Rio Rita, an expensive filmization of the legendary Florenz Ziegfeld-produced Broadway musical of 1928, was the first major production for fledgling RKO Radio Studios. Bebe Daniels plays Rita, an Irish-Mexican girl (with thick Hispanic accent) who oversees a large ranch near the Mexican border. Rita's brother (Don Alvorado) is suspected of being "The Kinkajou," a notorious bandit. On the trail of the Kinkajou, an undercover Texas Ranger (John Boles) falls in love with Rita, much to the chagrin of a wealthy but despotic landowner (Georges Renavent). The villain arranges to make it appear that the Ranger is the Kinkajou, prompting Rita to consent to marriage with the cad in order to save her lover's life. The true identity of the Kinkajou is revealed at a lavish costume party, filmed in early Technicolor. Counterpointing the main plot are the antics of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, comic carryovers from the original Broadway show. Wheeler is in Mexico to arrange a quickie divorce so that he can marry his true love (Dorothy Lee). Woolsey is Wheeler's shady lawyer, who learns too late that he can't make the divorce stick. Wheeler and Woolsey have some of the film's best moments, including a riotous drunk scene and a closing musical number wherein they slap one another as their girlfriends sing inanely into the camera. Rio Rita not only made oodles of money for RKO (it was being regularly reissued throughout the 1930s), but it solidified the popularity of Wheeler and Woolsey, who'd become the studio's biggest comedy stars of the early 1930s. 1929's Rio Rita was withdrawn from circulation when MGM bought the rights for a 1942 remake, this one starring Abbott and Costello. Available only for museum screenings during the past five decades, Rio Rita has recently been released on videocassette, with its rare Technicolor sequence intact.
by Hal Erickson synopsis