Road to Rio (1947)
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The plot gets off to a really good start in a carnival where the smooth talking "Scat" Sweeney (Bing Crosby) has his pal "Hot-Lips" Barton (Bob Hope) doing a high wire bicycle act leading to disastrous results before the carnival catches fire, burning to the ground. To avoid capture by an angry boss and mob, the boys make a run for it, ending up as stowaways taking refuge in a lifeboat of the S.S. Queen bound for Rio. During their voyage, they encounter the beautiful Lucia Maria De Andrade (Dorothy Lamour) traveling with her aunt, Catherine Vail (Gale Sondergaard). As Scat and Hot Lips each vie for Lucia's affections, they become confused by her sudden mood changes (from "I love you," to "I hate you," I loathe you," "I despise you" ...) reactions, unaware she's actually under a hypnotic trance by her aunt, whose intentions are for her to forget about these men and concentrate on her forthcoming marriage. Upon their arrival in Rio, Scat and Hot Lips obtain jobs working for Mr. Cardoso (Nestor Paiva) in his nightclub with three odd-ball musicians (The Wiere Brothers) who don't speak any English, before braving Mrs. Vail's henchmen (Frank Faylen and Joseph Vitale) disguised as a pirate and Caribbean dancer, to entertain at Lucia's wedding, to extremely funny results.
In between Hope and Crosby antics and Lamour's hypnotic trance, song interludes by Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen enter the scene, including: "We're on Our Way" (sung by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope); American standards of "Swanee River" (by Stephen Foster), and "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" (by James A. Bland); "But Beautiful" (sung by Crosby); "You Have to Know the Language" (sung and performed by Crosby and the Andrews Sisters); "Experience" (sung by Dorothy Lamour); and "Brasilia (I Yi Yi)." Crosby's performing on board ship with the Andrews Sisters (Laverne, Patti and Maxene), a popular singing trio during the World War II years, ranks one of the film's several highlights. For being the longest (100 minutes) in the "Road" series, Crosby's vocalizing of "But Beautiful" to Lamour was usually one that got deleted from most television prints during the 1970s and 80s to fill in enough commercial breaks during its standard two hour time slot.
This highly entertaining and worthwhile "Road" entry, formerly presented on American Movie Classics (1997-2001), is often hailed as the last great "Road" comedy, though certainly not its finish. ROAD TO BALI (1952) and THE ROAD TO HONG KONG (1962) came after-wards, indicating its popularity was best suited for the 1940s rather than the forthcoming decades. With all "Road" comedies placed on home video and DVD over the years, ROAD TO RIO not only has had limited TV revivals in recent years, but labeled as one being "out of print" by DVD distributors. With the overplayed ROAD TO MOROCCO listed among one of the greatest comedies by the American Film Institute, ROAD TO RIO, with Crosby, Hope and Lamour at their finest, is certainly entertaining enough to merit attention and availability for future generations to endure. (***1/2)
But let's not just praise this highly polished piece of pleasurable, profitable professionalism. Buried in the movie is a uniquely eccentric and expert trio of brothers, Harry, Herbert and Sylvester. They were the Wiere Brothers, and a single description fails to do them justice. They were comics, dancers, gymnasts, singers, jugglers, players of all sorts of musical instruments and very funny men. They came to the States from Germany in the mid-Thirties after a successful European career in clubs and circuses. They were born to entertainers who moved around. Harry showed up in Berlin in 1906, Herbert appeared in Vienna in 1908 and Sylvester arrived in Prague in 1909. They soon were a part of their parent's act. In their early teens they organized their own routines.
I think Hollywood and America simply didn't know what to make of them. They made a handful of movies, only one of which really showcased their skills and appeal. They eventually settled down to a successful career in nightclubs and special appearances on television. In The Road to Rio they play three Brazilian street musicians. Scat Crosby and Hot Lips Hope encounter them while the two boys are trying to rescue Dorothy Lamour from a nefarious plot. We get a chance to see the brothers bandy schtick with Hope and Crosby. Unfortunately, they get only one chance to show us what they can do in performance, and that scene is chopped up and was severely edited. Still, it's better than nothing.
Their showcase spot was in the first movie they made when they came to America. That's Vogues of 1938, which starred Warner Baxter and a blonde Joan Bennett. We get a full routine from the Wiere Brothers, dressed in white tuxes, dancing eccentrically, bouncing and rolling, doing wonders with hats, playing violins and singing. They are funny, endearing and terrific.
The Road pictures always had a usual pattern of songs. A ballad for Crosby, a ballad for Lamour, and some patter songs for Crosby and Hope. Crosby sings one of his nicest ballads with But Beautiful. Hope and Crosby do Appalachicola, Fla and Dottie does an unforgettable version of Experience accompanied by Hope playing a bubble blowing trumpet.
Bing Crosby's most frequent singing partners were the Andrews Sisters on record. They did enough material to fill more than three of those old fashioned vinyl LPs. But their only appearance in a movie with Bing is here and they sing You Don't Have To Know The Language with him as an extra treat.
See it and figure out for yourself what was in those "papers" that the world was better off in blissful ignorance of.
Hope and Crosby star as two vaudevillians, who after setting a circus on fire, stow away on a liner bound for Brazil. Once there they encounter a distressed woman (Lamour) who is being coerced into an unwanted marriage by her scheming guardian.
