Double Trouble: That Night in Rio (1941) and On the Riviera (1951)

Here's my second entry to this blogathon, dedicated to looking at Hollywood's favorite pastime: remakes. You can see the other entries here.

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As I said yesterday -- okay, insisted -- I try not to hold grudges against remakes. Despite coming from the same source material, remakes can be vastly different from the original, such as the two films I talked about yesterday, the comedy masterpiece Libeled Lady and the fun musical Easy to Wed. Today's case is a little different because both movies are like Easy to Wed: colorful, lightweight, and very easy on the senses. That Night in Rio was 20th Century Fox's chance to team up three of its biggest stars: Alice Faye, Don Ameche, and Carmen Miranda. Ten years later for On the Riviera, Fox again saw the opportunity to cash in on big names: multitalented Danny Kaye and Fox royalty Gene Tierney. Interestingly enough, these movies are both remakes of Folies Bergère de Paris, a 1935 flick with Maurice Chevalier, Ann Sothern, and Merle Oberon. I've been dying to see the original film,
but I just can't find it anywhere so I'll have to console myself with these other incarnations. (Although, how good does the 1935 one sound? It even has Eric Blore!) I've been singing the praises of On the Riviera for awhile now. When I found out there was a film with Danny Kaye and Gene Tierney, I kind of lost my mind. Before you could say "Amazon addiction," I had the DVD in my mittens. I loved it right away, so discovering that there was an earlier version with Don Ameche, aka one of the loves of my life, I was ready to pass out. I'm happy to say I adore both movies, but if we're being honest here, On the Riviera is #1 in my heart. (Don't leave me, Don!) Why? Well, let us dive into these delectable Technicolor dreams, where Danny Kaye has a French accent, Carmen Miranda's shoes and hats add two feet to her height, and Don Ameche once again justifies my crush on him...

What's the Tale, Nightingale?
A nightclub entertainer (Ameche, Kaye) decides to expound upon his act by including a number that lightly makes fun of a famed baron/aviator (Ameche, Kaye again). Noticing the remarkable similarities between the two men, the entertainer is hired to impersonate the baron/aviator for an important party when the baron/aviator suddenly leaves town to get money for a business deal that could bankrupt him if not salvaged. Thrown into the mix is the entertainer's feisty girlfriend (Carmen Miranda, Corinne Calvet) and the baron's/aviator's wife (Alice Faye, Gene Tierney), who stays by her husband's side despite his numerous and well-known infidelities. When the baron/aviator returns during the party, things get complicated as he and the entertainer have to keep up the charade, while also finding themselves vying to win the wife. Naturally, it all gets sorted out in the end and the couples are restored to their original partners before the last curtain.

The biggest difference between the two films is their locations. As you can tell from the titles, one takes place in Rio (Good Neighbor Policy, anyone?) and the other in France (half in Paris, half in the Riviera). You wouldn't think the locations would make much of a difference -- I mean, they're just used to make the movie look pretty, right? Not really. Each film tries to incorporate some degree of the culture, most notably in That Night in Rio, which again goes back to the U.S. trying to
shine up to its South American friends during WWII so they would essentially stay on our side. Brazilian star Carmen Miranda adds plenty of Latin authenticity to the proceedings, of course. Surprisingly, she's allowed to speak Spanish a lot in the film -- one of the fun things about That Night is that she'll scream at Ameche in Spanish and he'll respond in English. On a side note, my TV captions told me that Miranda was speaking Spanish, although it would make more sense for it to be Portuguese given that they're in Brazil and she was from there. If any of my Portuguese-speaking readers have seen the movie, please let me know which it is. French I can pick out, but others I cannot.

The Cast of Characters.
Let's begin with the girlfriend, Carmen and Colette. Her biggest characteristic is that she's hot-tempered, which gets pretty tiresome after awhile, particularly the 1941 version with Ms. Miranda. It can be funny at times: Ameche switches out his nice top hat for a beat-up one in anticipation of Carmen throwing her shoe at him and knocking it off, for instance. But for the most part, screeching in rapid Spanish (and performing) seems to be all the script wants her to do. I like Miranda, but I've always felt like
she was limited in what she did -- not that that was her fault, she was just constantly cast as the fiery Latina. If you think I'm wrong, please tell me in the comments and/or make a recommendation to change my mind. I would hate to think that I'm misjudging Ms. Miranda. Anyway, in the 1951 remake, the girlfriend is given a little more depth. I enjoy Corinne Calvet's performance, and she has good chemistry with Danny Kaye. I believe their relationship a little more than I do Miranda and Ameche's.

