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Harry Warren and Al Dubin wrote "Muchacha," the big Busby Berkeley production number for the Latin-themed 1935 musical, In Caliente, but it was another songwriting team, Allie Wrubel and Mort Dixon, who made it to the hit parade with a song from the picture, "The Lady in Red." At least another Warren hit -- "She's a Latin from Manhattan," written for Al Jolson in the same year's Go Into Your Dance -- was prominently featured on the soundtrack.
The latter number was also highly appropriate for this tale of a fiery Latin dancer (Dolores del Rio) who travels to Agua Caliente, a popular Mexican resort, after receiving a scathing review from a New York critic, only to find herself falling for the man (Pat O'Brien), who's on the run from gold-digging fiance Glenda Farrell. Of course the plot was just a flimsy excuse for the musical numbers, and with Busby Berkeley doing the staging, nobody cared about the story.
For the film's big number, "Muchacha," Dubin wrote a lyric that prompted New York Times critic Frank Nugent to accuse him of "hitting below the Equator" with lines like "Muchacha, at last I've gotcha where I wantcha, muchacha." Berkeley created one of his impossible stage performances for the number. He turned a hotel patio into a bandits' lair complete with cowboys leaping over a blazing campfire and a caf brawl reminiscent of a similar scene in the "Shanghai Lil" number from Footlight Parade (1933). During filming, something went wrong, and Berkeley whistled to stop the action. But the whistle startled the eight horses, which took off out of the soundstage and tore through the Warner Bros.' back lot past the studio commissary. Noticing the commotion, one wag looked up from lunch and quipped," There go Berkeley's horses. He must have dismissed 'em for lunch. Look at 'em go. He must be working their tails off." (Quoted in Tony Thomas, The Busby Berkeley Book, 1973).
For the "Lady in Red" number the female chorus actually dressed in blue, which looked redder than red in black and white. Lead singer Wini Shaw had just scored a hit in Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935), introducing Dubin and Warren's Oscar®-winning "Lullaby of Broadway." Also prominently featured was the dancing team The De Marcos and country comedienne Judy Canova in her first feature film (a year earlier she had made her debut -- with her family act, The Canovas -- in the Ruth Etting short "The Song of Fame"). "The Jenny Lind of the Ozarks" provides one of the film's highlights as she vamps co-star Edward Everett Horton with a country-western version of the song, complete with yodeling.
With all of these specialties on hand, it was rather hard for the film's actual leads, O'Brien and Del Rio, to make an impact. That hardly mattered for O'Brien, a studio workhorse who would churn out nine films in 1935, starring in some and supporting good friend James Cagney in others. For Del Rio, the film was part of a long career slide following her years of stardom in silent films, when she was billed as "The Female Rudolph Valentino." With opportunities fading in Hollywood, she would return to her native Mexico in the '40s to help spearhead the golden age of Mexican cinema there.
Del Rio was far from the only Latino performer in this Mexican-set musical. Leo Carrillo, a descendant of California's original settlers, played a prominent role as her father, while Spanish-born character actors Luis Alberni and Soledad Jimenez took smaller roles. One Hollywood Latin who failed to make the final cut was Rita Cansino, the future Rita Hayworth, whose brief appearance, shot before she signed with Fox later that year, didn't make it into the film.
Producer: Edward Chodorov
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Jerry Wald, Julius J. Epstein
Based on the story "Caliente" by Ralph Block and Warren Duff
Cinematography: Sol Polito, George Barnes
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Music: Leo F. Forbstein
Cast: Dolores del Rio (Rita Gomez), Pat O'Brien (Lawrence "Larry" MacArthur), Leo Carrillo (Jose Gomez), Edward Everett Horton (Harold Brandon), Glenda Farrell (Clara), Phil Regan (Pat Casey), Winifred Shaw (Singer, "The Lady in Red"), Herman Bing (Mexican Florist), Luis Alberni (Magistrate), Henry De Silva (Waiter), Judy Canova (Novelty Singer).
by Frank Miller