Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fred Meets Ginger

As I've mentioned before, when an extraordinary opportunity to see a classic film happens in the greater Washington DC area, I'm going to tell you about it.  Recently, the National Portrait Gallery hosted a screening of Flying Down to Rio (1933), and there to comment on the film was TCM's own Robert Osborne.  I was very excited to attend the film screening, as well as a reception for Mr. Osborne, who was kind enough to sign my copy of his latest book 85 Years of the Oscars.  Add to this, the opportunity to ask questions about the film and to see the film on a big screen - it was an amazing night!

Flying Down to Rio is the first Astaire-Rogers film.  Technically, it's a Dolores Del Rio-Gene Raymond part, though, as Ginger and Fred are only minor players in it: they get fourth and fifth billing, respectively.  And they only get one dance number together - "The Carioca", which was nominated for the Best Song Oscar (it lost to "The Continental" from The Fay Divorcee).  But, as always, their dancing is so amazing, they stole the picture from the stars, and the rest is history.
The plot of the film is fairly ordinary.  Roger Bond (Gene Raymond) is the leader of a fairly successful orchestra, however, Roger likes two things far better than working - flying and the ladies.  As a result, he is constantly getting the band fired either because he was late for a broadcast, or for consorting with the guests.  Into his club walks Belinha de Rezende (Dolores Del Rio), a wealthy Brazilian traveler, who immediately captivates Roger.  The management fires the band when Roger is caught dancing with Belinha instead of working, but their joblessness doesn't last long - they have been hired by the Hotel Atlantico in Rio, and off they go.  Of course, the hotel is owned by Belinha's father.  Further complications ensue as Roger and Belinha realize they are in love, though Belinha is engaged to Julio Rubeiro (Raul Roulien), and when the band discovers that the Hotel is in the midst of a hostile takeover by a consortium.  In order to keep their job, Fred Ayres (Fred Astaire) and Honey Hale (Ginger Rogers) come up with a production number to end all production numbers - it's danced in the air!

The introduction by Robert Osborne provided us with some interesting facts.  Originally, Honey Hale was to have been played by Dorothy Jordan, but just before filming began, she married Merian C. Cooper and retired.  In the 1950s, she made three more films, one of which is quite notable. It's The Searchers, in which she played Martha Edwards, Ethan's sister-in-law and great love. (We talked about The Searchers twice.  Here is the most recent article.)  Her marriage to Cooper lasted until his death in 1973; she died in 1988, at the age of 82.  

With Jordan's departure, a new Honey Hale was needed, so the studio turned to Rogers.  She and Astaire knew one another - they had met - and dated - in New York City when he worked as a choreographer in play in which she appeared.  Though neither was looking for a dance partnership (Astaire had decided not to have another partner after sister Adele retired), this was a one-shot in a minor role.  Little did they know they would be making film history.

This TCM Article talks about these facts, as well as another partnership that was formed during the film - Astaire's meeting with Hermes Pan, the assistant choreographer here. It also discusses the magnificent art deco sets - they are of themselves works of art.

The film is also VERY precode. From Ginger Rogers see-through evening gown to the dancers whose dresses are literally blown off while performing on an airplane wing, we get to see a lot of some lovely ladies.  Add to that some suggestive lines ("What's this business with the forehead?" "Mental telepathy." "I can tell what they’re thinking about from here.”) and you have a delightfully naughty film.

A quick tip of the hat is due to actor Raul Roulien, who plays Belinha's fiance.  He makes Julio so very likeable that, by film's end, you wonder WHY Belinha would pick such a lightweight as Roger, when she has a wonderful, stable, loving guy like Julio at hand.  We don't have a lot of hope for that marriage.  One suspects Roger will be gadding about once the novelty of Belinha and Rio wears off.   However, we think that Fred and Honey will take the band to new heights of popularity (once they get away from Roger and his hijinks.

We leave you with Fred and Ginger dancing "The Carioca":

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