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That Night in Rio

That Night in Rio(1941)

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teaser That Night in Rio (1941)

That Night in Rio (1941) is a typical early-1940s musical from 20th Century Fox - brimming with the studio's trademark eye-popping Technicolor, snappy songs and colorful performers including the inimitable and explosive Carmen Miranda. Down Argentine Way (1940) had established the trend, introducing the Portuguese-born Miranda to American audiences in a lightweight story of romantic mix-ups set in exotic Latin locales. These films were designed in part to enhance President Franklin Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy toward Latin America. According to a letter from studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, the script for That Night in Rio had been submitted to the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, D.C., who approved it and described it as "the kind of picture that will be helpful to North and South America relations."

In both films Fox star Don Ameche romances a beautiful blonde, with Betty Grable becoming a star by standing in for an ill Alice Faye in Down Argentine Way. In That Night in Rio, Faye has recovered and once again taken over leading lady-duties (although Grable would later replace her as the studio's No. 1 musical star). That same year Faye and Miranda would costar in yet another Latin American musical, Week-End in Havana (1941).

That Night in Rio is based on The Red Cat, a 1934 play by Hans Adler with echoes of The Prisoner of Zenda in its plot of a look-alike commoner who steps into the shoes of a nobleman - in this case an entertainer posing as an aristocratic businessman. Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck had financed the play's brief Broadway run so he could purchase the movie rights, filming it first as Folies Bergre de Paris starring Maurice Chevalier in the double roles. Following Rio, the plot was used again for On the Riviera (1951) with Danny Kaye.

Ameche enjoyed his dual roles so much that he frequently named Rio as his favorite film vehicle. He plays Larry Martin, an American song-and-dance man at the Casino Samba in Rio de Janeiro whose act includes a parody of womanizing airline executive Baron Manuel Duarte (Ameche again, of course). When Duarte brings his wife, Baroness Cecilia (Faye), to see the impersonation he is struck by the resemblance. Miranda plays Larry's girlfriend Carmen, who becomes jealous when she sees how attracted he is to the beautiful Baroness.

When the financially troubled Manuel heads for Buenos Aires to hustle up some cash, his associates hire Larry to impersonate him in order to trick his chief rival, Machado (J. Carrol Naish). Cecilia is also confused by the deception, and there is a series of romantic reversals before everything gets sorted out in the end.

Meanwhile the Harry Warren/Mack Gordon score is given enthusiastic delivery by the energetic cast, beginning with Miranda's bombastic production number "Chica-Chica-Boom Chic," in which she is assisted by Ameche. "They Met in Rio" is sung in Portuguese by Ameche and in English by Faye. Miranda gets another flashy turn with "I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much)," and all three stars have a go at "Boa Noite (Good Night)." A reprise of "Chica-Chica-Boom Chic" was recorded and filmed by Faye and Ameche as a dance number, but cut from the final print.

That Night in Rio marked the sixth and final teaming of Ameche and Faye, one of Fox's most popular twosomes. Irving Cummings directed the screenplay by George Seaton, Bess Meredyth and Hal Long. Also in the cast are S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall and the Flores Brothers specialty trio. Maria Montez, soon to become the exotic leading lady of such low-budget epics as Cobra Woman (1944) and Siren of Atlantis (1949), has the small role of chorus girl Inez. It was the first chance for the future "Queen of Technicolor" to show off her red hair and beautiful complexion in that process, and Montez gets to share an amusing cat fight with Miranda.

The movie's working titles were A Latin from Manhattan, Rings on Her Fingers, They Met in Rio and The Road to Rio. According to The Hollywood Reporter of November 15, 1940, Paramount objected to the proposed title The Road to Rio because it created confusion with that studio's Road to Zanzibar starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

The film was released in theaters on April 11, 1941, to enthusiastic audiences and mildly appreciative critics, with Miranda stealing the notices. Variety wrote that "Ameche is very capable in a dual role, and Miss Faye is eye-appealing, but it's the tempestuous Miranda who really gets away to a flying start from the first sequence." The Hollywood Reporter described her as "vivid, fiery and tempestuous," and The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner wrote that she was "outfitted in smart, barbaric colors, waving articulate hips and rollicking through the most fun of her Hollywood career."

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times dryly noted that "In spite of its hot Latin rhythms and the presence of Carmen Miranda in the cast, That Night in Rio departs but little from the stock musical comedy formula, which inevitably sacrifices originality... In fact, the only departure of even slightly revolutionary degree is the employment of Don Ameche in dual roles, instead of his customary single one - and that, in the eyes of some people (including ourself), is hardly a step in the right direction."

By Roger Fristoe

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