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William A. Seiter
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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 <email@example.com>
Consider this. RKO released "Flying down to Rio" in 1933, when America was in the very depths of the Great Depression. Millions of Americans were out of work and millions more lived in fear of the economic and political realities plaguing the world.
So Hollywood turned out films like this one, escapist fare about rich dilettantes drifting back and forth from Miami to Rio. Indeed, the hero of this little trifle, Gene Raymond, is the scion of a wealthy family who will inherit lots of money, if he gives up fiddling around with song writing and aviation. And the thing is, pictures liked this one worked. The unemployed probably didn't have the ten cents or more it took to get in to see gems like this, but those who did have the money turned out for this kind of picture, gawking at the upper classes in wonder.
"Flying down to Rio," though, is an early talkie and hardly the best example of this kind of romantic comedy. Directed by Thornton Freeland, an early talkie director whose career was largely undistinguished, it has a loose feel about it and does not marry sound and visuals together with any real skill. The pacing is bad, the musical numbers drag on way too long and the film is not the kind of polished production RKO and the rest of Hollywood would start turning out within the next few years.
But "Flying Down to Rio" is remembered today for one thing and one thing only, the first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who would become the greatest dance team in movie history. That pairing almost didn't happen, because Ginger's role was originally earmarked for starlet Dorothy Jordan, who wound up catching the eye of Merian C. Cooper, then riding high at RKO after the spectacular success of "King Kong." Jordan became Cooper's girlfriend and quickly his wife and Ginger stepped into her dance shoes and from there into screen immortality. Ironically, Fred and Ginger are not the leads in this film and actually only do one dance number together, but they were good enough to convince the powers that be that new stars had been born, providing those stars could dance their way through their future films.
But aside from that number, there are a couple of other reasons to see this film. The first is top billed star Dolores Del Rio, one of the most beautiful women to ever turn up on the screen. A wealthy socialite from Mexico, she arrived in Hollywood in the silent era and became famous playing a French peasant girl being romanced by two American soldiers in "What Price Glory." Her transition to sound was rocky, though, not because of her voice, but rather what felled many a silent star, her "foreign accent." But it didn't kill her. She returned to Mexico and helped launch its film industry.
Aside from Del Rio, the other things to look for are the Depression era sets. Built to depict hotels and elaborate supper clubs, they are among the most spectacular of the era. And then, finally, there is that other sequence this film is known for, the truly amazing production number featuring the title song, "Flying Down to Rio" in which a bevy of beautiful girls allow themselves to be strapped to the wings of biplanes and flown over Rio as entertainment during the opening of a hotel. While the overwhelming majority of the footage are probably process shots, there appear to be a couple of real life wing walker type shots blended in to give the sequence a realistic feel.
Merian Cooper, then RKO's defacto production boss, was among many other things a pilot himself, an aviation buff and one of the founders of Pan American Airways, the airline that pioneered trans-ocean flight. And even before the famed Pan Am Clippers crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific in the mid-thirties, they'd already established mail and early passenger service to South America with the Sikorsky S-40 nd S-42 flying boats,shown at the end of the film.
In some ways, this film is one big advertisement for the Clippers and for aviation, back when it looked like fun. But then, the real fun was watching Astaire and Rogers in subsequent films proving that in addition to having a good eye for manly stuff like big gorillas and airplanes, Merian C.Cooper was not exactly blind to musical talent, either.
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