The fifth in the hugely popular "Road To" series of films, Rio follows the same trajectory as before. For fans such as myself this is OK, other film fans venturing in for a first time look may be a bit bemused by it all. In fairness this one does have a solid story at its core, with hypnotism the dastardly weapon of choice, while McLeod neatly blends the comedy and musical numbers and keeps the pace brisk. Hope gets some well written topical gags to deliver and Crosby croons whilst also getting to do a number with The Andrews Sisters. In support the wonderful Sondergaard turns in another one of her memorable villainess performances, and The Wiere Brothers form part of the narrative to produce great comedic results.
With a blazing first quarter, a jovial middle section and a genuinely hilarious finale, Road to Rio achieves everything a "Road To" fan could wish for. 7.5/10
The second interlude is performed by the Wiere Brothers. I have never seen anything as charmingly eccentric and clever. Their routine has you guessing what they will come up with next and what comes next is unexpected and delightfully witty. I am so glad to have seen the brothers in "Road to Rio" because apparently there is very little of their routines on film.
It is also good to see Gale Sondergaard in a type of role she made her own - mysterious evil with a beautiful face and body. Disney used her as the model for the evil Queen in Sleeping Beauty. Sondergaard was to play the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz" until it was decided that the witch should be ugly. Sondergaard rejected the role and she was right. Her portrayals of evil were not the ugly kind; they were sensual, sophisticated, dark and hypnotic.
However when the fifth entry was released in 1947, for some reason things were toned down a tad, making the Road to Rio, although still funny and enjoyable appear to lack the quirkiness and zany antics of what had gone before.
The banter and wise cracks between our two heroes is as good as ever, and the musical numbers up to par as well, but in spite of this, I always have a problem associating this film with any other in the series. It seems out on it's own; out on a limb.
Maybe it's because unlike its predecessors, the gang are not lost in the untamed wild of somewhere or other, perhaps its the lack of talking animals, or perhaps it has more to do with the fact that this story actually has a plot; a real story you can follow instead of the more customary and formulaic half-hearted story onto which a few gags and songs had been pinned.
Still the film is enjoyable and very funny, with The Andrew Sisters, Bing's other frequent stalwarts from radio and record, joining in on the fun for 'You Don't Have to Know the Language' and a delightful comic turn from The Weire Brothers as three local boys trying to pass themselves off as red blooded Americans, despite only knowing three slang terms in English which had been taught to them by Hope and Crosby just minutes before.
As I said you will enjoy this entry very much but you will probably find this movie more akin to a Bob Hope 'My Favorite Blonde/Brunette' kind of comedy than anything so far seen in the 'Road To...' franchise
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby are caught up in their all too familiar antics, this time fleeing to Brazil, after they've been accused of starting an accidental fire in a circus.
Meeting up with Dorothy Lamour is the worst thing that could happen to the guys since she is being victimized by her guardian to wed the latter's brother so as to swindle her fortune.
Gale Sondergaard is up to her usual sinister ways in this one.
Even the Andrews Sisters show up on board the boat in this one to sing a song with Bing.
Copyright 25 August 1947 by Bing Crosby Enterprises, Inc., and Hope Enterprises, Inc. Released through Paramount. New York opening at the Paramount: 18 February 1948. U.S. release: 25 December 1947. U.K. release: 29 March 1948. Australian release: 6 May 1948. 9,144 feet. 101 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: After a wonderfully stimulating special effects cross- country montage sequence in which our ever-helpful crooner identifies himself firstly as Frank Sinatra, than as Gene Autry, Bing and Bob sing and dance their way through "Apalachicola, Fla", after which they burn down a whole carnival. And this is just for openers. Fleeing from the vengeance of the carnival owner, they stow away on board a luxury passenger ship bound for Rio where they meet and rescue a beautiful heiress who is being craftily mesmerized by her evil aunt. The aunt's two goons hunt the boys down, but...
NOTES: Fifth of the seven Road pictures. With a domestic rentals gross of $4.5 million, this was the number one box-office attraction in the U.S. and Canada in 1948. Although the movie did not do quite so spectacularly in Britain and Australia, it was certainly Paramount's top-grossing picture of the year in both countries. Despite its box office success, the film received only one Oscar nomination, and that was for Robert Emmett Dolan in the Scoring of a Musical category. He lost to Alfred Newman's Mother Wore Tights.
Best Actor, Bing Crosby - Photoplay Gold Medal Award.
COMMENT: Wonderful fun. "The Road to Rio" is an almost perfect musical comedy, wittily scripted, ingratiatingly played, sensitively directed and lavishly produced. The songs are great too. So are the clever dances. The bantering between Bing and Bob was never better and here they are joined by a really out-of-the-drawer support cast led by the spider lady herself, Gale Sondergaard.
If you were compiling an anthology of memorable moments in film comedy, this film contains so many classic scenes you'd be forced to give the whole idea away and just use this movie instead.
OTHER VIEWS: Even though it's full of "in" jokes, topical allusions and now-forgotten references, The Road to Rio is just as mightily entertaining today as it was to audiences in 1948. Partly due to the fact that Hope delivers his darts with such casual grace and marvelously off-handed timing, patrons not in the know won't realize he's being funny; and partly the fact that the film now has a tremendous boost in nostalgia appeal.
It would be hard to better this cast line-up. Not only are the players at their peak, but the script's situations are still wonderfully, crazily funny. And the four main songs are tunefully witty standards that are still hummed today.
As a satire on the movie chase thriller, complete with cross-cutting to the last-minute rescue party that here actually arrives on the scene too late, "The Road to Rio" is still an absolute delight.
Bing and Bob put their own money into this one, spent it with admirably free hands, and happily received handsome dividends. Good on you, boys! - JHR writing as George Addison.