Flying Down to Rio is a pre-Code musical film starring Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond but is mostly remembered for the first screen pairing of dancing legends Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Produced by Merian C. Cooper and Lou Brock for RKO Pictures, Flying Down to Rio was directed by Thornton Freeland and written by Erwin S. Gelsey, H.W. Hanemann, and Cyril Hume (based on a story by Lou Brock and a play by Anne Caldwell).
Produced by RKO Pictures and released on December 29, 1933, Flying Down to Rio was a huge box office and along with King Kong, which was released earlier that year, helped save the studio from bankruptcy.
The movie begins with Roger Bond (Gene Raymond) and his orchestra, with vocalist Honey Hales (Ginger Rogers), losing an engagement at the prestigious Hotel Hibiscus in Miami because he ignored warnings from the accordionist and assistant bandleader Fred Ayres (Fred Astaire) and fell for the flirtatious Brazilian heiress Belinha (Dolores Del Rio). Roger leaves the stage to dance with Belinha.
Belinha’s chaperone Dona Elena (Blanche Friderici) organizes for Roger and the orchestra to be fired. After organizing for the orchestra to play at the Hotel Atlantico in Rio Janeiro, Roger agrees to take Belinha to Rio in his private plane, but the plane runs into trouble inflight and is forced to land on an idyllic desert island.
Whilst making love under the moonlight, Belinha confesses to Roger that she is already engaged. What will they do?
Produced by Merian C. Cooper and Lou Brock, Flying Down to Rio was directed by Thornton Freeland and written by Erwin S. Gelsey, H.W. Hanemann, and Cyril Hume (based on a story by Lou Brock and a play by Anne Caldwell). The lead star billing for Flying Down to Rio is the legendary Dolores Del Rio, who was one of Mexico’s greatest and most elegant movie stars. Playing the beautiful Brazilian heiress Belinha, Del Rio does not disappoint but both leads are let down by the weak script.
It may be a minor film but Flying Down to Rio is an irresistible period piece with a memorable finale (The celebrated airplane-wing dance sequence created by visual special effects pioneer Linwood Dunn) but most importantly, the first cinematic pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. From the moment when they dance “The Carioca”, it becomes immediately clear that the film belongs to them, and a legendary double act is born.
Fred and Ginger films
Ginger Rogers had starred in Hollywood pictures since 1930, but Fred Astaire had only made his film debut earlier that year in Dancing Lady (1933), following a successful stage career (with his sister Adele) on Broadway and the West End.
Astaire and Rogers made nine musicals for RKO Pictures from 1933 to 1939 beginning with Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Follow The Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938), and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939). They made the color film The Barkleys of Broadway for MGM in 1949.
Despite their huge film successes together, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers went their separate ways at the end of the decade. Ginger Rogers focused on becoming a successful dramatic actress and won an Academy Award for the lead role of Kitty Foyle in 1940.
Fred Astaire concentrated on dance and even retired briefly before being asked to replace his friend, the injured Gene Kelly as the lead in Easter Parade (1948). Gene Kelly ranks alongside Astaire as one of Hollywood’s finest dance performers and choreographers.
As well as being a brilliant choreographer, actor, and singer, Fred Astaire was a virtuoso dancer who could convey deep emotion in his movement, and he has been lauded for his astonishing technical control. Fred Astaire is widely considered the greatest dancer in film history.
Here are three recommended Fred Astaire masterpieces:
1. Top Hat (RKO Pictures, 1935) Starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Eric Blore. Directed by Mark Sandrich.
2. The Band Wagon (MGM, 1952) Starring Fred Astaire, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray. Directed by Vincente Minnelli.
3. The Gay Divorcee (RKO Pictures, 1934) Starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Alice Brady. Directed by Mark Sandrich.
An enjoyable interview of Fred Astaire in 1976 by Michael Parkinson (BBC).