MGM's Rio Rita is an in-name-only remake of the 1929 RKO Radio musical blockbuster, itself based on the long-running Ziegfeld Broadway extravaganza. Bud Abbott & Lou Costello take over from the original film's Burt Wheeler & Robert Woolsey as the comedy leads, while Kathryn Grayson (in her first picture) and John Carroll replace the 1929 version's Bebe Daniels and John Boles. The original plot about an elusive bandit chieftan called the Kinkajou has been jettisoned in favor of an updated melange involving radio broadcasts and Nazi saboteurs. Abbott and Costello are cast as Doc and Wishy, two pet-store employees stranded in Texas. Hoping to return to New York, our heroes stow away in the trunk of the car owned by radio star Ricardo Montera (John Carroll), only to discover that Ricardo is on his way to his home town near the Hotel Vista del Rio, there to renew his acquaintance with childhood sweetheart Rita Winslow (Kathryn Grayson). Unbeknownst to Rita, her ranch become the headquarters for a nest of German spies, headed by hotel manager Craindall (Tom Conway), who've hidden their miniature shortwave radios in a crate of apples. Thanks to well-meaning Wishy, the message-receiving fruit is ingested by dogs and donkeys, leading to an unending stream of "talking animal" gags. Given jobs on the ranch, Wishy and Doc quickly run afoul of the Nazis, but Wishy saves the day with a bit of uncharacteristic quick thinking involving the local Texas Rangers. Only a few traces of the original Rio Rita remain, including two songs and the classic Wheeler - Woolsey "drunk" routine. The new songs by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg are pleasant if unmemorable, attractively performed by Kathryn Grayson and John Carroll. When all is said and done, the film's greatest strength is Abbott & Costello, making the first of three visits to MGM. Highlights include such verbal exchanges as "Pike's Peak" and "Bet you ten dollars you're not there", and a handful of well-crafted slapstick routines involving an auto turntable, a gigantic washing machine and an elusive time bomb.
by Hal Erickson synopsis