Flying Down to Rio (1933)

Flying Down to Rio is a pleasant film.  It’s legacy being the first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s no mystery as to why the audience took to them.  They added comic relief with better screen chemistry than it’s leads, Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond.  Del Rio is a better actor than Gene Raymond but her looks made more an impression than her talent. Walter Plunkett and Irene designed beautiful revealing costumes for Del Rio. Her beauty and style captivated me.  Strange because I wasn’t as enamored by her in Bird of Paradise.

There is a lot of “ethnic” Hollywood history in this film.  Firstly for Del Rio, an aristocratic Mexican actress.  Secondly for Brazilian Raul Roulien who played Del Rio’s fiancee.  He had a short Hollywood career in the early 30s before returning to Brazil.  In Hollywood he played mainly supporting roles in films with legends as Spencer Tracy, Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Joan Bennett and Gloria Stuart.

There is a scene between Del Rio and Raymond on a deserted island (unbeknown to them they are in Haiti).  Del Rio is frightened because she sees shirtless black “savages.”  Surprising for the time period is  these “savages” turn out to be golfers on a resort speaking proper English. Law-school graduate Clarence Muse plays the golfer with a speaking part.  Muse was a vocal proponent for the positive portrayal of black performers.

There is one dance number with Fred and Ginger along with Brazilian dancers.  It appears there are 2 groups of dancers dancing separately, the white dancers and the black dancers.  The white dancers are donned in contemporary Latin-inspired costumes while the black dancers are in working-class folkloric costumes.  African-American singer Etta Moten sings during this dance number. Her other film credit includes Gold Diggers of 1933 and she performed on Broadway most notably Porgy and Bess.  In 1933, she was the first black star to perform at the White House.

The end of this film is also noteworthy in a fantasy aerial dance number with scantily clad girls atop airplanes that can only be done in the movies.

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