While the role of the girlfriend is almost thankless, the best female character is clearly the wife. Cecilia and Lili are interesting because, for the most part, they know what's going on. Their husband's associates, the guys who come up with the impersonation idea, tell her right away what they've done, despite the entertainer not wanting her to know so he won't get nervous while trying to play the part. She plays along, which is great to see because the male lead thinks he's pulling one over on her when he's really not. Things get a bit
tricky near the end, which I won't discuss because I have a feeling I'll just confuse you further and it'll force you to watch the movie. (We'll pretend like you're not going to go to Wikipedia instead.) I adore Gene Tierney and it's great to see her playing in a comedy opposite Danny Kaye. They work well together, even though it's not near the chemistry between Alice Faye and Don Ameche -- obvious, when you consider that Faye and Ameche made six films together, That Night being the last one. Like Gladys in Libeled Lady and Easy to Wed, Cecilia and Lili get some great costumes:


Of course, Carmen and Colette don't do so bad, either (I really want Colette's green robe in the last screenshot here):


 And now for the best part: Don Ameche and Danny Kaye. I'm a big admirer of both of them, and despite playing essentially the same part(s), the way they portray them couldn't be any more different. With Ameche, it's all about being suave, brash, and a little bit devilish -- in other words, it's classic Ameche. I really have no problem with his performance, except for two things. Firstly, there's not much separating the entertainer and the baron, besides the obvious change in accent and slight appearance modifications. Other than that, the two guys
are basically the same. The other hang-up I have is probably minor, but it still rubs me the wrong way. When Larry first meets Cecilia as the baron, he gives her a necklace for their anniversary and then plants a big kiss on her. What's supposed to justify this is the fact that the audience knows that Cecilia knows it's not really her husband, but Larry doesn't know she knows. (Confused?) I don't like that he takes advantage of the situation so quickly, especially when you look at how the 1951 script handles it.

Kaye's Jack Martin is sweet, silly, and wholly sincere, whereas Ameche seems to be constantly winking at the audience (not saying that's a bad thing). Jack gets an endearing crush on Lili, but he would never dream of seriously acting on it because he has a good girlfriend and Lili is still in love with her husband in spite of his philandering. In contrast to Larry, when Jack is around Lili as Henri Ducan, the furthest he ever goes is a kiss on her hand. The dual role is surely a plum part for any actor, dramatic or comedic, and On the Riviera
provides us with one of Kaye's best performances. Restrained and relaxed, Kaye inhabits Jack and Henri with an incredible ease that is fabulous to watch. Although the audience obviously knows that the entertainer and the aviator are played by the same man, something happens with Kaye that almost makes you forget. His Henri is reserved and ultra sophisticated -- he holds himself in a dignified manner, cocking his eyebrow every so often and offering only slight smiles. Jack, on the other hand, is wonderful and adorable. He bumbles around
at times, but it doesn't become the crux of his character, which people take for granted as the Danny Kaye persona. Sometimes I think his silliness blinds audiences to the fact that he was a really good actor, someone who radiated genuine vulnerability and insecurities while still putting on a hell of a show.

Back to the films at hand, though. Although I've probably confused you at times with my descriptions of the situations, I assure you it's really not that hard to follow. The filmmakers make it clear who knows about what and who is in the dark (for the moment). There's always a little something that betrays Manuel/Henri or Larry/Jack. For example, the girlfriend is able to figure out what her boyfriend is up to because of a physical feature that is only obvious to them: Larry has two painful-looking scratches on his wrist from Carmen, and Jack is nearsighted. That Night in Rio also has a fun scene where Manuel is trying to test Cecilia's fidelity by pretending he's Larry-as-Manuel. Cecilia is shocked that "Larry" is trying to get her into bed, but she quickly catches on and decides to retaliate by acting like she's into "Larry." She then asks him to sing her a song to make her husband even more uncomfortable since Manuel supposedly can't carry a tune. All of this back and forth of who's wise to who could become exhausting -- it certainly is to write about -- but I enjoy it because it's constantly changing the dynamics between everyone.

 
My Favorite Scene.
It's funny how my favorite scene in one movie is also my favorite in the other -- I guess it just works so well that I love it in any movie. Singing in Portuguese, Ameche croons "They Met in Rio," and if you don't already adore Ameche like I do, I would suggest clicking here and never looking back. Quite frankly, it's a seduction scene, but not how I expected it to be. You see, since I saw On the Riviera first, I already knew basically everything that was going to happen, including this musical moment. In the 1951 version, Kaye's Jack Martin knows that the aviator's wife, Lili, is hanging out in this quiet bar area, so he sets about getting her attention by singing "Ballin' the Jack." It's an amazingly subtle and sexy number from Kaye, one I raved about in this post for the "And...Scene!" Blogathon. Although Jack has a girlfriend he loves, he's drawn to Lili and wants to impress her, which he definitely does.

