Flying Down to Rio is only remembered for one thing. But the first teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers makes this mediocre RKO musical unforgetable. Yet no one seems to recall how this inspired partnership came about. Dorothy Jordan had been announced in the Rogers role, but married studio boss Merian C. Cooper instead and Fred was reunited with the blonde he'd once dated in New York while choreographing her
Embraceable You' number in George Gershwin's Girl Crazy. They share a few bantered exchanges and Fred later reprises Ginger's song solo, Music Makes Me'. But they're pretty much kept apart until Ginger insists that they show the locals
a thing or three' by joining in The Carioca'.
However, even this wasn't conceived as a showcase and they're off screen for much of its duration, as a white, a mulatto and a black singer respectively carries the melody. But the sight of them gyrating with their foreheads pressed together and then atop seven grand pianos prompted a dance craze across the States and made the movie a massive hit (baffling Astaire, who was so convinced he'd made his second and final feature that he took his stage show, The Gay Divorce, to London).
Yet, the picture's look also had much to do with its success. It's a resolutely modern affair celebrating new modes of transport and communication and the faster film stock and sharper lighting gave the sets a glistening elegance that captivated Depression audiences seeking a little escapism. Moreover, sound recording techniques had much improved since the musical become box-office poison following its initial novelty boom. Consequently, choreographer Dave Gould was able to keep his cast moving, whether it was Fred tangoing with Dolores Del Rio or a bevy of chorines wing-walking on biplanes over the city, in a title routine consciously designed to out-Buzz Busby Berkeley, who had been largely responsible for reviving the genre at Warners.