Nancy Goes to Rio (1950)
Before Jane Powell conquered the backwoods in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) or got in trouble with the Navy in Hit the Deck (1955), she played a series of adorable teenagers desperate to grow up. She sang and bounced her way through bubbly movies like Delightfully Dangerous (1945), Holiday in Mexico (1946), and A Date with Judy (1948) before MGM realized that it was time to attempt that dreaded transition to adult roles.
Nancy Goes to Rio was a step in that direction with its pregnancy plot and almost-adult romance, and Powell’s next film, Two Weeks With Love (1950) continued that trajectory. Powell, who turned 21 in 1950, was finally growing up on screen.
Durbin was a young, cute soprano whose films had saved Universal from bankruptcy in the late 1930s. If a star, genre, or trend was profitable, MGM wanted in on it. They searched for a bubbly singer to compete with Durbin, and they found her in Jane Powell.
Suzanne Burce (“Jane Powell” came from her character’s name in her first movie, Song of the Open Road (1944)) started appearing on the radio when she was only five-years-old.
Her gorgeous, surprisingly mature soprano voice and Shirley-Temple inspired curls kept her working on stage and radio until a trip to Hollywood won her a contract with MGM in 1944. Powell was fifteen when the studio signed her.
After a few loanouts to other studios, MGM handed Powell to producer Joe Pasternak, who had guided Durbin to stardom at Universal, and had produced It’s a Date, among her other films.
MGM also bought the remake rights to some of Durbin’s hits and reworked them for Powell. That Certain Age (1938) became Holiday in Mexico (1946), Three Smart Girls (1936) came to the screen as Three Daring Daughters (1948), and It’s a Date (1940) became Nancy Goes to Rio. You can watch the trailer for It’s a Date here.
Although MGM fashioned Powell’s career in Durbin’s image, Powell would eventually eclipse Durbin, who retired from movies in 1949. Oddly enough, the same thing happened when MGM signed Esther Williams to be their answer to Twentieth-Century-Fox’s ice skater Sonja Henie.
Co-starring with Powell in this film is Ann Sothern. Sothern had been working in film and Broadway since the late 1920s, but her movie career didn’t take off until 1939 when she played the bold but tender-hearted dancer Maisie in MGM’s film of the same name. (The part had originally been written for Jean Harlow, but she passed away in 1937.)
Maisie (1939) was a hit, and Sothern went on to make nine more Maisie movies, with the final entry in the series coming in 1947.
Sothern appeared in other musicals and dramas, namely Lady Be Good (1941) and A Letter to Three Wives (1949) but she never rocketed to superstardom. Nancy Goes to Rio was her final movie at MGM, although, like so many other stars of the period, she enjoyed a successful second act on TV.
I think Sothern is delightful. She’s always got a wry comeback and a twinkle in her eye, and she makes the most of a fairly dull part in this movie.
To the film! It’s closing night of “My Own Sweet Love,” starring Frances Elliott (Ann Sothern). We follow Frances’ seventeen-year-old daughter Nancy (Jane Powell) as she drags her boyfriend Scotty (Scotty Beckett) backstage to watch from the wings. Scotty is more interested in the chorus girls fixing their stockings, but Nancy nips that in the bud.
Don’t let her pretty pink dress or blonde curls fool you: Nancy is a petite but powerful package of stubbornness and unshakeable confidence. Plus, Scotty seems pretty malleable and utterly besotted with Miss Nancy.
The pair make it to the wings to watch Frances’ finale, and we are meant to marvel along with them at her talent and charisma.
A quick cut to a luxury box shows us two other characters marveling at Frances: Marina Rodriguez (Carmen Miranda) and Paul Berten (Barry Sullivan) are in attendance, too. Paul seems especially taken with the lovely blonde star.
You can watch the opening scene here:
After a rousing curtain call, the characters head to Frances’ house for a closing night party. Frances’ father Gregory Elliot (Louis Calhern), is having a wonderful time with a bevy of beauties, but Frances has work to do.
She meets with her longtime producer Arthur (Glenn Anders) and a hot new playwright from Brazil named Ricardo Domingos (Fortunio Bonanova) to discuss her next project. She has read Domingos’ new play and absolutely adores it!