 
That Night in Rio switches it up, though -- Ameche's Larry has just finished his act and he's trying to unwind at the bar. A trio of musicians come up to him and he finds himself enticed to sing this beautifully romantic song. He doesn't realize that Alice Faye's Cecilia is among the people watching him, so when she suddenly sings a reprise of the song in English, he's pleasantly surprised. She ends up seducing him, albeit inadvertently. But good golly, could Alice Faye sell a song. I'm gonna sound weird for saying this, but her voice reminds me of a cat purring -- it's low and smooth and very soothing to listen to. A lot of people compare her singing to velvet, which works as well. Any way you describe it, Larry falls pretty hard and pretty fast.

The Musical Numbers.
"Ballin' the Jack" and "They Met in Rio" are the musical highlights of their respective films, but there are other good numbers as well. Carmen Miranda gets three songs, the most famous probably being "Chica Chica Boom Chic" and "I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much)." Although Miranda was a newcomer to the movies, she was a pretty big stage success so she was able to negotiate in her contract that the camera had to stay on her at all times during her numbers. Although Alice Faye was Fox's
queen of the lot in 1941 and had top billing, you'll notice that the studio didn't give her the same courtesy -- the camera will cut to Ameche or people at the nightclub throughout her singing. Unfortunately for us, Faye would grow tired of Hollywood and, wanting to focus on her family, retired from the screen in 1945, only to return sporadically between 1962 and 1978. I've only watched three of Faye's films and I'm really liking what I'm seeing. She has two songs in That Night,
the aforementioned "They Met in Rio" and "Boa Noite," which she sings seductively from her bed through the wall to Manuel as he's pretending to be Larry. What most excites me, though, is that Ameche gets to sing. I noted in my review of Moon Over Miami that I wasn't sure if Ameche's own voice was being used, but now I'm certain it is. Nothing I've looked at says he was dubbed and he sounds the same in both films, so I'm happy to announce that my beloved Don could sing. (For a musical lover like me, this is gold!) Aside from "They Met in Rio,"
he and Miranda open the movie with "Chica Chica Boom Chic" and then he performs "The Baron is in Conference," the number that makes everyone realize how similar Larry and Manuel look. It's quite a racy little number for the time, with leggy secretaries telling the audience that the baron is very busy, then revealing that his conference is a series of affairs with beautifully-dressed women.

I should probably mention that That Night and Riviera have pretty blasé attitudes when it comes to sex, which is a little surprising considering censorship. Riviera is especially blasé -- when it first shows Henri, it's through a news story about how he's just finished a daring flight à la Lindbergh. He's greeted by a woman who passionately kisses him, and then another, the newscaster reporting without judgement that neither of these women are his wife. When Lili does appear, Henri only gives her a peck on the cheek. I'm thinking that this stuff got by because Henri is French and that's the stereotypical ideal of a Frenchman: suave with an enormous libido. The same probably goes for the Latin Manuel.

 
 
Riviera has its own version of "The Baron is in Conference," but naturally it's much bigger and grander. I mean, it begins with Gwen Verdon of all people! Riviera's choreographer was the marvelous Jack Cole, and Verdon was a major student of his, performing in his nightclub show and becoming what many consider the best interpreter of his style (and husband Bob Fosse's as well). It's a shame she only pops up in this one number, but hey, I'll take what I can get. Kaye then appears as Jack's version of Henri, singing about all the exotic places he's been (and the women he's been with). We get a taste of India and Spain, showcasing Kaye's ability to adapt to everything. There are monstrous stairs that he dances up and down on, a task that was reportedly very hard to do and it amazed Cole that Kaye did it perfectly. It's all very flashy and fun, and you can see it here.

At one point in the film, Colette tells Jack that he needs to leave the party in order to do a televised performance or else his nightclub contract will be torn up. The result is "Popo the Puppet," a signature Kaye number where he lets his craziness loose and his wonderful physicality is apparent. I'm not a big fan of this particular moment, but if you want to see Danny Kaye as a puppet, here it is. Ending the film is a final number, "Happy Ending," which I really like. It's kind of meta as he sings about the movies giving everyone a happy ending while depicting that
itself as Henri and Lili are sitting together in the audience and the final shot is of Jack and Colette. Anyway, there are cool Jack Cole moves, Kaye is wearing green shoes that match his green shirt, and those ladies in the striped dresses remind me of that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel pretend they're aliens for a publicity stunt. "Happy Ending," "Popo the Puppet," and the title track that opens the film over a montage of Riviera scenes were all penned by Kaye's wife Sylvia Fine, who was also one of his most important collaborators. She's the gal who gave him those fantastic tongue-twisting songs, like "The Maladjusted Jester" from The Court Jester. Their marriage may not have been the best, but they were a good show business team.

