rita", her singing voice was nothing short of a sensation. Teaming her with the incredibly handsome John Boles was a nice bit of casting, too, because he too was blessed with a wonderful singing voice. Their "duet in counterpoint" at the beginning of the film (he sings the title tune while she sings "River of My Dreams") must have been a revelation, and one can almost imagine the theatre audiences swooning when it was first heard in 1929. So no matter what others may tell you about this "Rita", the thing to keep in mind is that with almost all of these early talkies, the viewers today who will appreciate them the most are those who can project themselves back in time when they watch them.
Though Rio Rita has a big reputation among aficionados, I
it's probably due more to its success as a stage vehicle than
Nevertheless, for those who are interested in historical films, I feel Rio Rita serves as a good example of the kinds of obstacles that faced early film makers and actors. As the sound and music was recorded live, there are a number of mistakes, slips and awkward moments. But rather than detract, I think it's interesting to see how the actors and staff negotiated these difficulties. Particularly in the reprise of "Sweetheart We Need Each Other" you can see Dorothy Lee struggling to follow the conductor while Bert Wheeler keeps on distracting her, while Helen Kaiser is clearly trying to follow Lee but both Woolsey and Wheeler keep on getting in her way.
Then there are moments that, because the recording was done live, are just over the top. The most hysterical moment has got to be when, after 5 minutes of singing and tap-dancing in a single take, and then after a series of double summersaults, Bert Wheeler literally jumps on Dorothy Lee's back and rides piggy-back while she resumes singing. Wow!
And of course, with so few surviving films with two-strip Technicolor, it's always interesting to see how early film makers took advantage of it.
Like a river in the parched desert, so the lovely señorita
as RIO RITA brings joy to all who know her. But with her
brother being chased as a bandit, unwelcome attentions from
brutal Russian general & a new lover who refuses to divulge
true identity, pretty Rita has plenty of problems to distract
Florenz Ziegfeld's smash Broadway hit was brought to the screen in this very early movie musical. At times it wheezes quite badly and shows its age. The transitions into the songs look very stagy & artificial. Many of the lyrics, especially sung by the female cast, are completely indecipherable.
But it should be remembered that movie musicals were still in their cradle and the studios only had stage traditions to draw upon at first. So the few innovations showcased here are welcome. Some of the dance numbers are pleasingly elaborate, even including a primitive overhead shot. Occasional outdoor photography helps open up the screenplay, and the early Technicolor featured in the last half hour is a big bonus.
Bebe Daniels & John Boles play the romantic leads. She is saddled with a thick accent & ludicrous script. He appears somewhat awkward & ill at ease. Much better film roles would await them both in years to come.
The real highlight of RIO RITA is the film debut of the wonderful comedy team of Wheeler & Woolsey, who had appeared in the Broadway version. Here, although somewhat gynandroid, they cement what will be their screen personas through 26 films together. Bert Wheeler (1895-1968) plays a young, naive romantic. Robert Woolsey (1888-1938) portrays a shiftless, cigar-puffing conniver. Together, they would make a hilarious comedy team, their partnership only being sundered by Woolsey's untimely death. Today they are all but forgotten.
It is only fitting that pert little Dorothy Lee (1911-1999), Wheeler's perennial love interest, should make the first of her 14 film appearances with the Boys here. This Kewpie-doll-cute actress would become an integral part of the Boys' cinematic success, as well as a constant delight for viewers.