Frances is a big-time star, so Domingos is flattered, but after Frances leaves, he tells Arthur that he was picturing someone a bit younger in the part. After all, the character is only eighteen!
Fun fact: it’s not random that Domingos hails from Brazil. There was a Latin American craze in Hollywood in the 1940s with stars like Xavier Cugat and Carmen Miranda, films set in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, etc., and cartoon characters visiting our neighbors to the south.
The Latin American infusion in Hollywood films was an extension of the Good Neighbor Policy and part of a coordinated propaganda campaign during WWII led by a government office called the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA). A driving force behind this trend early on was the fact that Europe was shut to American films because of the War, so Hollywood needed to beef up its exports to Latin and South America.
The OCIAA worked with Hollywood to get more “positive” depictions of Latin America into the movies. That could mean including Xavier Cugat, sending Jane Powell, Betty Grable or Esther Williams south in movies like this one, Down Argentine Way (1940), Fiesta (1947) or Easy to Wed (1946). Often films include a musical number in Spanish or Portuguese, or star a “Latin Lover” like Ricardo Montalban or Cesar Romero.
Even after WWII ended, the Latin American trend continued. So it’s no surprise that Nancy goes to Rio instead of Paris, for example.
When the producer makes an off-hand, somewhat disparaging comment about kids playing about in summer stock, Nancy goes off.
Her heated defense of amateur theater becomes even more dramatic when she realizes who Domingos is. She turns her indignation into an impromptu, melodramatic audition for the playwright.
Domingos is inexplicably impressed by her over-the-top performance, and suggests that Nancy’s company present his new play in their barn theater. That way, he and Arthur can work out some of its kinks, and they can watch Nancy play the lead role.
Nancy is over the moon! But she doesn’t tell her mother when she rejoins the party. If Frances knew, then the plot wouldn’t really work, so just let it go. Instead, Nancy tells her mother about her fervent desire to become a star.
Nancy incorporates various lines from different plays into her melodramatic monologue, and of course her mom catches the plagiarism. Frances knows her daughter is ridiculous, but she hides her smile behind her sparkly handkerchief and treats her gently.
Nancy explains how she has already experienced so much through the roles she has played that she isn’t sure she can fall in love for real anymore. And that’s okay–she wants to be “married” to the theater.
Frances tells Nancy not to worry: “When you fall in love, you’ll be just plain Nancy Barclay. And your only concern will be to make your husband happy.” (This is 1950, after all.)
Nancy isn’t so sure: “I may never get married. I feel like you do; the theater is enough for any woman.”
“Not much help on a cold winter’s night,” Grandfather chimes in. Creepy.
This conversation eventually segues into “Harvest Moon.” Grandfather, mother, and daughter sing and dance around the living room. As one does.
After the party, Nancy heads back upstate to her theater troupe while Frances and Gregory go to Rio. Domingos’ play is set in Brazil, so Frances thinks that Rio is the perfect place to start preparing for the part (she has no idea that the playwright is considering another actress, least of all her teenage daughter.)
She also doesn’t know that her daughter’s amateur troupe is performing the play. Somehow no one bothers to tell her, and no one bothers to tell Nancy that Frances wants to play the lead on Broadway. Everyone just goes about their business.
Inside the oft-used barn, Nancy rehearses with Scotty, who is hopeless. But Nancy shines. We don’t see much of the play, but it seems to concern a young Brazilian peasant (ridiculously named “Emily”) who falls in love, gets pregnant, and is later abandoned by her paramour. Dramatic stuff.
Fortunately, we see only a tiny snippet of that before Nancy entrances the audience with her rendition of “Magic is the Moonlight.”
The song became one of Williams’ “signature songs,” and she recalled in her autobiography that “Later, when I would enter nightclubs like Mocambo’s or Ciro’s, or the Stork Club in New York, the orchestra would stop what they were playing and begin the strains of ‘Magic is the Moonlight'” (The Million Dollar Mermaid 109).
