Considering that The Road to Rio was the fifth in the series, that the formula was down pat, that the plot, as usual, was merely an excuse for spontaneous and not-so-spontaneous bantering by the two stars, that the money-to-effort ratio was by now very satisfying to nearly all concerned, and that Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, both at 44, were quickly reaching the point where their age was working against their image of happy-go-lucky, sex-on-their- minds, slightly dumb but well-intentioned good guys...well, this is one of the best in the series. There's no single thing that sets it apart. If we've watched even one other in the series, we know what's going to happen, like having a funny, loved uncle come to visit. I think that in The Road to Rio, the formula had reached a high gloss. The "spontaneity" of the back and forth between Hope and Crosby is quick, funny and friendly. The professionalism may be there, but it looks like they're still having fun making these movies. The jokes are corny and expected, as they were back in 1947, but Hope and Crosby give them a level of snap and comfort that make us smile. Their roles, Bing Crosby as Scat Sweeney, singer and slightly moth-eaten bon vivant, and Bob Hope as Hot Lips Barton, slow-witted but wise- cracking boy-man, are as comfortable to them and us as a pair of old slippers. They work their images both in the plot and in real life for every laugh they can squeeze. Says Scat Sweeney (Crosby) to Hot Lips Barton (Hope), "Swine!" Barton: "Pig!" Scat Crosby: "That's the same as swine." Hot Lips Hope: "All right. Ham!" Or this: Scat Crosby, "Are you admitting you're a dirty coward?" Hot Lips Hope, "No, a clean one!" These groaners were well aged at the turn of the century, but Hope and Crosby knew their stuff. Dorothy Lamour as the always exotic love interest is here, of course, providing a rationale for the two boys' raging hormones and the subsequent competition that provides much of the plot's backbone and laughs. Says Hot Lips Hope as he stares at Lamour's tight gown, "How'd you put that on...with a spray-gun?" And there are the many asides to the audience that was one of the trademarks of the series. When Hot Lips Hope finds himself hanging off a high wire, he starts screaming, "Help! Help!" Then he turns to the camera and confides in us, "You know, this picture could end right here."
But let's not just praise this highly polished piece of pleasurable, profitable professionalism. Buried in the movie is a uniquely eccentric and expert trio of brothers, Harry, Herbert and Sylvester. They were the Wiere Brothers, and a single description fails to do them justice. They were comics, dancers, gymnasts, singers, jugglers, players of all sorts of musical instruments and very funny men. They came to the States from Germany in the mid-Thirties after a successful European career in clubs and circuses. They were born to entertainers who moved around. Harry showed up in Berlin in 1906, Herbert appeared in Vienna in 1908 and Sylvester arrived in Prague in 1909. They soon were a part of their parent's act. In their early teens they organized their own routines.
I think Hollywood and America simply didn't know what to make of them. They made a handful of movies, only one of which really showcased their skills and appeal. They eventually settled down to a successful career in nightclubs and special appearances on television. In The Road to Rio they play three Brazilian street musicians. Scat Crosby and Hot Lips Hope encounter them while the two boys are trying to rescue Dorothy Lamour from a nefarious plot. We get a chance to see the brothers bandy schtick with Hope and Crosby. Unfortunately, they get only one chance to show us what they can do in performance, and that scene is chopped up and was severely edited. Still, it's better than nothing.
Their showcase spot was in the first movie they made when they came to America. That's Vogues of 1938, which starred Warner Baxter and a blonde Joan Bennett. We get a full routine from the Wiere Brothers, dressed in white tuxes, dancing eccentrically, bouncing and rolling, doing wonders with hats, playing violins and singing. They are funny, endearing and terrific.