I think many of us make the mistake of reviewing films of the transition to sound era from the viewpoint of highlighting the inadequacies of the technology of the period as seen from today, I have recently seen an unrestored Video print of Rio Rita, the quality of which was excellent, the sound was excellent, the two strip colour finale as most will agree was stunning. I found Bebe Daniels characterisation to be endearing and entertaining, her accent didn't grate at all far from it, it fitted her role and she was in fine voice in her first talkie musical, John Boles performance was set very much in the stage style of presentation, he had a fine voice very easy on the ear. Rio Rita is a gem from the late 20's and deserves to be restored 100% to it's former glory when released,filmed head on for most of it's duration, rather like watching a stage show, I see it as a wonderful filmed record of what it was like to actually sit in the Ziegfeld Theatre perhaps and be a member of the first night performance of the show on stage, the nearest we will ever get to actually seeing a Ziegfeld show of the period, and partly in stunning two strip colour. The technical restrictions of the period, static camera's, etc work in the films favour for me, we have an opportunity to see a filmed stage show featuring some of the greatest stars of the period. I would like to suggest when watching film musicals of the late 20's, very early 30's, playing the soundtrack through an equaliser, then play it through your amplifier to good quality speakers, the results can be amazing, tinny soundtracks can suddenly take on a sound quality you had no idea was there! I recommend Rio Rita 8 out of 10 only because my copy though excellent isn't restored,a fully restored Rio Rita would be a wonderful to see and hear.
Lovely old musical based on a smash Broadway show produced by Flo
Stale plot but it doesn't matter what with great leads by John Boles and Bebe Daniels. Nonsense about a bunch of vigilantes seeking the notorious "Kinkajou." But the songs are terrific and both Boles and Daniels have great voices. It must have been a great surprise to film fans to see Bebe Daniels in this film. She had been a star for a decade and emerged as the great singer. Their duet on "Rio Rita" is excellent.
Along for the ride (and from the Broadway play) are Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey who are very funny here. Contrary to general knowledge, they were NOT a vaudeville team. They had never even met before being hired for the Broadway production. But RIO RITA started a long and very funny teaming of the two in many films.
Dorothy Lee is also good in this film as the "boop-a-doop" voiced girl friend of Wheeler. Their duet on "Sweetheart We Need Each Other" is a delight and when they break into a tap dance routine, they are just perfect. Lee is especially good, but I don't remember much dancing from her other films.
The 1942 version of RIO RITA is lousy and perverts the whole show to build it around the odious Abbott and Costello.....
Bebe Daniels, with a ridiculous accent and a trilling voice to rival
Jeanette MacDonald, is Rita, being romanced by mysterious gringo John Boles.
Their operetta duets are fairly pretty and Bebe gets to wear some good
In another storyline interwoved with that of Rita are Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey (with little Dorothy Lee) in a comic divorce-based plot. Woolsey is the wise-cracking cigar-chomper with the glasses, Wheeler the little guy with the high voice and a nice line in song 'n dance.
Rio Rita is a fun early musical with primitive Technicolor bits and one Berkeley-esque overhead shot with the frilly girlies doing their thing round Wheeler. Dorothy Lee's voice reminded me of Helen Kane (the lady who introduced I Wanna Be Loved By You before Marilyn got her hands on it).
My favourite bit music-wise is the catchy 'Sweetheart, We Need Each Other'; otherwise the invisible girl only seen by the boys after quaffing some seriously strong plonk is a really funny bit.
And I did like the fact that for 1929 this wasn't as primitive as other early talkies I've seen. Good stuff (and an invaluable record of a Ziegfeld show of course).
When movies began to talk a whole new vista of motion pictures opened
up with the musical. Not that musical properties hadn't been done
before, most famously Rudolf Friml's Rose Marie was done as a silent
film with Joan Crawford in the lead. The Student Prince was also done
with Norma Shearer. But singing and dancing was something new and it's
no accident that the first talking film, The Jazz Singer was a musical.
The guy who made the best musicals back in those days was Florenz Ziegfeld. One of his best was the operetta Rio Rita which ran for 494 performances in 1927-1928. Since the setting was the west, to be exact the Texas-Mexican border, we essentially get the screen's first musical western.
