Flying Down to Rio

  • Title:  Flying Down to Rio
  • Director:  Thornton Freeland
  • Music:  Vincent Youmans
  • Lyrics:  Edward Eliscu & Gus Kahn
  • Date:  1933
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Dolores del Rio, Gene Raymond, Raul Roulien, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Eric Blore
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Crazy nothing, that guy writes songs.”  — Maintenance Worker 1
“Well, that’s screwy, ain’t it?”  Maintenance Worker 2
“It’s so screwy he can afford to buy a plane just like this.” — Maintenance Worker 1

“What do these South Americans got below the equator that we haven’t?” — female friend of Belinha

“We’ll show them a thing or three!” — Holly Hale

Flying Down to Rio is best known for being the first film where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced together. I must admit the first time I saw it – I was a bit disappointed because they only dance one dance together. However, this was my second time watching the film, and I must say, though a typical romantic comedy musical, it actually holds up fairly well for what it is. And a romantic comedy is a romantic comedy – they have basically the same plot whether it’s It Happened One Night or Sleepless in Seattle.

This film really isn’t so different than any other romantic comedy past or present. Roger Bond (Gene Raymond), a band leader at a hotel in Miami, meets Belinha (Dolores del Rio) at the hotel where he works. The hotel has just hired a new Swiss Maitre d’hotel to shape up the staff and rule number one is:  “No fraternization between the staff and the guests.” But rule number one goes straight out the window, when Roger meets Belinha. Their dance is reported through the hotel grapevine to Belinha’s aunt, who mistakes Roger for a gigolo. Roger, however, arranges to fly Belinha to Rio, where his band has also gotten a gig (they hope). While traveling their plane is forced down, Belinha and Roger start to fall for each other, again, but Belinha pushes him away because she’s already engaged through an arranged marriage. In Rio, Roger finds out her fiance is none other than an old friend of his, Julio.

Meanwhile — Honey Hale (Ginger Rogers) is the professional singer in Roger’s band. She’s friends with Fred Ayers (Fred Astaire). It’s interesting that in their first film together, Fred and Ginger have an almost brother and sisterly relationship rather than a romantic one. The two, tease and squabble, and they say things to each other like they’ve known each other for years. The chemistry is great, but very platonic. Fred Ayers plays accordion in Roger’s band and is also an old friend. Both Roger and Honey are peripheral to the main plot (which is the romantic triangle between Belinha, Roger, and Julio) but still provide humor and support to the main characters.

The one and only dance Fred and Ginger perform together is the Latin-influenced “The Carioca”.  Watch Fred’s fancy footwork, it’s extremely impressive. Ginger also gets to show off some fancy steps of her own, which Fred mirrors. I think Ginger may have been the only one of Fred’s film dance partners where he would mirror the woman, usually in partner tap. Though this particular dance is a bit more elaborate than the typical American partner tap Fred and Ginger are known for. But it is a very impressive, though short number. And though it is filmed full frame (Fred and Ginger are seen head to toe) there are two cutaways to audience reactions.

The rest of  “The Carioca” is a Busby Berkley-styled dance number, with patterns, and elaborate costumes, and changes in the rhythm and style of the dance, including changes in costume and lead singers. It’s definitely the showpiece of the film, though the Avatrix show at the end is also impressive.

Ginger and Fred each get a song to sing, however, and Fred gets to perform some elaborate tap as he’s attempting to instruct the new girls hired to perform in the new hotel’s opening week show. When Fred is nearly arrested for performing without an entertainment license, he and Roger come up with a different plan to prevent the hotel from closing before it even opens — a surprise Avatrix show. An Avatrix is a woman who performs acrobatics on the wings of a plane. Roger, Fred, and Honey get every show girl they can find, including those from other hotels, to perform on Biplanes over the hotel, thus saving the hotel and the band’s jobs. And Roger ends up with Belinha, as Julio realizes they are meant to be together and literally jumps out of a plane (with parachute) to give them a chance to get married by the plane’s captain.

Musical Numbers

  • Music Makes Me — vocals by Honey Hale (Ginger Rogers)
  • The Carioca (Instrumental)
  • The Carioca — Dance by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
  • The Carioca — Dance by Ensemble
  • The Carioca — Etta Moten (and reprise by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dance)
  • Orchids in the Moonlight — Dance
  • Orchids in the Moonlight — Song
  • Flying Down to Rio — vocals by Fred Ayers (Fred Astaire)

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next film:  Follow the Fleet

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