Which brings me to another fun fact: Jane Powell sang “Because” at Esther Williams and Ben Gage’s wedding in 1945. Jerry Scott had performed that song in Esther Williams’ movie Thrill of a Romance (1945) that same year. How’s that for cross-promotion?
Back to the movie. Nancy is wonderful as Emily, and Domingos decides that he wants her in the lead, not Frances Elliott. Even those fake blonde braids don’t dissuade him. I love how they left Powell’s typically 1950s hairstyle alone and just added two long plaits!
Nancy is overwhelmed when Domingos tells her the good news, and she actually suffers a moment of self-doubt as she thinks of performing the role on Broadway. But Arthur and Domingos promise to help her. Nancy agrees to do the play, and decides to go to the best actor she knows for coaching–her mother. (Incidentally, no one thinks to alert Frances to the change in plans.)
Nancy tells Scotty that she is going to Rio, and they get vaguely engaged after a chaste kiss followed by the obligatory cheek smush towards the camera.
Then Nancy dazedly tells her friends, and they celebrate with the exuberant “Nancy’s Goin’ to Rio!” number. You can watch it here.
Then Nancy goes to Rio. She takes a luxurious ocean liner, though the ship shown in a few establishing shots is most likely a miniature filmed in MGM’s process tank. And the passengers appear to be cutouts. It’s worth watching the movie just to see that.
Nancy’s habit of running lines while lounging on deck attracts some attention. That’s Paul, the same guy we saw briefly at the theater.
But Nancy’s dramatic line readings aren’t the only things that attract attention. And not everyone is as upstanding as Paul. An uncouth lummox approaches Nancy with indecent intentions, and he doesn’t take her “No” for an answer. In fact, he only stops bothering her when Paul steps in and says that Nancy is his wife.
It’s that age-old conundrum ladies know well. If you’re being hassled and the guy won’t leave you alone, the best way to get rid of him is to tell him you have a boyfriend/fiance/husband. He may not respect you enough to go away when you ask him to, but if you’re already claimed property, he’ll back off. He wouldn’t want to offend another man! Unfortunately, this still works like a charm today.
Anyway, Paul introduces himself once the big blonde guy has wandered away, and Nancy thanks him for his help. Then Nancy goes back to running lines.
She follows that doozy with melodramatic drivel about how even though she has been abandoned by the father, at least she’ll have the baby, and therefore part of him with her, always.
Paul doesn’t know that Nancy is practicing for a play, and he somewhat understandably assumes that she is pregnant, alone, and a weirdo who says really personal things out loud while staring at a clearly fake ocean.
The plot swings into action around this fundamental misunderstanding! Paul hurries off to talk to his business partner Marina (Carmen Miranda). She is rehearsing for a performance later that night, but stops everything when Paul tells her that there is a young woman aboard who is in trouble and most likely needs some womanly support.
In Longfellow’s poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” John Alden woos a woman on behalf of his friend. This reference doesn’t do much for me, but it’s the same one that Judy Garland’s character uses in The Harvey Girls (1946), so maybe “The Courtship of Miles Standish” was a cultural touchstone in the 1940s? Have you ever come across this John Alden thing?
Anyway, on behalf of Paul, Marina invites Nancy to dine with them that evening. Nancy demurs, but she finally agrees when Marina says that Paul would especially like to see her.
Remember that Nancy has no idea that Paul mistook her rehearsal for reality. She is bewildered but flattered by Marina and Paul’s friendly, but slightly aggressive interest.
That evening, Nancy joins Marina and Paul at the Captain’s Table. The dining room has the fabulous obligatory band and dancing that I talked about in one of my History Through Hollywood posts. It’s rare to see dinner and dancing these days, but back then it was the norm.
Nancy hopes for a decadent meal and grown-up society. But things get weird quickly. She’s seated next to the ship’s doctor, who immediately takes her pulse without explanation. And although everyone at the table is friendly, their solicitous interest in her health borders on obsessive.
Nancy is bewildered by the tone of the conversation: every comment and question is infused with clucking pity, and everything that she says is misconstrued. For instance, when she tells the table that she is traveling to Rio because her mother is there, and “something happened to me and I need her,” everyone at the table practically tears up. And when she says that she hopes she’ll get to see a little of Rio, though she “won’t be able to get around much,” everyone nods sympathetically and murmurs things like “poor dear.” It’s a very funny scene.
