After inspecting the staff at a Miami hotel, the manager (Franklin Pangborn) starts fretting about the non-appearance of the bandleader - tonight is a big night for the establishment, and they are keen to impress the guests. Where is Roger Bond, the bandleader (Gene Raymond)? At this moment, up in the sky in his private aeroplane, flying into Miami with his best friend and right hand man Fred Ayres (Fred Astaire) and they make it to the hotel just in time. The show begins but to Fred's dismay Roger's wandering eyes alight upon one of the ladies at a nearby table, a Brazilian beauty called Belinha de Rezende (Dolores del Rio) - could this be trouble?
No, it's the first sign of romance! Well, it's trouble, too, but nothing too taxing for us watching in this light musical that has historical value as the first film to ever pair Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, one of the most enduring movie star partnerships ever to grace the silver screen. Although they are strictly supporting players, it's clear that halfway through someone thought, hey, these two are better than our headliners who let's face it, can barely sing or dance! Therefore after the initial forty minutes or so, where everyone seems to have forgotten this is a musical, Fred and Ginger get far more to do.
And rightly so, as they're the brightest things in this frequently silly movie. Not that it ever becomes tiresome, it's just that it's so determinedly frothy, some would say dementedly so, that it needed charisma of the calibre of that famed dancing duo to rise to the material's level. During that first half, the story concentrates on the romance between Roger and Belinha, as the plot works out a way to get them to her home city of Rio where her fiancé Julio (Raul Roulien) is waiting - you can tell from the start he's heading for disappointment, that man. This involves Roger flying her there in his plane (which has a piano in it!), but they get into difficulty and make a forced landing.
They spend the night there on the beach, although not too happily as after a clinch she ends up slapping him and he ends up spanking her (is this the type of man you want to spend your life with, Belinha? Julio wouldn't stoop to that behaviour!), so it's not too sunny an affair. There then follows a neat gag where she thinks they have been discovered by cannibals - only for a golf ball to hit Roger and the revelation that these blacks are not stereotypical savages, but workers at the nearby hotel and perfectly civilised - Clarence Muse is a welcome sight as the caddy who breaks the news to them. Then they really do get to Rio, where the band are waiting and a new hotel is opening at which Rog and company will be the entertainment.
That said, it's really Astaire and Rogers who are the entertainment as they finally get to dance with each other, in the splendid Carioca number; when you watch them hoofing, it's as if they'd been dancing together all their lives. You'll note that while Fred has his nice guy persona fully formed from the word go, Ginger is a lot more hardboiled as she fires off the wisecracks, but other than they they are the delight they would always be. As this was pre-Hays Code, it's fun to spot the sauciness in lines like "What do Brazilian girls have below the equator that we don't?" and note that the dancers in the celebrated wing-walking finale are plainly not wearing bras, which only adds to the diversion. There's a light delirium to Flying Down to Rio once it builds up a head of steam, and you cannot hold anything against a film which exists solely to cheer you up - it was a worthy way to introduce two new stars.