I only knew that “Flying Down To Rio” was the first teaming of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers on the silver screen. I recorded it off TCM, sat down to watch it and imagine my surprise to notice that Fred & Ginger did not receive top billing in the opening credits. No, that went to Gene Raymond and Dolores del Rio. “Swing Time” this isn’t, which is to say Fred & Ginger are not dancing from here to there and back and then doing it all over again.
Oh, they still dance. I mean, they have to, right? And upon arrival in festive Rio they are first chagrined to learn the locals find the Fox Trot too tame only to turn ecstatic when they ascertain the finer points of the Carioca simply by watching it for a couple minutes. They take to the dance floor and in no time at all have commandeered the Hotel Atlantico’s spotlight.
These sorts of sequences are so refreshing and cinematically replenishing. The dance sequence in “Silver Linings Playbook” left me in breathless in its own purposely off-center way, but that routine was built to and became representative of something bigger within the story. The Carioca, on the other hand, exists just for itself, for two people who know what to do in their dancing shoes to do it.
But then this is not a film about the Fred & Ginger Orchestra. No, it is about the Roger Bond Orchestra, an orchestra that includes an accordion player conveniently named Fred (Astaire) and a vocalist named Honey (Rogers). But it’s Roger Bond’s (Raymond) band and Bond, precipitating a different Bond of another era, is a bit of a flirt – not a mean flirt but a prevalent flirt and this has caused he and his Orchestra to get expelled from clubs coast to coast. And in Miami, Bond does it again. He takes to the dance floor with Belinha de Rezende (del Rio) who ignores her chaperone’s strict warning and cozies right on up to the well-coifed American in spite of her family-arranged engagement to the dashing Julio back home in Brazil.
Bond’s dance gets the band fired. Again. Spirits are low. But Bond books the band into the brand new Hotel Atlantico in scenic Rio de Janeiro. Spirits are high! And because Belinha hails from the same city this allows Bond to connive so he can fly her down to Rio aboard a prop plane that suffers a malfunction and lands them – in a twist straight out of an Elvis movie that wouldn’t have been made yet – on a deserted island. At least, they think it’s deserted. It might not be deserted. But it doesn't so matter if it's deserted because in a 1933 movie a deserted island is as welcoming as the Waldorf Astoria.
This is where the film’s charms begin to cha-cha-cha all over me, specifically in a sequence that finds both characters questioning the saneness of their burgeoning romance via inner dialogue conveyed through holograms of themselves not unlike Ben Kenobi. I mean, really, when we talk to ourselves what are we doing if not imagining a Ben Kenobi-esque hologram of our likeness in the room? Wait. That's what you do too, right? Never mind. Nothing to see here.
Once in Rio the action really revs up as Bond learns of Belinha's marriage but determines to woo her anyway, Fred & Ginger do Fred & Ginger things and, of course, there is the obligatory clan of ne’er-do-well businessmen seeking to prevent the Hotel Atlantico from acquiring an entertainment license to, in turn, prevent their opening night extravaganza.
This leads to a fairly awe-inspiring conclusion in which Bond, in a feat of show business derring-do, simply moves the opening night gala to the air, which is to say he straps a bunch of chorus girls to a fleet of prop planes and has them perform in the sky above Rio. It’s “Wings” but with dancing! Absurd? Well, sure, but the absurdity only adds to its appeal and re-evokes the days when a movie could just be a show and not some sort of perceived exposé.
All’s well that ends well and “Flying Down To Rio” ends, well, perfectly, with a parachute jump that made me laugh long and hard just from sheer joy.
Fred & Ginger, meanwhile, watch the action sitting on a street curb, seeming content. This time they are part of a whole big team.