Flying Down to Rio (1933)
“Romance that soars on the wings of song
Director: Thornton Freeland
Cast: Dolores del Rio, Gene Raymond, Raul Roulien
Synopsis: Choreographer and musician Fred Ayers labours to help his friend and band leader Roger Bond romance gorgeous Brazilian Belinha De Rezende, who is the fiancÃ©e of Julio.
Even allowing for both the spectacular finale, in which a bevy of scantily clad showgirls perform on the wings of flying biplanes, and the impressive Carioca number, Flying Down to Rio wouldn’t be remembered half as much as it is if it didn’t mark the first screen pairing of iconic dancing duo Fred Astaire (Broadway Melody of 1940, You’ll Never Get Rich) and Ginger Rogers (Roberta, Roxie Hart). Although Rogers already had more than 20 screen appearances under her belt by the time she made this movie for RKO, Flying Down to Rio also marked the dawn of Fred Astaire’s movie career. He’d appeared as himself for a few seconds in Dancing Lady, which was released a month before, but this was his first real acting role, although he appears as assured here as he would twenty years later. He was reluctant to take on a new dance partner after breaking up with his older sister, who’d been his partner since childhood, but the public interest in Astaire and Rogers following the release of Flying Down to Rio fortunately persuaded him to change his mind.
It’s strange to see Astaire and Rogers playing second fiddle in supporting roles, particularly as they connect with one another so much better than Gene Raymond and Dolores del Rio (Bird of Paradise), Flying Down to Rio’s leads. Raymond and del Rio have no chemistry at all, and it’s largely Raymond’s fault. He might have been a likable chap, but he lacked charisma and his shortcomings are cruelly highlighted when placed opposite the likes of Astaire and Rogers. He and del Rio aren’t helped by the fact that their roles are non-singing, non-dancing ones, which means they are frequently sidelined by their support. This is particularly noticeable in the case of Raymond, who simply disappears from the picture entirely for what feels like a good twenty minutes or so.
The plot, such as it is, sees Raymond play band-leader Roger Bond, whose womanising is forever getting his band thrown out of jobs. When the hotel manager at his latest gig (Franklin Pangborn – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, My Man Godfrey) promptly terminates his contract after spying him dancing with the beautiful Brazilian guest Belinha De Rezende (del Rio) when he should have been waving his baton (which, it has to be said, Raymond does with great gusto and zero musical timing), Bond cadges a favour from Julio Rubeiro (Raul Roulien – Road to Rio) who is opening a swanky hotel in Rio. It means he won’t get to pursue that liaison with the delectable Ms De Rezende for which he was hoping, but beggars can’t be choose. But, wait! Guess what! Well, you don’t need me to tell you what, and it’s not long before all kinds of romantic entanglements occur when Belinha turns out to be betrothed to Julio.
Flying Down to Rio was made just before the Production Code finally grew a pair, so it’s a lot earthier than you might expect from a movie featuring Astaire and Rogers. Many of the girls taking part in the famous flying dancers routine at the end of the movie appear to be wearing no bras beneath their see-through tops, and in an early scene a young girl, irritated by all the attention Belinha is receiving, wonders out loud, ‘What do those girls have below the equator that we don’t have?’ This kind of risque material contributes no end to the enjoyment of an old movie like Flying down to Rio, and it’s always tasteful and subtle enough to never cause offence. Watching old movie’s featuring this kind of material is always fascinating, and one can only wonder what kind of movies Hollywood would have been churning out in say, 1943, had the Code not been brought into force.
Flying down to Rio has its moments and a certain amount of charm, but for obvious reasons it’s not Astaire and Rogers’ best collaboration.
(Reviewed 24th February 2014)