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Rio Rita

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Luther Reed
Produced by William LeBaron
Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.
Written by Luther Reed
based on the play by
Guy Bolton and
Frederick A. Thompson
Starring Bebe Daniels
John Boles
Bert Wheeler
Robert Woolsey
Dorothy Lee
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Robert Kurrle
Editing by William Hamilton
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date(s) September 15, 1929 (1929-09-15)
Running time Originally 140 min;
Surviving reissue print:
105 mins.
Country United States
Language English
Followed by Dixiana
For other uses of Rio Rita, see Rio Rita (disambiguation).

Rio Rita is a 1929 RKO Pictures musical comedy starring Bebe Daniels and John Boles along with the comedy team of Wheeler & Woolsey. The film is based on the 1927 stage musical by Florenz Ziegfeld, which originally united Wheeler and Woolsey as a team and made them famous. The film was the biggest and most expensive RKO production of 1929, but it was also the studio's biggest box office hit until King Kong (1933).[1] Its finale was photographed in two-strip Technicolor. Rio Rita was chosen as one of the ten best films of 1929 by Film Daily.



Bert Wheeler plays a New York bootlegger who comes to the Mexican town of San Lucas to get a divorce so he can marry Dolly (Dorothy Lee). After the wedding, Wheeler's lawyer, Robert Woolsey, informs Wheeler the divorce was invalid, and advises Wheeler to stay away from his bride.

The Wheeler-Woolsey plot is actually a subplot of the film, which stars Bebe Daniels (in her first "talkie") as Rita Ferguson, a south-of-the-border beauty pursued by both Texas Ranger Jim Stewart (John Boles) and local warlord General Ravenoff (Georges Revenant). Ranger Jim is pursuing the notorious bandit Kinkajou along the Rio Grande, but is reluctant to openly accuse Rita's brother, Roberto (Don Alvarado), as the Kinkajou because he is in love with Rita.

Ravenoff successfully convinces Rita to spurn Ranger Jim on the pretext that Jim will arrest Roberto. Rita unhappily agrees to marry Ravenoff to prevent him from exposing Roberto as the Kinkajou. Meanwhile, Wheeler's first wife, Katie (Helen Kaiser), shows up to accuse him of bigamy, but conveniently falls in love with Woolsey.

At this point, the film switches into Technicolor. During the wedding ceremony aboard Ravenoff's private barge, Ranger Jim cuts the craft's ropes so that it drifts north of the Rio Grande. The Texas Rangers storm the barge, arrest Ravenoff as the real Kinkajou just in time to prevent the wedding, and Roberto is revealed to be a member of the Mexican Secret Service. Jim takes Rita's hand in marriage and Roberto escorts Ravenoff back to Mexico for trial.

Production notes

  • Wheeler and Woolsey were the only principals from the stage version to appear in the film. Based on the success of this film, Wheeler & Woolsey were also given contracts to star in a series of comedies for Radio Pictures.
  • The film re-launched Bebe Daniels and John Boles into stardom and both of them starred in a number of musicals in the years following. They proved to be so popular with audiences of the day that they were both hired by RCA Victor to make a number of phonograph records.
  • The 1929 Rio Rita is a faithful rendering of the stage version of the show. It is one of the few films personally supervised by legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld, who also produced the musical onstage. It is very likely that the film gives an accurate impression of what a Ziegfeld stage presentation was like.
  • The 1942 Abbott & Costello "remake" has little in common with this version.
  • The stage version of Rio Rita was seen by famous aviator Charles Lindbergh the night before his famous 1927 flight from New York to Paris.


Five reels of the film are believed to be lost. The print currently circulating (105 minutes) is the re-release version from 1932, which was significantly cut down from the original length of fifteen reels down to only ten reels. This is the print that is currently being broadcast on cable by Turner Classic Movies, which is missing about forty minutes of footage. New York's Museum of Modern Art used to have a print of the original full-length version, but this print seems to have been lost or stolen from their archives. The entire soundtrack for the original film survives on Vitaphone disks. Both picture and sound for at least two musical numbers from the long version are also known to survive ("When You're In Love, You'll Waltz" and "The Kinkajou").

Principal Cast


External links



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