Rio Rita was the newly formed RKO Studios big budget film for 1929 and it starred John Boles and Bebe Daniels and Rio Rita was her talking picture debut. She surprised the world with a really nice soprano voice doing those Harry Tierney-Joseph McCarthy songs. Boles was one film's earliest singers and he does the famous Ranger song with gusto in the best Nelson Eddy manner. The other big song from the score was the title song that is sung as a duet with Boles and Daniels. Bebe's best solo number is an item that Tierney and McCarthy wrote specifically for the screen, You're Always In My Arms.
Repeating their roles from the stage show are the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey who also make their screen debut as well. The team itself was a creation of Florenz Ziegfeld and he used them in one of his Ziegfeld Follies editions. They're involved in a subplot about playboy Wheeler getting a Mexican divorce and getting into the clutches of a shyster attorney in Woolsey.
I could see that both of them were individual performers because Bert Wheeler gets himself a fine song and dance number in Out On The Loose. He was quite the dancer, something we rarely saw in his comedy films with Robert Woolsey. Still it was as a team that they have come down to us.
The main plot involved Texas Ranger captain John Boles going across the border to ferret out and apprehend a bandit called El Kinkajou and finding romance with Bebe Daniels. Like the first version of Rose Marie though his main suspect is her brother and Texas Rangers like Canadian Mounties put duty first.
The film is a photographed stage musical essentially, just like the first two Marx Brothers films, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. But the opulence of a Ziegfeld Show is preserved and that is the main reason to see Rio Rita. The last half hour is in color and we can thank the Deity that was preserved.
So for film historians and those who want a glimpse at the showmanship of Florenz Ziegfeld, don't miss Rio Rita when broadcast.
The Kinkajou dance lead by Dorothy Lee is a gem. Dorothy Lee
a white 10 gal. hat on an 8 gal. head, curtesy of a prop man with a strange
sense of humor, and looks a bit like a mushroom
but it only makes the dance more fun as she tries to keep
on. I wish this part was shown more often with the film.
Most old films noted as "of historical interest only" are actually very
entertaining. "Rio Rita" is not. It is one of the better examples of
the "historically interesting" film. It's also helpful if you view it
as a extravagantly filmed stage production. The 1927-28 stage musical,
produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, was a colossal success. And, the too long
film version was voted 1927's fourth "Best Picture", in the annual poll
conducted by "Film Daily".
The opportunity to see "Rio Rita" on screen, in partial color, with popular Bebe Daniels (as Rita Ferguson) in her first speaking (and singing) role, proved irresistible at the box office. Ms. Daniels did not equal her 1920s silent successes, but extended her popularity into the early "talkie" era. Check out the debuting comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey (with Dorothy Lee) in "Hips, Hips, Hooray!" for a better representation of their work.
***** Rio Rita (1929) Luther Reed ~ Bebe Daniels, Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey
"Rio Rita" is a filmed stage play with a couple of outdoor scenes
tossed in. Taken just as a movie it would be a near-flop, but as a
historical document it is an essential part of Hollywood's rich past of
musical motion pictures. It is also a rare look at a production
overseen by Broadway showman nonpareil Florenz Ziegfeld, which most of
us have never seen but can only read about.
Presumably, the spectacle's the thing with a Ziegfeld show, because Rio Rita's book is just plain goofy and as entertaining as oatmeal. The story is absurd and wanders about for 103 minutes and is saved only by musical interludes and by the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey, who are forced to work with some unfunny material but bring much-needed energy to the show. The music is very good, even though my DVD from Warner Archives collection omits the "Kinkajou" song and dance number. I have it on a CD recording and sounds almost like the show's best number - but I can't tell, since it's been left out.
Bebe Daniels was excellent but I found John Boles a lumpen and paunchy Texas Ranger, but with a good singing voice. The overall look of the show was somewhat primitive and static, except for the last 20-30 minutes which was shot in Technicolor. I gave the film a rating of 6, which I think is passable (historically speaking) - if you are a serious film fan you should really check it out and make up your own mind. It's what makes horse racing.
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