Throughout the Road to… series, on display in small parts and in large is the stage-prowess of both Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. These men were indisputably talented, charismatic performers who only found brighter ways to shine when their performative aspects were highlighted. In Road to Rio, those aspects are spotlighted in an even greater manner. They’re dancing, singing, and swinging throughout the film, making this perhaps the most physically demanding installment for them yet.
Unsurprisingly, they handle it with gusto and catapult the film right up there alongside Road to Morocco in quality. Whether they’re operating under vaudevillian conditions or simply bustling around a variety of sets, Crosby and Hope continue to find fun ways to dazzle in yet another winner in this long-running series, which by this point, was going strong after five installments over the course of seven years.
Crosby and Hope star as Scat Sweeney and Hot Lips Barton, respectively, two performers who stow away on a ship parting New Orleans for Rio de Janeiro. It’s aboard this ship where Scat falls for the wealthy and gorgeous Lucia Maria (Dorothy Lamour). Of course, there’s a catch: Lucia’s guardian (Gale Sondergaard) is an impeccably skilled hypnotist, who has her consenting into an arranged marriage to the sleazy Sherman Mallory (George Meeker).
Scat devises a brilliant plan. In Rio, him, Hot Lips, and Lucia will pose as a song-and-dance act in attempt to keep their dame safe. But Lucia’s guardian is cunning, and finds a way to hypnotize her into loathing the men, compounding their initial plan.
If you’ve seen any of the Road to… movies, you know this is all heavier than it sounds. Road to Rio is the turning point in the series where the comedy veered into Marx brothers territory, with looser plots and even more rapid-fire jokes. The influence is detectable, but it’s not a poor imitation. The physicality of Crosby and Hope adds a crisp new dimension that’s maintained.
A whole new comic layer is revealed when the two happen upon a trio of Portuguese performers who don’t speak a lick of English. In effort to get help in their endeavors, they teach the men three simple English phrases, which I will not reveal. However, it backfires when those three phrases become the only thing the men continue to repeat to any/everyone. Once the three are introduced, they are carried throughout the remainder of the film in bite-sized appearances that prompt hearty laughs. They’re not overplayed. They’re utilized gracefully; a testament to Barney Dean’s sure-handed screenplay.
Crosby and Hope conclude things with a Portuguese song-and-dance routine which even has them performing the final song in Portuguese. Carried over from Road to Utopia is the lack of caricaturizing that might’ve made some viewers of the early installments a bit uneasy. It’s not so much appropriation as appreciation during the climax (you try learning Portuguese on-the-fly and then perform it in a way that is physically demanding). Road to Rio is another rollercoaster entry in the series, but it’s one that shows the ride, despite occasional ups and downs, has yet to derail despite the inherent looseness of these productions.
Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Gale Sondergaard, and George Meeker.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality in North Central Illinois. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!