Monday, November 21, 2011
Flying Down to Rio (1933)
Flying Down to Rio was the first of the RKO Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies, although in fact it’s not really a true Astaire-Rogers picture since they’re strictly supporting players. But it did bring together the most famous dance team in movie history and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable slice of nonsense.
It’s also important as being one of the two pre-code Fred and Ginger films, along with The Gay Divorcee.
The actual leads are Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond but they’re overshadowed by Fred and Ginger who made such an impression that RKO recognised their potential immediately and the rest is history.
Gene Raymond plays band leader Roger Bond. He’s fairly successful apart from his penchant for chasing the ladies, a habit that ends up getting the band fired from just about every gig they manage to land. His latest obsession is a South American beauty named Belinha de Rezende. And sure enough, he gets them fired again.
They quickly land another job, performing at the opening of the Hotel Atlantico in Rio de Janeiro. What they don’t know is that Belinha is also on her way back to Rio so their paths will certainly cross again. In fact Roger discovers this interesting piece of information before departure and offers to give Belinha a lift in his aeroplane (aviation being his other obsession).
The plane mysteriously develops engine trouble just as they’re flying over a deserted island with a convenient beach. Roger puts the plane down safely. The engine requires only very minor repairs but Roger decides that if he’s marooned on a tropical island with the lady of his dreams then it would be a pity to waste the opportunity so he pretends to be unable to fix the motor until the following day.
Their arrival at the hotel in Rio brings complications. It tuns out that Belinha is the fiancée of Roger’s old pal Julio Ribeira (Raul Roulien). Now both men are rivals for her affections. There’s also some kind of conspiracy by evil bankers to wreck the hotel’s grand opening. That’s pretty much it for the plot but lighthearted fluff like this doesn’t require much more.
So what are Fred and Ginger doing all this time? Fred is Roger’s right-hand man in the band while Ginger is their delightfully brassy singer Honey Hale, and they’re busy stealing every scene they’re in.
This movie is not all that highly regarded by Fred and Ginger aficionados. They only have one dance duet together and it’s not as elaborate as the dance routines in their later pictures. The movie has one other major problem. Gene Raymond is a less than exciting male lead and there is absolutely zero chemistry between Raymond and del Rio.
The movie does offer compensations however. Fred and Ginger do have the necessary chemistry and it’s already apparent. There’s a totally outrageous finale as the Aviators’ Club in Rio puts on a show to support the opening of the Hotel Atlantico, a show featuring not one but dozens of young ladies doing wing-walking stunts in rather revealing costumes. It’s spectacular and bizarre and it’s worth the price of admission on its own.
There’s also a great deal of very risque pre-code dialogue, plus there’s Ginger Rogers singing Music Makes Me while wearing a gown that leaves little to the imagination. It turns out that the things music makes her do are not exactly suitable for family viewing. Ginger is in fact pretty steamy indeed in this movie.
The music is great, there’s plenty of humour and it’s all great fun. And we even get an airborne wedding. It’s a movie that would obviously have benefited from having more of Astaire and Rogers but it’s still thoroughly enjoyable.
The Warner Home Video DVD is reasonably good although there is some minor print damage.