When the entrees arrive, the waiter brings Nancy some sort of oatmeal mush when everyone else gets steak and shrimp cocktail. The doctor urges her to eat the “nourishing” dish and even provides a handful of pills and vitamins as a side! And her decadent dessert? A big glass of milk. Nancy is very confused, but her fellow diners shut down her questions and use such veiled euphemisms that she thinks they are concerned about seasickness, not pregnancy.
Nancy is fed up with this weirdness and is about to order some normal food when Paul signals to Marina. She hops up and starts her song. Must be nice to have a built in distraction like Carmen Miranda. You really can’t take your eyes off of her.
Miranda was an extraordinary, unique performer who became a star in the 1930s on stage and in Brazilian films. Her first Hollywood film was Down Argentine Way (1940), and she followed it with over a dozen films in the 1940s, mostly at Twentieth-Century-Fox where she established her persona as the “Brazilian Bombshell.”
Miranda became an incredibly popular star and was the highest paid woman in America in 1945, earning a reported $201,458. But she was nearing the end of her Hollywood career by the time she made this movie; Nancy Goes to Rio was her penultimate film before Scared Stiff (1953).
For this scene, Miranda performs “Yipsee-I-O,” a comical western themed song that draws its humor from Miranda’s use of slightly wrong English words: “cantaloupe” for “antelope,” etc. During a section of the performance, she engages with the guy who hit on Nancy. He plays the part of the Ugly American quite well. It’s a little cringeworthy, honestly.
She doesn’t wear her famous fruit headdresses in this film, but she does rock those skyscraper platform heels! She knew how to pull off a bold look. Fun fact: this brown and bronze costume was auctioned off in 2012 and went for $4,800.
Anyway, after the performance, Nancy heads back to her room in a huff. She didn’t like being treated like a child. Paul follows her but they are interrupted by the same big lug. He and Paul fight in the corridor, and in a nice switcharoo, Paul is the one who ends up on the floor with a bruised jaw, not the bad guy! Funny!
Nancy comforts her injured hero, and he attempts to comfort her right back. He is afraid that this young, abandoned, soon-to-be-mother might succumb to despair, so he tells her that he knows she will be happy one day and find someone who loves her.
But she misunderstands and thinks he is proposing! That allows her to play a fantastic dramatic scene as she grandly but vaguely refuses his offer. Everything is vague in this movie, but it has to be to keep the misunderstandings from unraveling into clarity.
Speaking of euphemisms, “pregnant” was a nasty word so instead they say “expecting.” And although the pregnancy plot seems a little mundane to us, it was very risqué at the time. Even big, bad New York Times critic Bosley Crowther found the whole thing rather distasteful, writing in his review:
There is also a misunderstanding—which we blush to mention, by the way—whereby everyone thinks through most of the picture that Miss Powell is in a family way. This horrible misunderstanding builds up when someone overhears Miss Powell rehearsing some lines that she hopes to speak in a play. We mention this latter ingredient to give you a faint idea of the brand of humor in this picture—and to show how far Miss Powell is off the beam.
Maybe I’m low brow, or just living in today’s world, but I think the pregnancy jokes and misunderstandings are the funniest parts of the movie.
Anyway, how cute is Powell’s polka dot dress? It’s a nice collection of mixed signals: pale pink, polka dots, big collars, and bows read “little girl,” but the tight, low cut bodice, sheer back, and sleeveless style says “woman.” It basically sums up Powell’s screen image and the plot of this movie.
Helen Rose designed the costumes for this movie, and Powell, Miranda, and Sothern appear in a series of beautiful frocks and gowns.
The next thing we know, the ship is pulling into Rio’s harbor. We get a few shots of the city, but nothing extensive and nothing with the actors. Nancy may have gone to Rio, but this production certainly did not, and the images of the city are scarce and might even be old footage. They aren’t as crisp as the rest of the movie.
