At the United States-Mexico border, Texas Rangers are on the hunt for a notorious but mysterious criminal known only as “the Kinkajou.” Among the searchers is Captain Jim Stewart (John Boles), new to town and already making enemies, including General Ravinoff (Georges Renevant).

Jim finds himself falling for the beautiful Rita (Bebe Daniels) amidst his investigation and his feud with Ravinoff. There’s just one small problem complicating their romance: Rita’s brother (Don Alvarado) is rumored to be none other than the Kinkajou himself.

(Image via Rupert Pupkin Speaks)
(Image via Rupert Pupkin Speaks)

Rio Rita is a cinematic version of a Ziegfeld hit from Broadway. The film was adapted and directed by Luther Reed.

Rio Rita is a film worth watching, but not a film without problems. In many respects, it is a film that straddles the line between success and failure.

Take, for example, the fact that the film plays very much like a stage production. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it’s great for the audience to have the chance to see a not-heavily-warped version of a Ziegfeld hit. Flo Ziegfeld passed away in 1932, so for those of us who weren’t alive to witness his stage productions (which is most of us), the film is a rare treat.

At the same time, the screen and the stage are very different ways to tell a story. Some changes could have been made for Rio Rita to be more successful as a screen production. Between songs, the film feels a bit clunky and the story is not one of high impact. Despite the fact that the plot involves a manhunt and a bank robbery, there’s not a lot of excitement to be had. (This could be due to the fact that TCM’s aired print, which I watched, is missing around 30 minutes of footage.)

(Image via Talkie King)
(Image via Talkie King)

On a brighter note, the dialogue delivery and song performances are not an issue for this early-ish sound film. While Bebe Daniels’ accent leaves a lot to be desired, the performances quite good, which is a plus. The music, as well, is very pleasant to listen to, and no doubt adds greatly to the film’s appeal for modern movie-watchers. Any fan of early musicals will enjoy these fun numbers.

Also on the positive, the film’s humor can be very amusing. The characters are somewhat quirky, and many of them are quite cheerful, which keeps the mood of Rio Rita bright.

Most of all, Rio Rita is worth watching for historical interest. As an early musical-talkie, it’s a very good example of a smooth transition from silence to sound. Additionally, there’s a bit of two-strip technicolor flair to be found in the finale, which is beautiful.

Rio Rita is far from perfect, but not a bad watch in the least. Classic Hollywood fans interested in the early sound era will find it to be particularly worthwhile.