Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland / U.S., 1933):

From the opening title on, a quintessential piece of Thirties musical kookiness right out of Man Ray. Vargas-era Rio here is a peculiar mix of modernist swank and 19th-century arranged marriages, otherwise the romantic triangle of the flirty heiress (Dolores del Rio), her jelly-chinned fiancée (Raul Roulien), and her Yankee suitor (Gene Raymond) would have resolved itself in three minutes. Getting there is half the fun: The haphazard delectations include Franklin Pangborn’s double-take at a hotel maid’s ample prow, an exceedingly hot-to-trot Ginger Rogers (diaphanous gown and all) singing "Music Makes Me," and an anti-racism jest set in the "Port-au-Prince Golf Club" (the shirtless "cannibals" are cultivated guests teeing through). Thornton Freeland sets out to match the Busby Berkeley bacchanalias over at Warners, and "The Carioca" -- "a bit of wicked wacky-wicky" with revolving stages and torrid dancing couples virtually bending each other horizontally -- is a valiant try. Of course, the picture’s place in cinema history is due to the first pairing of Fred Astaire’s spectral grace and Rogers’ trouper brassiness. Fred watches the insinuating slinky bodies on the dance floor, and invites the chorine over: "Kind of hot. Let’s try a little of that, babe." (Their coitus is interrupted here, then consummated in The Gay Divorcee and beyond.) A pre-Code tour de force of inane illusionism and peekaboo nipples caps the sensualist hodgepodge, grinning showgirls with propellers strapped to dominatrix costumes and paraded on the wings of airplanes above Hollywood’s Brazil. (Heard over a crotch-shot of nubile aviatrixes: "I’ll try anything once.") Howard Hughes wasn’t involved, incredibly. With Blanche Friderici, Walter Walker, Paul Porcasi, Eric Blore, and Etta Motten. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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