So it’s come to this…my first Walk of Shame. Platonically speaking, of course… 🙂 If anyone wants to know why this post is called a Shamedown, please visit the fine folks at Cinema Shame.
MGM was, of course, the musical powerhouse of the studio era, but it’s always interesting to see what the other studios came up with. While there were a lot of fine (or at least watchable) movies made, sometimes they would turn out something more on the subpar side, and 1941’s That Night In Rio is one of those. It’s not that it’s terrible; it’s just garbled.
The film opens with Carmen (Carmen Miranda) singing “Chica Chica Boom Chic,” in her usual sparkly manner. Her co-star, Larry Martin (Don Ameche) shows up in a chief petty officer’s uniform just in time to sing a few lines and take a bow. He’s a celebrated performer from America who’s making quite a splash in Rio, and the audience applauds appreciatively when he announces his next number will be imitating that celebrated citizen, Baron Manuel Duarte. Surprise, surprise, the Baron himself and his wife, the Baroness Cecilia Duarte (Alice Faye) arrive just in time to catch the spectacle, which is dead on. Larry thinks it’s a chance to shine, so he really hams things up, with a generous twist of lothario. It’s not hard, seeing as it’s Don Ameche playing Don Ameche. The Baron looks stern and the Baroness eyes him nervously.
Offstage, Larry and Carmen are dating. Carmen is agreeable enough, when she isn’t jealous of Larry eyeing girls in the audience. It helps that Larry keeps plying Carmen with presents, but in some cases she only holds on to them long enough to throw them at his head. She also gives Larry’s arm a long scratch when he gets too close while she’s mad at him. Ah, love.
Speaking of which, the Baron and Baroness have their own troubles. Their marriage is rather cold–true to Larry’s impression, the Baron does like flirting with the ladies. The Baroness has no interest in going on her own dalliances, though. As she tells a hanger-on named Pierre (Leonid Kinskey), “No man could be as charming as my husband.” Pierre doesn’t take no for an answer, so he keeps hovering, and his life is a frustrating one.
Meanwhile, the Baron’s airline has lost its backer. The Baron and his two right-hand guys, Penna (S.Z. Sakall) and Salles (Curt Bois) are scrambling. The Baron made the mistake of sinking the bank’s money into the stock market, and now he’s got to get twenty million dollars, so he jets off to Buenos Aires to see if their bank will help him. If the Baron can’t get the money, he won’t come back. Fortunately, the bad news isn’t public yet, so they have a little leeway.
In the meantime, Penna and Salles have to present a good face to the financial world. The Baron is a fixture at the stock market, and what better way to pretend everything is just fine than to get a stand-in who is the spitting image of His Eminence? Enter Larry, of course. He dons the Baron’s monocle once again and takes his place on the stock market dais. The traders bow and scrape, and everything seems dandy.
However, the stock traders aren’t the only ones who need fooling. Cecilia doesn’t know her husband’s business is in trouble, and so naturally she doesn’t know he’s gone. Salles and Penna let her in on the charade, and Cecilia is reluctant to go along with it. It doesn’t take much to soften her up, though, considering the skirt-chasing Baron is now unusually attentive to her, and presents her with an anniversary present of a topaz and diamond necklace worthy of royalty.
When Carmen sees that Larry is gone, she throws something at Larry’s photo, of course. Once she finds out what he’s up to, though, she wastes no time going over to the Duarte mansion and giving Larry a piece of her mind. Larry has to talk fast, which in this case means giving Carmen the old I’m-only-doing-this-for-the-paycheck spiel. She cocks an eyebrow at him, but accepts Larry’s story in the end, and even agrees to sing at the Duarte’s anniversary party.
While all of this is going on, the Baron comes home, and he’s not too happy about Larry standing in for him, particularly when he sees the way Cecilia is responding to him. Still, he understands, and he’s practically gotten the money he needs. Before anything can be settled, though, one of the Baron’s rivals, Machado (J. Carroll Naish) confronts the Baron about his business troubles, only he’s talking to Larry. In French. Larry manages an oui here and there, but he really doesn’t have the faintest idea what Machado is saying.
This is the thing keep in mind about Rio: Don’t blink, because it’s really easy to miss who Larry’s supposed to be fooling and when. Salles and Penna get him to fool the stock traders. The Baron has Larry fool Cecilia to test her love for him. Cecilia has Larry fool the Baron as payback for his wandering eyes. That last one is especially odd. If the Baron sees someone who looks exactly like him cavorting with the Baroness, it’s a safe bet he’ll know something’s up. Especially if it’s the same guy he just conscripted to get one over on the Baroness. Aaaaargh.
What’s really amazing is that, according to IMDb, Don Ameche considered That Night In Rio his favorite of the films he made. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, it’s kinda headscratching. Of all Ameche’s Fox musicals, I like Moon Over Miami best–it’s so much stronger on a lot of levels. Maybe Ameche preferred Rio because he really got to flex his comedy muscles.
Alice Faye is a different story. She, unfortunately, was sick during most of the shooting schedule, so she doesn’t have much to do at all. The two songs she sings in the film are ballads, and her total screen time is maybe thirty-five or forty minutes, with most of the film going to Double Duty Ameche and his trusty (and peppery) sidekick, Carmen.
Speaking of Carmen Miranda, Rio was her second American film. She got the best notices of anyone in the movie, but she definitely hit her stride later. At that time, Carmen’s command of English was pretty small, so in Rio, she rapidly goes between Portuguese, Spanish, French and sometimes English, which is a little hard to keep track of. In the first scenes, Larry always answers her in English, as if Carmen is a considerably less hairy (and female) Chewbacca in a baiana costume. It’s both confusing and hilarious. She makes up for her lack of English skills with her usual fun stage personality and a healthy amount of scenery chewing. She also introduced one of her song staples in Rio: “I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much),” which she got a lot of mileage out of over the course of her career.
Overall, That Night In Rio is a rather weak movie. I have to wonder what it would have been like if the filmmakers had waited until Alice Faye could have contributed more. Ten to one, the characters would have been filled out better and the overall product more enjoyable. Since it’s a Fox musical, though, it can’t end too badly, but it may be a relief when it does, even if there is some fun to be had.
All righty. First Shamedown completed. Thanks for reading, everyone, and see you back here on Thursday with another installment in our “Origins” series!
That Night In Rio is available on DVD from Amazon.