Musical Monday: Flying Down to Rio (1933)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Flying Down to Rio (1933) – Musical #94

RKO Radio Pictures

Thornton Freeland

Dolores del Rio, Gene Raymond, Raul Roulien, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Blanche Friderici, Eric Blore, Franklin Pangborn, Walter Walker, Etta Moten, Roy D’Arcy, Maurice Black, Armand Kaliz, Paul Porcasi, Reginald Barlow, Theresa Harris (uncredited), Clarence Muse (uncredited)
Performers: Movita

Pilot Roger Bond (Raymond) is the bandleader of the Yankee Clippers. However, the band’s success is hindered by Roger’s flirtatious eye. As soon as they land a new job, he sees Belinha (Del Rio) and begins to pursue her. His efforts (and new job) are cut off by Belinha’s chaperone and aunt (Friderici). Learning that Belinha is heading to Rio de Janeiro, he volunteers to fly her there, and gets a job for his band to perform there as well. The only issue is that Belinha turns out being engaged to Julio Rubeiro (Roulien), and he can’t get an entertainment license to perform at the hotel.

• The first film pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
• The number “Orchids in Moonlight” was originally tinted in color.
• Joel McCrea was originally considered for the lead role of Roger Bond, which went to Gene Raymond.
• Fred Astaire’s first acting film role.
• Longtime dance collaborators Hermes Pan and Fred Astaire met on the set of “Flying Down to Rio,” according to Rogers’s autobiography
• Though the film was successful, Dolores Del Rio’s film contract with RKO was not renewed. She was signed with Warner Bros. shortly after.
• Ginger Rogers replaced Dorothy Jordan in the film, according to Rogers’s autobiography.
• Merian C. Cooper was the executive producer.
• Blanche Friderici died before the film was released.

• “Caricoa” dance number.
• Girls on planes during “Flying Down to Rio” number.

Notable Songs:
• “Caricoa” sung by Alice Gentle, Movita and Etta Moten, danced by Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire and the chorus
• “Music Makes Me” performed by Ginger Rogers
• “Flying Down to Rio” performed by Fred Astaire

Awards and Nominations:
• “Carioca” written by Vincent Youmans (music), Edward Eliscu (lyrics) and Gus Kahn (lyrics) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” was the winner.

My review:
Contemporary VHS or DVD covers for “Flying Down to Rio” (1933) may have Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire gracing the cover art – selling the film to be one of THE movie musicals starring one of the world’s most famous dancing duos.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their first film together.

When I first checked this film out from the library at age 14, imagine my surprise when I found it was Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond (two actors I wasn’t yet familiar with) in the starring roles!

However, though Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond are the romantic stars of the film, it’s the new comedic duo/specialty dancers that steal the show: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. And it’s this film that caused the two dancers to co-star in nine more films together.

No one was more surprised than them.

Rogers, who had been acting mainly in non-musicals since 1930, wasn’t terribly interested in a musicals, according to Fred Astaire’s autobiography.

Astaire was brand new to films. “Flying Down to Rio” was set to be his first film, but due to delays, he went over to MGM were he played himself as a specialty dancer in the finale of “Dancing Lady” (1933). He said seeing how movies worked helped him get out his “first day of school jitters” before starting “Rio,” according to his autobiography.

“Ask me today if I had any notion of what would spring from ‘The Carioca’ and I’d have to say no,” Rogers wrote in her autobiography. “Even looking at Flying Down to Rio now, it is hard to believe that our brief assay onto the dance floor led to a string of musical films.”

Newcomer Astaire was amazed by the success and positive reaction to the film. Though he felt that he and Ginger looked well together in “The Carioca,” he didn’t feel like any of their dances were outstanding.

“I was again amazed by that the reaction (to Rio) could be so good because I knew I hadn’t yet scratched the surface with any real dancing on the screen,” Astaire wrote in his autobiography. “The numbers in Rio were put together rather hurriedly, I thought, and I was not at all pleased with my work.”

Along with catapulting the two secondary players into stardom, “Flying Down to Rio” also showed that RKO could produce successful musicals and helped “to rescue the studio from its financial straits,” according to Rogers.

Of course, though many people focus on Rogers and Astaire in “Flying Down to Rio,” Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond received top billing in this film.

Dolores Del Rio is stunningly beautiful (as always), especially in the gorgeous costumes designed by Irene and Walter Plunkett. In one scene, she wears a two-piece swimsuit, which is unusual to see in an early 1930s movie. Unfortunately, while this film was a success, the vehicle meant for the actress didn’t showcase her as well as it did the new dancing stars. RKO didn’t renew her contract, but Warner Bros. signed Del Rio the same year.

Blanche Friderici, Dolores Del Rio, Gene Raymond

Gene Raymond is adequate in his role but not exciting. If Joel McCrea had been cast (as he was originally slated), I think he would have been a better, more romantic leading man.

Another newcomer in the film was Brazilian singer, actor Raul Roulien, who is considered the first Brazilian star who went to Hollywood. However, Roulien’s career in Hollywood was brief.

“Flying Down to Rio” (1933) is laugh out loud funny from the start and has several very pre-code/sexual innuendo lines. Also watch for a humorous scene with Clarence Muse.

Though Del Rio was Mexican, here she plays a Brazilian woman. RKO producers also were careful with how they represented Del Rio’s character and the other Latin American women in the film. A letter to producer Merian C. Cooper from Dr. James Wingate of the Motion Picture Association stressed the importance of Del Rio’s character to always have a chaperone or be supervised, as they would be brought up in Brazil. This explains the role of the aunt in the film.

There are some stereotypes, however, especially in the “Carioca” number – which is a stupendous number and features beautiful dancing and should be acknowledged.

The dance is performed in three parts, in a segregated manner:
-First the song is sung by Movita and Alice Gentle (Movita who is Mexican-American, Gentle an opera singer from Illinois) and the dance is performed by a mix of dancers who appear to be American and possibly Latin America
-Then Etta Moten performs and Black dancers perform (thankfully not in blackface).
-Astaire and Rogers perform solo

“The Carioca” is the major dance number in the film, which features some interesting shots. But I would argue that most people know this film for the wild ariel finale with wing walker dancers. Since Raymond’s character of Roger Bond can’t get an entertainment license, they decide to put on a show from above.

Even while knowing that none of these ladies are really up in the air, it’s still terrifying to watch (they sure don’t seem like they are tied down very well with all that air pressure)! This scene was shot in an airplane hangar with airplanes suspended and using wind machines. Even still, there were real wing walkers back in the 1920s and 1930s – can you imagine?

“Orchids in the Moonlight” is another interesting number, because of unique shots and Fred Astaire and Dolores del Rio dance together.

Overall, “Flying Down to Rio” is fun, but as far as the plot goes, just let the movie wash over you. While trying to sum up the plot above I thought “Wait, what was this film about?” It goes in a few different directions, but it really doesn’t matter, because the music, dance numbers and the beauty of the lead actors is really all you need.

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: Flying Down to Rio (1933)

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your overall assessment. It’s not the greatest overall, but there are so many fun things that make it a movie I can’t help but rewatch every time it airs.


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