Four years of stage and radio success didn't prepare Bud Abbott and Lou Costello for the major stardom that arrived with Universal's Buck Privates
in 1941. In that same year the team also promoted the other two branches of the armed forces, in separate comedy musicals. Although all three were all released before Pearl Harbor, the image of Bud and Lou with the Andrews Sisters is now an indelible icon of World War II. As the most in-demand comedians in America, the duo found themselves courted by other studios as well. A prior MGM loan-out claim was quickly negotiated into a three-film deal spread over three years. The first was a hasty remake of Rio Rita
, an early RKO talkie that directly filmed a performance of the 1927 Broadway play. MGM's adaptation uses little more than the show's title and two of its more popular songs, "Rio Rita" and "The Ranger's Song". Famed songwriter Harold Arlen wrote four new tunes, only one of which was used. What there is of a plot line begins when the foolish New Yorkers Doc and Wishy (Bud & Lou) are stranded out West. Radio star Ricardo Montera (John Carroll) takes them to Vista Del Rio, a resort hotel owned by Rita Winslow (Kathryn Grayson), Montera's old sweetheart. Rita and Ricardo's romantic reunion is threatened by a German spy ring, secretly run by Rita's own hotel manager Craindall (Tom Conway). The nefarious Nazis intend to use Ricardo's network radio broadcast to transmit secret sabotage messages. Fresh from a Red Skelton comedy, director S. Sylvan Simon is hard pressed to give shape to the film's loose collection of songs, light romance and espionage antics. Bud and Lou are naturally spotlighted in several stand-up routines. MGM's cameramen were advised to set up multiple cameras so as not to miss the pair's semi-improvised antics, which often involved unpredictable, sudden movement. Director Simon also secretly filmed rehearsals, for in-house studio gag reels: away from microphones the comedians' stage act could be notoriously bawdy. The filmmakers did have the good sense not to use a particularly unpromising gag for the curtain closer. With the Nazi spies captured, Wishy verbally maneuvers them into saying the words, "iced ink," which of course comes out as, "I stink."
By Glenn Erickson
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