Flying Down to Rio

IMG_20150119_080731On sort of a whim my daughter and I spent a few hours at the historic KiMo Theater in downtown Albuquerque watching Fred and Ginger dance the Carioca in a classic old musical, Flying Down to Rio.

I’ll talk about the theater in a while but first let me try to make sense of the movie. Flying Down to Rio was  made in 1933 at the height of the depression. There was a bunch of escapist musicals produced during those years and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were a big part of that era. This movie was the first one they were paired up to do although each had been in earlier films. You will notice from the poster that Ginger Rogers got higher billing than did Fred Astaire. I hope she enjoyed it because that never happened again.

Essentially this is a little story about a struggling dance band that gets a gig in Rio de Janeiro which happens also to be at the very same hotel owned the uncle of the band leader’s (Gene Raymond) romantic attraction (Dolores Del Rio). Seems like the hotel is struggling too thanks to some crime boss hanky-panky and corrupt local politicians. The plot deals with how the hotel is saved and the girl gets her true love…maybe the band leader. Meanwhile, Fred Astaire is the band leader’s pal and accordion player…yes, he plays an accordion… and fills in as the band director when the leader is off chasing his lady-love. Ginger Rogers is a singer for the band and seems to have a little more dialogue than usual.

The task of getting to Rio isn’t easy. The band leader  tricks the girlfriend into having him fly her down in his little single engine plane…which happens to be equipped with a piano. Surprise, surprise, the plane has engine trouble and they have to land on the beach of a deserted island and spend the night. Only the island isn’t really deserted and there as a peculiar scene with “wild men” including one guy who shows up as a golf caddy who directs them to the local airport.  So, anyway, they all get to Rio in time for the hotel’s grand opening except that the city won’t issue an entertainment license because the bad guys want the hotel to fail so they can take it over.

The band members kill time by absorbing the local musical entertainment and are taken by the Brazilian music and dancing. The Carioca is all the rage in Rio and the Americans are enthralled. FlyingDownToRioPIC-106Fred and Ginger can’t contain their enthusiasm and jump up and run down to the dance floor to join in on the fun. The dance number goes on forever, it seems, with new herds of dancers joining in each time you think it is almost over. This is a huge dance number. Apparently, this version of the Carioca is a dance where the two partners have to hold their foreheads together while doing fancy footwork. Of course, Ginger Rogers does it in high heels and backwards.  This is all a lot of fun but there is still a problem with the hotel and the Americans won’t have a job unless the hotel opens as planned.

In order to save the hotel, the band leader concocts a crazy plan to have an aerial extravaganza with chorus girls wired and strapped to the wings of a half dozen or more rickety airplanes.  You will notice on the poster the reference to “200 beauties”?  Most of them are strapped to the wings of these airplanes. I don’t think this was supposed to be a hilarious movie back in 1933 but I admit that I guffawed loudly several times as the girls performed on the wings of the airplanes as they flew over Rio de Janeiro.


One group sprouted parachutes and flew off the wing of the plane to land somewhere in Brazil…we never saw them again. Another girl fell off one plane and landed in the arms of a couple guys dancing on the wing of another plane…didn’t skip a beat. Another batch of dancers sprouted parachutes which ripped off their costumes and revealed their racy 1933 swimming outfits but they just kept right on dancing. At the same time, Fred and the barely disguised band members reveal their true identity and burst into music on the hotel veranda to the overwhelming enjoyment of the hotel guests. The hotel is saved because the mayor shows up and likes what he sees. It’s not every day that you get to watch dozens of girls dancing on the wings of airplanes flying over your city.

Flashback — I forgot to mention that the girlfriend is engaged to a local guy who works at the hotel so there is a three-way thing going on. The band leader finally decides he’s not right for the girl and books a flight on the Pan Am Clipper (passenger sea plane) to go back home to the good ol’ USA. Not so fast…the boyfriend decides that the captain/pilot of the sea plane can marry them so he grabs the girl and they both race to the dock and board to sea plane and it takes off over the sea as the girl realizes that the band leader is on the plane. The boyfriend (still wearing his parachute from the aerial dance number) says he wants the other two to get married and he opens the door of the plane and jumps out with his parachute – we think he landed on the beach but maybe not. We are left to assume the band leader and his girl live happily ever after.

This was a technological marvel in its day because the aerial dance extravaganza took place on the ground but it looks like it is going on in the air over Rio. A special process was created by Linwood G. Dunn to merge two images…the dancers and the planes with the aerial footage of Rio de Janeiro. Dunn also worked on King Kong and even the early Star Trek series.   Here is a link to the Youtube clip:

As I said, I suspect that the movie wasn’t intended to be as funny in 1933 as it now appears to be. It was entertaining and made me laugh.

f16_000The KiMo Theater was built in 1927 in downtown Albuquerque in Pueblo Deco architectural style. It was a marvel in its day and there are really no other similar theaters that come close to matching the style.  Over the years the theater fell into disrepair, like so many other large movie houses, and was damaged in a fire in the 1960s. It was slated for demolition in 1977 but city voters approved a bond issue to save it and the city put up extra money to complete the renovation. It is now operated by the city and is once again showing films and hosting stage performances and concerts. It is open most days for self guided tours.


The balcony railing turned out to be too low in height to meet city building codes when renovation took place. The legs and the necks of the cranes depicted on the railing had to be lengthened to meet the building code.


The seating and some of the other furnishings were updated but the theater retains its original splendor and seemed like the perfect spot to watch an old  black and white musical.