Problematic Movies of the '80s | Blame it on Rio (1984)

Problematic Movies of the '80s | Blame it on Rio (1984)

As a horny seventeen-year-old, the subject of the May/December affair was far from my hormonally infused penisbrain. I remember a rumor that the history teacher at my high school (who was completely bonkers and quite violent in his moods) got fired for banging one of the seniors the year before. Beyond that, my only connection to the very idea of a fifty-year-old man even being a viable sexual partner for a teenage girl was from the world of rock ‘n’ roll.

Thirty-five years later, I get it.

Hell, when I was in my late forties, I was pursued by (and subsequently dated for a period) a young woman not only half my age but whose father was a year younger than me. She told me, as the four months of energetic boning came to an end, that when she saw me onstage at The Moth she told her friend “I’m going to fuck him. I won’t fall in love but I’m definitely going to fuck him.”

She was correct on both counts and when she jumped from me to a more famous and wealthy fifty-year-old man with whom I worked, I wasn’t surprised. As I understand it, he experienced much the same. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Aside from the great sex, I realized that younger women and older men seem to be attracted in that way due to the fact that both are at equivalent maturity levels.

Back in 1984, though, the concept was foreign. Irrelevant to my worldview.

What I remember about Blame it on Rio was Michelle Johnson. Specifically, her impressive set of jugs. What I didn’t know about French farce, international travel, the pedigrees of actors like Michael Caine, Joseph Bologna, and Valerie Harper was easily eclipsed by my desire to see her naked on the big screen.

I took a date. We had some dinner and then the movie. About three-quarters through the film, my date excused herself to go to the bathroom and never came back. Following the show, I hung out in the lobby for an hour before I determined that I had been ditched but I’m pretty certain I didn’t much care.

Recalling the one viewing I had of the film back in ’84 it is notable that while I remember thinking it was funny the only thing truly burned into my memory was Johnson and the fact that I spent probably three months after jerking off to her image like a starving man drooling over that one amazing meal he never had.

Not a raging endorsement of the possibility of lasting filmic value.

Blame it on Rio
Written by Charlie Peters & Larry Gelbart
Directed by Stanley Donen

The plot comes from a 1977 French farce Un moment d'égarement, it involves two friends who work for the same Brazilian company, Matthew (Michael Caine) and Victor (Joseph Bologna) who decide to take a vacation together without their wives, since both men are having marital difficulties. Each brings his teenage daughter along, and there is trouble when Matthew begins an affair with Victor's daughter, Jennifer (Michelle Johnson). As Victor catches wind of the fling, Matthew tries to keep his involvement a secret, leading to plenty of uncomfortable situations. Oh, the hilarity, right?

Complete with Caine and Johnson serving as a post-summer Greek chorus in cutaway narratives, Bologna cracking wise about his imminent divorce and his harpy of a wife, a scene on a topless beach where we are treated to Caine and Bologna ogling topless women, this is one classy picture, gang.

Rooted in the situation comedy trappings, borscht-belt wisecracks and farcical door slam antics, like the giant flip cellular phones in Heat, this thing does not date particularly well. The music has that “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” soft FM sound combined with the composition style of the themes to Perfect Strangers or Family Ties. Apparently I loved farce as a kid but now can’t stand it comedically.

As a kid, I stared at her chest. As an adult, I can’t  not  see the retainer…

As a kid, I stared at her chest. As an adult, I can’t not see the retainer…

Once Matthew breaks it off (almost immediately after) Jennifer tells her father about her broken heart from an older man but leaves out who the older man is. Victor loses his shit and he enlists Matthew to find this guy on the island so he can beat him up. More hilarity as Matthew tries to cover up the fact that he fucked his best friend’s teenage daughter until he finally tells him only to find out that Victor has been fucking Matthew’s wife. The whole thing is played with wink-wink adolescence of a slightly greasy, older uncle complimenting his niece on her pantyline.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a bit of Roger Ebert’s review of it back in the day:

“Blame it on Rio, however, has the mind of a 1940s bongo comedy and the heart of a porno film. It's really unsettling to see how casually this movie takes a serious situation. A disturbed girl is using sex to play mind games with a middle-aged man, and the movie gets its yuks with slapstick scenes where one guy goes out the window when the other guy comes in the door. What's shocking is how many first-rate talents are associated with this sleaze. The director is Stanley Donen, of Singin' in the Rain.

“The plot is the usual silliness: Two families are planning a vacation in Rio, but then Caine has a disagreement with his wife, who decides to go to Club Med instead. What finally happens is that the two fathers and their teenage daughters go to Rio, where Johnson shamelessly seduces Caine with techniques that seem more appropriate to a brazen hussy than to a seventeen-year-old kid. The rest of the movie alternates uneasily between the girl's neurotic attempts to manipulate Caine with sex, Caine's real qualms, and wildly inappropriate screwball scenes.”

Problematic Moments & Themes

First of all, the idea of a teenager having sex is only horrifying if you’ve never spent more than a half an hour talking frankly with a teenager. Yes, we all love the Parkland Teens but to assume that in their zeal and activism 80 percent of their brains are not occupied with sex is to seriously misunderstand and misremember adolescence.

Second, the idea that older men craving sex from younger women in an advertising culture that emphasizes youth as the ultimate goal and, with complete consent most of the time, objectifies the ideal feminine body as a prop to sell cars, tobacco, burgers, booze, and insurance is anything but unusual or necessarily unwarranted.

His glasses are older than that boob.

His glasses are older than that boob.

All that taken into account, Johnson wasn’t even eighteen years old when she filmed this crap. Caine (who has gone on record as having been mightily uncomfortable with this drek) was fifty-one. Now, given that Caine is known for both The Cider House Rules and JAWS: The Revenge, his taste in work can be summed up as “Am I getting paid?” so his discomfort probably was obviously not intense enough to avoid this shot:

In terms of being problematic, there’s not much here that smacks as a horrible violation of current mores: Jennifer pursues Matthew, there’s nothing rapey about the thing, and the theme of “What the fuck am I doing?” is prevalent. It is, however, pretty sleazy all the way around like grandpa laughing about that time he masturbated when he saw your best friend mowing the lawn.

It is worth mentioning, again, that there are, again, no black characters in the entire film. And the Latin characters are all broad stereotypes. As I look through this lens of 2018, this is getting pretty discouraging, 1980s.

Did it Hold Up?

No. Not because it’s like an earlier version of HBO’s Dream On or simply a soft porn fantasy for horny middle-aged dudes but because it isn’t funny, it isn’t sexy, and, despite Johnson being easy on the eyes, she is a terrible actor. It’s unfortunate that everyone associated with this thing survived with a career except for her. Although she did guest star on The Love Boat. Take that, Christopher Nolan!


Scale of 1 to 10
1 = Classic
10 = Burn all VHS copies of it

Blame it on Rio gets a 9

Next Up: Three Amigos (1986)

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