After being fired from their jobs as clerks in a pet store, Doc and Wishey, a couple of bumpkins, hide in the trunk of a car that they think will take them to New York. Somehow, however, they end up in Texas where they help to facilitate the romance of a popular Latin singer and the owner of a resort hotel while exposing a gang of Fifth-Columnists.
User Reviews: RIO RITA (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1942), directed by S. Sylvan Simon, stars those two funny guys from Universal making their MGM debut, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, in a rare case where the movie for which they are appearing is lifted from a Broadway show rather than than the use of an original screenplay. Based on a Florenz Ziegfeld 1927 musical-comedy by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, later adapted to a large-scale 136 minute part color motion picture for RKO Radio (1929) featuring Bebe Daniels, John Boles, and the comic antics by Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, this latest edition, which might have been something for MGM’s resident comics, Red Skelton and Rags Ragland, to MGM’s credit, acquires the services of Abbott and Costello while the titled character, played by Kathryn Grayson, is one of secondary importance.
The revised plot with special material by John Grant, finds stranded vacationers, Doc (Bud Abbott) and Wishy Dunn (Lou Costello), working at a Texas pet shop, earning enough money for their return trip home to New York. After their boss fires them for losing a customer’s dog, Doc and Wishy hide themselves in the trunk of a parked car with New York license plates, unaware that its owner, radio singer, Ricardo Montera (John Carroll), is not heading for New York but coming from New York bound for the Hotel Vista Del Rio to reunite himself with his childhood sweetheart, Rita Winslow (Kathryn Grayson), the hotel’s owner. With Maurice Craindall (Tom Conway) acting as manager, with Jake (Peter Whitney),Trask (Arthur Space) and Gus (Dick Rich) as his assistants, Rita acquires further help by hiring Doc and Wishy jobs as hotel detectives. By doing this, the dual not only encounter Nazi spies in their midst, but a crate of shortwave radio concealed inside miniature apples adding to the confusion.
Others in the cast are Patricia Dane (Lucette Brinswick); Barry Nelson (Harry Gantley); and Eve Puig (Marianna). Songs by Harry Tierney and Joseph McCarthy; Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg include: "Long Before You Came Along" (sung by John Carroll and Kathryn Grayson); "Agua Caliente" (sung by Rangers); "The Ranger Song" (Rangers, Carroll and Grayson); "Rio Rita" (sung by John Carroll); "The Brazilian Dance" (performed by Brazilian dancer, Eros Volusia, in her Hollywood movie debut); "Ombres Legeres" (The Shadow Song)" (sung by Grayson); and "The Ranger Song. John Carroll’s rich baritone singing is pleasant enough, but his speaking with Spanish accent makes one wish of having either a Ricardo Montalban or a Desi Arnaz in his place. For Kathryn Grayson, a likable screen presence with a fine voice, does have one very dull moment during her operatic vocalization of "The Shadow Song."
As much as the Abbott and Costello comedies are funnier over at Universal than the three they did for MGM, RIO RITA is still quite entertaining, the MGM way. Though not generally known when it comes to Abbott and Costello titles, at least not as forgotten as their once elusive Africa SCREAMS (1949), RIO RITA follows the then familiar pattern of song interludes by romantic leads and amusements by the comics. At MGM, Costello retains his dopey fat guy character as before while Bud, still the straight man who gives the orders, is given a rare chance to break away from his partner from time to time for romancing (mostly off-screen) with an attractive young woman named Dotty (Joan Valerie). While Lou can be naturally funny at times, there are moments where his comedy antics are forced and just plain silly. Routine exchanges between Bud and Lou revolving "Pike’s Peke," "$10 You’re Not There," and the re-enactment of Wheeler and Woolsey’s original "Drinking Pulge" from their RIO RITA 1929 film, are among their finest, along with one with Lou believing he’s encountered talking animals. The most notable, though not the very best due to end result, happens to be the one where Lou gets trapped inside a giant turntable washing machine with Bud in his method of helping by pushing buttons, making matters worse. This sequence alone must have been good enough to be included as one of the comedy highlights for Robert Youngson’s documentary of MGM’S BIG PARADE OF COMEDY (1964).
Formerly on video cassette, both 1929 (reissue 103 minute print) and 1942 (91 minutes) editions of RIO RITA can be seen and compared whenever it turns up on cable television’s Turner Classic Movies. (***)