Nancy’s new friends come to say goodbye before they disembark. One woman bids adieu with more vague, pitying baby stuff and brings a gift which Nancy packs away unopened. It will come back into play later on.
Then Marina drops by and tells Nancy to come see her in Rio anytime. It’s not a huge scene, but look at the trim and lining on Marina’s coat and hat! It’s the same red and green material as Gloria De Haven’s dress in Summer Stock, another MGM production released in 1950!
Walter Plunkett designed all the costumes in Summer Stock except for Gloria De Haven’s clothes, which were designed by Helen Rose. Nancy Goes to Rio was in production in June through August 1949, and Summer Stock started shooting in November, so the Miranda coat probably came first. It seems that Rose had some extra fabric lying around and decided to reuse it in Summer Stock. I love finding recycled costumes like this.
Nancy arrives at her mother’s villa which has gorgeous panoramic views of MGM’s lovely painted backdrops. They’re very pretty, but not always accurate. Indeed, famous Rio landmarks like the Sugar Loaf mountain (the tall one by the bay shown on the far left of the frame) and the Corcovado Mountain (with the famous Christ the Redeemer statue right behind Powell) appear really close to each other, even though there are miles between them in reality. The view enjoyed from Frances’ house doesn’t actually exist.
Nancy is all aflutter to tell her mom and grandfather that she is starring as Emily in the new Domingos play! But first she runs upstairs to change out of her cute plaid traveling coat and hat.
When she returns, she sees her mother running lines with her grandfather. It’s a normal occurrence in this family, but Nancy gets a shock when she realizes that her mother is rehearsing Emily’s “I’m glad I’m going to have the baby” monologue! Oh dear!
Nancy realizes that her mother wants to star in Domingos’ play. But rather than call Arthur to ask him what the hell is going on, or even perhaps speak to her mother about it, Nancy keeps her emotions bottled up.
Frances unknowingly twists the knife deeper when she asks Nancy to sing “Magic is the Moonlight” with her, explaining that it’s a song she’s working on for her next show!
Nancy finishes the song and runs back to her room.
Instead of contacting Arthur to sort all of this out, Nancy sends him a teary cable announcing that she can’t be in the play because is getting married. This is not a great solution, because don’t you think Frances’ longtime producer and dear friend would reach out to her upon hearing about Nancy’s engagement? And what is this false dichotomy between doing this one play or getting married? As I mentioned before, you can’t think too hard about the plot. You just have to ride it out.
Then Nancy goes to see Paul at his office. He and Marina are partners in the Rio-American Coffee Company, which is kind of cool because it makes Marina a businesswoman. Anyway, Paul is surprised to see Nancy, and shocked when she comes on to him. Strong.
She tells him that she has changed her mind and wants to marry him after all! Never mind that he never actually proposed. And he thinks she’s pregnant.
Fun fact: this cheery suit was released as a sewing pattern!
Paul once again calls on Marina for help, and she decides it’s time to visit Nancy’s mother. Frances and Gregory laugh when Marina tells them that Nancy is “in the family way.” But Frances goes to talk to Nancy anyway, though she is confident that this is all a misunderstanding.
How sharp is Marina’s striped suit with the obligatory platforms and jaunty cap?
Frances doesn’t come out and ask Nancy if she is pregnant–that would be too easy. Instead they dance around it as Nancy unpacks and tells her mother about her new love, Paul. As usual, Nancy’s words could be taken multiple ways, so Frances isn’t sure.
Frances is still trying to figure it out when Nancy opens the gift from the woman on the ship to reveal a set of baby clothes! Frances nearly collapses. It doesn’t help that Nancy says, “How cute!” when she sees the tiny booties, not “Why in the world would anyone give me baby clothes?” Poor Frances!
She gets a double-shock when she learns that Paul (whom she assumes is the father) doesn’t want to marry Nancy right away. In a weird moment of dubbing, Nancy tells her mother that Paul thinks they should wait “Until I’m a little bit older,” even though Powell clearly mouths “Until we get to know each other better.” I’m not sure why they altered the original line, except maybe the dubbed version plays into the pregnancy plot a little better? If Nancy is pregnant, she and Paul already “know each other” just fine, right? And the dubbed line is funny because they can’t afford to wait until Nancy is “older!”
