Notable for being the first on-screen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dancing the Carioca in one of their few scenes together, Flying Down to Rio stars Delores Del Rio and Gene Raymond in this pre-Code love story, which screened at AFI Fest 2015 as part of the festival’s Cinema Legacy program.
Opening in a Miami, bandleader Roger Bond (Raymond) becomes smitten with the looks of hotel guest Belinha (Del Rio). There’s a rule about fraternization that has been ignored, so Bond ends up losing the gig for the entire band. However, he quickly gets them booked in Rio de Janeiro where his friend Julio (Raul Roulien) is opening up a new hotel. Naturally (for a movie), that’s also where Belinha is from and she needs to return in order to see her ailing father. The two fly off together under the nose of her over protective aunt.
They make an unplanned stop on a deserted island on the way when something goes wrong with the plane. A funny scene occurs as the two converse with images of themselves, through the use of a camera trick, about what should happen between them since they are young and beautiful. Their inner selves want to make love, and so does Belinha, but she is unsure because she is engaged due to an arranged situation. Roger takes control and gives her spanking, which she’s not entirely put off by. They wake in the morning having slept in different places but it’s as clear as it could be for the era that they weren’t apart the whole time. There’s also a funny gag that plays with the expectations about jungle savages once they find they aren’t alone.
Once in Rio, Bond tries to get his pal Julio to help him get the girl but it turns out Julio is Belinha’s fiancé. In addition to the love-triangle storyline, there’s a subplot about a Greek crime syndicate attempting a hostile takeover of the hotel to keep it from cutting into their gambling interests.
Astaire is Roger’s best friend and the accordion player. Rogers is the band’s vocalist. They have a couple of good dance scenes together, but Astaire’s solo dance, when trying to teach some new gals picked up in Rio, is the standout performance.
When the hotel isn’t able to get an entertainment permit for the grand opening, the gang comes up with an absolutely ridiculous high-flying way around the law with some amusing dance choreography. How the musicians are allowed to play at the hotel makes no sense, but story logic isn’t what’s important. Escapism is and that’s what Flying Down to Rio delivers. Nothing too dramatic or serious, just fun on the way to a happy ending.