Rio Rita (1929 film)

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Rio Rita
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLuther Reed
Produced byWilliam LeBaron
Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.
Written byLuther Reed
Based onthe play
by Guy Bolton and
Frederick A. Thompson
StarringBebe Daniels
John Boles
Bert Wheeler
Robert Woolsey
Dorothy Lee
Music byVictor Baravalle (director)
Joseph McCarthy (lyrics)
Harry Tierney (music)
CinematographyRobert Kurrle (Technicolor)
Lloyd Knechtel
Edited byWilliam Hamilton
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
September 15, 1929 (1929-09-15)
Running time
Originally 141 minutes;
Surviving reissue print:
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,400,000[1]

Rio Rita is a 1929 American Pre-Code RKO musical comedy starring Bebe Daniels and John Boles along with the comedy team of Wheeler & Woolsey.[2] The film is based on the 1927 stage musical produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, which originally united Wheeler and Woolsey as a team and made them famous. The film was the biggest and most expensive RKO production of 1929 as well as the studio's biggest box office hit until King Kong (1933).[3] Its finale was photographed in two-color Technicolor. Rio Rita was chosen as one of the ten best films of 1929 by Film Daily.


Bert Wheeler plays Chick Bean, a New York bootlegger who comes to the Mexican town of San Lucas to get a divorce so he can marry Dolly (Dorothy Lee). After the wedding, Ned Levitt (Robert Woolsey), Chick's lawyer, informs Chick the divorce was invalid, and advises Wheeler to stay away from his bride.

The Wheeler-Woolsey plot is actually a subplot of the film, and the main story features Bebe Daniels (in her first "talkie") as Rita Ferguson, a south-of-the-border beauty pursued by both Texas Ranger Jim Stewart (John Boles) and local warlord General Ravenoff (Georges Renavent). Ranger Jim is pursuing the notorious bandit Kinkajou along the Rio Grande, but is reluctant to openly accuse Rita's brother, Roberto (Don Alvarado), as the Kinkajou because he is in love with Rita.

Ravenoff successfully convinces Rita to spurn Ranger Jim on the pretext that Jim will arrest Roberto. Rita unhappily agrees to marry Ravenoff to prevent him from exposing Roberto as the Kinkajou. Meanwhile, Wheeler's first wife, Katie (Helen Kaiser), shows up to accuse him of bigamy, but conveniently falls in love with Woolsey.

At this point, the film switches into Technicolor. During the wedding ceremony aboard Ravenoff's private barge, Ranger Jim cuts the craft's ropes so that it drifts north of the Rio Grande. The Texas Rangers storm the barge, arrest Ravenoff as the real Kinkajou just in time to prevent the wedding, and Roberto is revealed to be a member of the Mexican Secret Service. Jim takes Rita's hand in marriage and Roberto escorts Ravenoff back to Mexico for trial.

Principal cast[edit]

Production notes[edit]

  • The choreography for the grand finale on the barge was created by Pearl Eaton.[4]
  • The 1942 Abbott & Costello "remake" has little in common with this version. Two songs, "Rio Rita" and "The Ranger's Song", made an appearance, but the story line was so different, that the screenplay was credited as an original piece.[5]
  • A version for television was produced by NBC in 1950.[5]


  • "You're Always in My Arms (But Only in My Dreams)"
  • "Sweetheart We Need Each Other"
  • "Following the Sun Around"
  • "Rio Rita"
  • "If You're in Love You'll Waltz"
  • "The Kinkajou"
  • "The Rangers' Song"


Rio Rita was a box-office success. Earning an estimated profit of $935,000,[1] it was RKO's biggest grossing film of 1929.[4]

It was generally well received by critics. Photoplay praised it as nearly "the finest of the screen musicals" and judged that director Reed had done well with a "difficult assignment".[6] Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times was more overtly disappointed in Reed: "(He) has contented himself in making virtually an audible animated photographic conception of the successful Ziegfeld show," wrote Hall, and noted that Daniels, though capable, was "not up to the standard set by Ethlin Terry in the stage version". Hall was otherwise appreciative of the lavish, if thinly-plotted, production.[2]


Five reels of the film are believed to be lost. The print currently circulating (103 minutes) is the re-release version from 1932, which was edited significantly, taking the original length of fifteen reels down to only ten reels. This is the print that is currently being broadcast on cable by Turner Classic Movies, which is missing about forty minutes of footage. New York's Museum of Modern Art used to have a print of the original full-length version, but this print seems to have been lost or stolen from their archives. The entire soundtrack for the original roadshow version of the film survives on Vitaphone disks. Both picture and sound for at least two musical numbers from the long version are also known to survive ("When You're In Love, You'll Waltz" and "The Kinkajou").

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jewell, Richard (1994). "RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951". Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television. 14 (Supplement 1). doi:10.1080/01439689408604545.
  2. ^ a b Hall, Mordaunt (October 7, 1929). "Rio Rita (1929)". New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
  3. ^ King, Susan (December 2, 2009). "Warner Archive Releases Early Musicals". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 3, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Jewell, Richard B.; Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story. New York: Arlington House. p. 20. ISBN 0-517-546566.
  5. ^ a b "Rio Rita: Detail View". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved June 3, 2014.
  6. ^ "Rio Rita—RKO". Photoplay. XXXVI (6): 52. November 1929. Retrieved March 15, 2015.

External links[edit]