Anyway, a shell-shocked Frances returns to her father and tells him the bad news. Then Frances calls Paul and asks him to meet her to discuss Nancy. She is surprised and disgusted by how casual he seems about the whole thing, but they don’t have a choice. He has to marry Nancy! As Frances tells her father, “If he isn’t a criminal or insane or something that’s all we can do about it!”
It’s pretty unusual to have a pregnancy plot like this one in a musical from this era, but it steers clear of trouble because the audience knows the whole time that sweet, unmarried Nancy isn’t really knocked up. That loophole allows the movie to make light of such a serious and taboo issue in ways that most movies couldn’t.
And just to keep things extra above board, it’s even implied that Nancy was married to the father of her (fake) baby, which is why everyone on the ocean liner treats her with pity instead of derision. They think she’s an abandoned wife, not an unmarried whore. Later, when Paul finds out that Nancy has never been married, he is horrified. He may not have been so kind had he known that…
Anyway, Frances and Paul put on formalwear and meet at a very fancy restaurant, as one does when negotiating a shotgun wedding. Paul recognizes Frances at once as the famous actress, and we learn that he is a pretty big fan.
Keep in mind that he thinks they are meeting to discuss Nancy’s silly crush on him, while Frances thinks they are meeting to arrange a rushed wedding before Nancy begins to show.
Their basic misunderstanding allows for some great double entendres. For example, Nancy is utterly horrified when Paul says, “If I’d known you were Nancy’s mother, I would have paid a lot more attention to her.” And he gets confused when she scolds him for admitting that he hasn’t thought much about taking care of a wife and child.
But the funniest moments come when Paul starts flirting with Frances. She is disgusted. And he has no idea why.
She storms out. The next day, Paul comes by the house to see her. He really likes Frances, and he’s brought her flowers and everything. Super inappropriate if you think he impregnated your teenage daughter, but sweet otherwise!
When Paul introduces himself to Grandfather, he gets socked in the nose. And he might have gotten more if Nancy hadn’t intervened.
Nancy runs to get some first aid stuff, leaving Grandfather to chat with Paul. And it emerges that Paul only met Nancy on the boat to Rio, so he couldn’t possibly be the father of her child! Whew.
Grandfather presses his advantage, and Paul tells him how he “found out” that Nancy is pregnant. Grandfather recognizes the lines from Domingos’ play, and eureka! He realizes that Nancy isn’t having a baby after all!
Frances is thrilled when her father shares this crucial information. But she’s less thrilled when she sees Nancy serenading Paul at the piano. Apparently, Mother and daughter like the same guy. Awkward.
So begins a series of incredibly inappropriate dates. Paul ostensibly takes Nancy, while Grandfather chaperones Frances, but it’s all very messy. Frances and Paul exchange loving looks while Paul holds Nancy’s hand, for example, and both ladies flirt outrageously with Paul on the dance floor. Yuck. Shades of Lolita.
After one of these dates, Frances tells Nancy that she is much too young for Paul and needs to give it up. But her headstrong daughter won’t listen. Frances married Nancy’s father when she was just Nancy’s age! So there, mother!
The creepy competition for Paul continues! I don’t know why Paul doesn’t tell Nancy that he isn’t interested. Although I suppose if he did, the movie would end, and we still have several minutes to fill. And lovely gowns to see.
Soon it’s Carnival time! The odd foursome watch the parade from their balcony before going enjoying an upscale dinner. The footage of the parade might actually be from Carnival.
Guess who performs at dinner? Marina, of course. And this time she goes full Carmen Miranda with a wild headdress and a Portuguese song. She sings “Baião (Ca-Room’ Pa Pa)” and dances with clowns and a man covered in umbrellas.
It’s everything you could hope for and more.
And look at her costume! Amazing!
After Marina’s fantastic show, the after-dinner dancing begins. Frances and Paul stroll onto the terrace to have a private, romantic chat, as everyone does, and has done, always and forever.
In the faux moonlight surrounded by faux scenery, Paul and Frances profess their love. They don’t want to hurt dear Nancy, obviously, but this thing between them can’t be stopped.
