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Aviator and band leader Roger Bond is forever getting his group fired for flirting with the lady guests. When he falls for Brazilian beauty Belinha de Rezende it appears to be for real, even though she is already engaged. His Yankee Clippers band is hired to open the new Hotel Atlântico in Rio and Roger offers to fly Belinha part way home. After a mechanical breakdown and forced landing, Roger is confident and makes his move, but Belinha plays hard to get. She can't seem to decide between Roger and her fiance Júlio. When performing the airborne production number to mark the Hotel's opening, Júlio gets some intriguing ideas... Written by
Gary Jackson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
FLYING DOWN TO RIO (RKO Radio, 1933), directed by Thornton Freeland, is a musical showcase for Mexican star Dolores Del Rio playing a Brazilian beauty named Belinia De Rezende, Gene Raymond as Roger Bond, a girl chasing orchestra leader, and Raul Roulien as Julio Rubeiro as Belinia's fiancé and Roger's best friend who complicates matters. By the film's conclusion, the ones who "walked off" with the movie are the supporting players of Ginger Rogers as the band vocalist, and Fred Astaire as the accordionist-dancer, in that order, thus, the beginning of a new screen team, and never again in the persona of sassy Honey Hale and semi-sophisticated Fred Ayres. Yet it's amazing that Astaire and Rogers made such a lasting impression at all in this production, considering they play subordinate roles who supply "comedy relief," and have very little opportunity to act or dance together. Even in the famous, "Carioca," number (which was how they became crowned "The King and Queen of the Carioca"), they get to perform only a few dance steps, but the ensemble of other dancers and singers get most of the footage during its 12 minutes. But even without Astaire and Rogers, or either with one of them along with a different partner, FLYING DOWN TO RIO remains an early musical attempt to capture that South American feel and tango rhythm, predating all those cliché musicals MGM or 20th Century-Fox would distribute in the 1940s, with the addition of Technicolor and/or Xavier Cugat and Carmen Miranda, etc. As for the plot elements, it remains similar to the ones used in subsequent Astaire and Rogers films, but this time the situations of strangers meeting followed by a merry mix-up, belongs to its leading players (Del Rio, Raymond and Roulien). The first half of the movie takes place in Miami, Florida, where the plot development amongst the central characters begin, then shifts to Rio De Janiero, the second largest city in Brazil, where the complications continue and are resolved after 89 minutes of screen time. In between all this comes the singing and dancing to help the plot along.
With the music and lyrics by Gus Kahn, Edward Eliscu and Vincent Youmans, the songs include: "Music Makes Me" (sung by Ginger Rogers in the foreground with Fred Astaire, as one of the members of the band, playing the accordion in the background); "The Carioca" (performed by musicians, danced by numerous Brazilians, sung by Alice Gentle and Etta Moten, and danced briefly by Astaire and Rogers); "Orchids in the Moonlight" (sung by Raul Roulien to Dolores Del Rio/reprise, danced by Astaire and Del Rio, with one observer saying to another, "Oh, look, Belinha is dancing our tango with an Americano."); "Music Makes Me" (tap dance solo by Astaire); and "Flying Down to Rio" (sung by Fred Astaire/ danced by girls chained to the wings of the flying airplanes).
Other than some advanced camera techniques used in this production, portions of the movie play like a picture postcard advertisement, mainly during its montage sequences where the camera focuses first from an air-view of famous landmarks, then from the ground view of Rio De Janiero, and flipping over to other scenes of the city from people walking the streets to cars driving down the roads before returning to the storyline.
In the supporting cast are Blanche Frederici as Belinda's old-fashioned Aunt (Tia) Elena; Roy D'Arcy, Maurice Black and Armand Kaliz as the Greeks; Franklin Pangborn as Mr. Hammerstein; Luis Alberni as The Rio Casino Manager; and Eric Blore as Mr. Butterbass making his first of five performances in an Astaire and Rogers musical. He is an asset to every one of them. It's also interesting to note that Raul Roulien remained somewhat obscure after appearing in this, never to become the Cesar Romero-type of Hollywood. As for the few Hollywood movies to feature him in the early 1930s, this is the only one still in circulation today and possibly his best opportunity on screen.
When Gene Raymond was interviewed about FLYING DOWN TO RIO in the documentary on RKO Radio titled "Hollywood, the Golden Years" (as narrated by Ed Asner back in the late 1980s), he mentioned that he thought that FLYING DOWN TO RIO was going to become the "Bomb of Bombs," but much to his surprise when it made its premiere during the Christmas season at Radio City Music Hall, he noticed while being in New York City that there was a long line of people going around the block waiting to go in and see this movie. One cannot be sure that history would repeat itself again in today's society, but FLYING DOWN TO RIO, in spite of whatever is right or wrong it it, is vintage entertainment at best. Only one debit: acrobats flipping and catching one other, and hanging on the swings under the wings of the flying airplane during the "Flying Down to Rio" number. Not realistic, but it got by. And on the historical side, this is where Astaire and Rogers got their start together on screen, thus, becoming the most popular song and dance team of the movies, never to be topped or equaled by anyone. Now that's something to think about!
FLYING DOWN TO RIO, which was formerly shown on American Movie Classics for many years, is currently presented on Turner Classic Movies. It is also available on video cassette and DVD. Recommended highly to fans of the team and/or musicals from this era. (***1/2)
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