Have I exhausted you guys yet? I was super excited to write about these movies when I heard about this blogathon, but I forgot just how twisty these plots get, so hopefully I've intrigued you enough that you just decide to see them for yourself. Luckily for you, some wonderful person put On the Riviera on YouTube! I highly encourage you to check it out here. Do it before it gets taken down! And please let me know what you think!







Perhaps in a nod to the film's forefathers, Kaye does a great impression of Maurice Chevalier...

and Carmen Miranda.

And he throws in Jimmy Durante for good measure.





OtR: The Ducan mansion is insane!






That Night in Rio.


Love Colette's privacy screen.


Notice that painting in the background? That's right, it's the same one from Laura!


I told you the Ducan mansion was crazy...

but then so is the one in That Night.






















With love,
Michaela

Comments

  1. Oh, I had no idea On the Riviera was a remake! Makes me want to watch That Night in Rio. :-)

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    1. It was like the Old Hollywood gods knew my obsessions and made these films especially for me. Both are pretty great, and perfect vehicles for their male lead.

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. Whew! Yes, indeed. I am exhausted. Ashamed to say I have yet to see "On the Riviera", but am overly familiar with "That Night in Rio". Check out the same year's "Charlie Chan in Rio" for another version of the song "They Met in Rio". It's not a patch on Alice and Don, but always nice to hear a Harry Warren/Mack Gordon song.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the heads-up, and special thanks for getting through the post! It was a wee bit trickier than I was planning. I hope you get to see On the Riviera soon -- it's a real hidden gem. TCM never plays it, but 20th Century Fox has released a marvelous DVD for it. The special features are a dream, with mini-documentaries on Kaye, Jack Cole, and a comparison of the 1935, 1941, and 1951 versions. It's certainly worth buying, in my opinion.

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    2. The extras, plus the film, make the DVD sound like something I should have in my library. Thanks.

      Delete
    3. No problem! Anything I can do to spread the viewership of this movie is certainly not a chore. I sincerely hope you find it as enjoyable as I do.

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  3. I recently discovered Ameche in "So Goes My Love" (hilarious!) and then just a couple weeks ago in "Heaven Can Wait" (any others you recommend?). I really want to watch both of these films now!!!

    Thanks for contributing this wonderful post! I can't imagine how much time it must have taken you to write this one alone!

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    1. Your link for "On the Riviera" was taken down but I found it here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvwkCudc2Jc

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    2. Thank you! It was a labor of love, for sure. Thanks for also letting me know about the YouTube link -- right before I read your comments, I was thinking I needed to check on it. I'll update the link asap!

      Those Ameche movies are great! I'll actually be writing about Heaven Can Wait for a blogathon in November. I'd recommend Moon Over Miami, a musical with Betty Grable that I wrote about in March. It's funny and cute, and the Technicolor is fabulous. The Story of Alexander Graham Bell is pretty great too -- it's not a stuffy biopic like you'd think, but really sweet and fun. Loretta Young plays Bell's deaf wife and she's amazing. Henry Fonda is in it, too! I've also discovered a few Ameche films on YouTube, but haven't gotten around to watching them yet. Happy viewing!

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    3. Thanks for the recommendations! Looking forward to your post in November :)

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  4. I'm a big Don Ameche fan and loved That Night in Rio, but I must admit that after watching On the Riviera, I feel the remake is more entertaining. It's probably the only time I would say that a remake is better than an original! ( Or rather, the first remake, since Maurice did a version too ). Kaye brought his own unique flair to the part and I especially loved the final scenes on the yacht. Don did his great South American accent with great befuddlement in the original so I had my doubts that Danny would top it, but by golly, he did! Great post and great images too!

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    Replies
    1. You basically summed up my whole post! That Night in Rio is a good, lovable film, but then you see On the Riviera and it's like "Whoa!" I think it's fair to attribute this to Danny Kaye. Ameche did great, but Kaye took it to a different level. Thanks for stopping by! I always love meeting another Ameche fan!

      Delete
  5. Hi Michaela. I can't seem to find another way to contact you by, but I want to invite you to participate in my next blogathon for next year. The link is below with more details

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/announcing-the-remembering-barbara-stanwyck-blogathon/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the invite! I'll check it out!

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  6. I am brazillian and I confirm Carmen speaks portuguese in the movie, not spanish. Love your blog, that has a lot of information about old classic movies. Congratulations!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for confirming it! And thank you so much for visiting my blog -- it means a lot to me, and I hope I keep writing things that you enjoy.

      Delete

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