They pause in their love scene to watch Nancy perform an impromptu solo. She sings “Quando men vo,” also known as “Musetta’s Waltz” from La bohème.
Fun fact: in It’s a Date, Deanna Durbin performed the same song.
MGM wasn’t coy about using Powell to copy Durbin.
After her stunning performance, Nancy gets back to her primary purpose: getting Paul to marry her. It’s awkward, especially when Frances watches her brazen flirtation from the shadows.
Finally, Paul and Frances step up and tell Nancy that they are going to get married. She is quite upset, as one would expect. But she also falls back on her old habit of using melodramatic lines from plays. When she begins one of Emily’s monologues about a love affair gone wrong, Frances recognizes it at once. She even prompts her when Nancy stumbles over a line!
And the lightbulb clicks on! Nancy would be tremendous as Emily.
This family sure bounces back quickly from traumatic confrontations, because the next thing we know, we’re back in New York at the same theater where Frances recently triumphed. But this time it’s Nancy’s name on the marquee! This movie has a nice rhyming structure. Compare:
Nancy has been thrilling audiences for 200 performances! She’s a star! And now it’s Frances pulling Paul along backstage to catch the finale of Nancy’s show.
They stand in the wings just as Scotty and Nancy did before. Just like them, in fact. It’s a cute instance of repetition.
We even get the same look at the box where Marina, Grandfather, Scotty, and Domingos watch Nancy proudly.
Nancy sings and dances in that hot pink chiffon confection against a bright blue backdrop. Technicolor, utilized!
I have no idea where the Brazilian peasant went, or the baby drama, or anything that we thought this play was about. But I’ll take swirling skirts and flashy choreography any day.
And that’s Nancy Goes to Rio.
As I mentioned, this was one of the first grown-up roles for Jane Powell. MGM carefully tried to prepare audiences for a more adult version of their petite star, even taking some odd domestic publicity photos to emphasize Powell’s transition to adulthood. She cooks! She sits on sofas! She’s a real woman!
Despite her onscreen persona, Powell was all grown up by this point. She married ice skater-turned-insurance broker Geary Anthony Steffen in 1949 a few months after finishing production on Nancy Goes to Rio, and she would have her first of two children with him in 1951.
Despite her real life maturity, Powell’s next film, Two Weeks With Love (1950) toed the same teenage/adult line as Nancy Goes to Rio, and Powell wouldn’t play a full adult on screen until Royal Wedding (1951), when she was 22 years old. But then she went right back to playing a precocious adolescent in Rich, Young and Pretty (1951).
Critic Bosley Crowther found little to commend when he reviewed Nancy Goes to Rio upon its release. He had a hard time getting over MGM’s blatant attempts to copy Deanna Durbin, and he hadn’t liked the original version of this movie anyway:
It looks as though MGM is trying to route its young singing star, Jane Powell, pretty much in the footsteps of the young Deanna Durbin, bless her soul. For the studio has not only placed her under the guidance of Joe Pasternak, who produced most of Miss Durbin’s pictures back in the happy days, but it has even presented the little lady in an ancient Durbin script. ‘Nancy Goes to Rio,’ which arrived at Loew’s State yesterday, is a somewhat altered remake of the ten-year-old ‘It’s a Date’…And even with new stars, Technicolor and a considerable change of locale, it is still pretty much the Durbin picture—which, as we recall, was not too good. Somehow you’d think that Metro would be a little less obvious—or at least, would select a better story, if not model, for its talented Miss Powell. For plainly the story of this picture was weak when employed ten years ago, and Sidney Sheldon’s revisions haven’t strengthened it in the least.
He found Carmen Miranda “bizarre,” and concluded that “A few nice songs, some amiable clowning on the part of Louis Calhern and an eye-filling M-G-M production are the only ingredients worth mentioning.”
Somebody was feeling grumpy that day! This movie is a fairly typical MGM musical of the time. It does what it set out to do: wow us with Technicolor, gorgeous sets, costumes, and lush musical numbers. And it provokes some chuckles, too, along with some eye rolls.