Fridays With Carmen Miranda: That Night in Rio (1941)
Our farewell to the month of all things Miranda sees a few other exits as well. After starting out with The Gang’s All Here (1943) which had lost its prime star, Don Ameche, we conclude with our first Ameche pairing with Alice Faye…which was also their last film together. Are you confused yet? That Night in Rio was the inspiration for On the Riviera (1951) starring Danny Kaye, a film that was pleasant and bright, but ultimately another take on The Prince and the Pauper.
Larry Martin (Ameche) is an American entertainer in Rio whose claim to fame is impersonating local baron Manuel Duarte (also Ameche). When Duarte leaves the country to secure financing for his airline, his handlers are fearful the company will fall into chaos. They decide to enlist Larry to play the Baron until the real man returns. But Larry’s close relationship with the Baron’s wife Cecilia (Faye) threatens to ruin a marriage and Larry’s romance with girlfriend Carmen (Carmen Miranda).
Watching this last was probably to my benefit as, based on the original reviews, this was already mired in formula and cannibalizing past Ameche/Faye features. Outside of Ameche’s dual roles it’s pretty much a rehash of Springtime in the Rockies (1942) with Miranda playing the same character from The Gang’s All Here. As with each of those films we get our show before dinner, with Miranda performing the song most associated with her, “Chicka Boom Chic.” Like a turbaned Lupe Velez, Carmen is the Brazilian spitfire who takes steps three at a time and gets so angry with Larry she speaks exclusively in Spanish like a perpetually irritated Ricky Ricardo. Though mired in stereotype Ameche cushions the backlash by, without any context whatsoever, understanding her yet never speaking Spanish himself, and his suntanned visage leaves the audience entertaining the notion he’s the Brazilian-born Manuel.
The film is all about Ameche, who loves him and who hates him. This is my second time watching him in color after Heaven Can Wait (1943) – I’ve also watched him in the slight, but sweet Girl Trouble (1942) – and though he’s not as dapper as William Powell there is something there. His swarthy looks allow him to play characters more exotic than his own Kenosha-born background implies. Ameche provides the narrative thrust, as his dual roles literally place him in every scene. Manuel and Larry’s dinner with a political rival – causing them to go back and forth between a screen – is similar to the dinner scene in Springtime in the Rockies, but the loss of a romantic triangle makes Springtime’s bait and switch funnier overall.
As I said during The Gang’s All Here, Alice Faye isn’t my cup of tea and my opinion didn’t change after this. Though she looks exquisite in Travis Banton’s designs – that yellow dress takes the cake – she still seems anesthetized somehow, and many scenes have Ameche forcing himself on her. In fact, the chemistry sparks better between Ameche and Carmen Miranda. As the nightclub performer named Carmen this is Carmen Miranda playing herself, and it’s perfectly fine. Her and Ameche play and flirt, and there’s an unpredictable quality that’s missing from the complacency between Ameche and Faye.
That Night in Rio might have played better if I watched it first. As Miranda herself sings “I Yi Yi Yi Yi Like You Very Much” and I liked That Night in Rio, even if I didn’t fall in love with it.
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Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
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