Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rio Rita - Lost footage found on You Tube

Original promotional material published in Film Daily in July 1929

The other day I got a mail from my friend Brian who told me about a sensational find he had made on You Tube. Someone had decided to upload two fragments from the supposedly lost 1929 version of Rio Rita. To me this is a sensation! Judging from the number of showings it has, not many people have found it yet. There is almost no information about it other than the uploader says the footage comes from a reel of film he found in an estate sale a while ago.

The two snippets Mr McClutching has posted are indeed from the original 1929 version of Rio Rita. The footage is not present in the 1932 re-release version that is in circulation today. The snippets seems to be filmed straight off a screen or a wall but look fantastic nevertheless. The film elements appears to be in almost perfect condition considering its age. The color depth looks amazing, almost too good to be true. Let's take a look at it!

The first snippet comes from the beginning of the movie where Dorothy Lee is introduced with a little number called The Kinkajou. As I understand this was the first musical number in the movie. It has been entirely removed in the 1932 version.

The second clip is a fragment from the latter half of the Sweetheart We Need Each Other reprise aboard the pirate barge. This clip comes from the massive color segment towards the end of the movie.

The beginning of the number and more information about the cut/uncut version of Rio Rita can be found in my previous post about cut musical numbers.

Watching these resurfaced fragments it becomes somewhat easier to understand why this footage was cut in the 1932 version. The most obvious reason was of course the running time. A 105 minute move was (and is) an easier sell than a 140 minute movie. But which scenes could be cut without crippling the plot too much? The easiest way was of course to cut songs as they usually don't move the plot forward. But this must have been difficult since Rio Rita was an operetta. Why was the peppy Kinkajou song cut and other slower songs saved? The Kinkajou was after all a major hit and one of the better known songs from the 1927 Broadway show. My guess is that it has something to do with the performance.

Here's a Ampico piano roll of The Kinkajou published in 1927, recorded by Ferde Grofé

In 1929 talkie musicals were something completely new. Methods of cinematography and sound engineering had not found their final form. The crew that made Rio Rita were pioneers in many ways. They had no recipe, they had to improvise.
In 1932 however the movie musical stood before its second coming. Almost every aspect in moviemaking had evolved incredibly fast during the three years between the two versions. What was groundbreaking in 1929 was not even yesterdays news in 1932.

My guess is that most of the cut material in Rio Rita was considered old-fashioned. Let's face it, Dorothy Lee was adorable in almost every way, but her rendition of The Kinkajou seems a bit clunky and the choreography isn't exactly top notch. The staginess of parading chorus girls walking up and down stairs in the second fragment is very 1929 but had no place in 1932. The 1932 audience was experienced and probably found Rio Rita quite dull even after it had been "modernized". Let's hope these fragments ends up in a complete 1929 version soon. Until then, it feels great knowing they exist and appears to be in great shape.

The 1929 trailer for Rio Rita


Meredith said...

What a great find! Really showcases how important presentation can be as the piano roll kinkajou is still fresh and fun but the film version of the same number seems completely stale.

Raquel Stecher said...

Delightful! Just imagine what film treasures people have in their homes. Estate sales make attic treasures available to the public and give them a new life (sometimes). Did you contact Warner Archive? Or maybe it's not good to contact them. They may pull these off YouTube. It's too bad the Warner Archive titles don't have extras on the DVDs. These would make great extras.

There is a musical number called Easier Way in Good News (the remake, forget the year, 1949 I think) that is by far the best song number in the whole film. But it never made it to the film. The thought was that it slowed it down. I think the film needed it though. Some time to reflect on the romantic expectations of the two rival female characters. And some rest from all the exuberance of the super-excited college kids and all their energy.

Wow! It's really interesting how quickly the movie industry had to adapt to make the talkies work. It's wonderful to see how the films change in those early formative years.

Great post Jonas as always. And a great find too.

Jonas Nordin said...

Songs were often cut because they "slowed" down the picture. Even iconic songs like Over The Rainbow and Moon River were inches from being cut because of this.

king of jazz said...

Very exciting news. Gives one hope for further finds. Thanks for your report!!

Carol Wheelis/California said...

Does anyone know who played the piano for the dance numbers in "Rio Rita", 1929? I came across some old letters of relatives, and one of them said that "Howard Lackaye" (or Lockaye/Lackey) played "all the piano music for the dance numbers in Rio Rita". This letter was written in 1929. I need to find out more about Howard Lackaye. Thanks! Carol

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that both The Kinkajou and The Ranger's Song from the 1929 Rio Rita are sung in sotto voice during a portion of each performance. I wonder if this was an attempt by RCA to show off the dynamic range of their Photophone sound on film process.

I understand another cut number involved a split screen wherein Chick Bean (Bert Wheeler) and Dorothy Lee's character sing a comic lament about how they cannot consummate their love because their Mexican wedding turned out to be invalid. What in the world did New York's Museum of Modern Art do with their copy of the 140 minute version of this film? I pray that it is found and transferred to safety stock before it dissolves into flammable goo. The Warner Archive DVD, sadly, was made from a quite damaged copy of the 1932 reissue version, but at least it allowed me to see a movie I had wanted to see for 30 years.

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