Broadside #27 (Summer 2012 / 12.14)
Flying Down to Rio (1933)
…Yankee ingenuity and a little rule bending save the Hotel Atlantico. Unable to obtain the proper entertainment permit for the hotel, [Fred Astaire] stages the opening day show, with its contingent of beautiful girls, on the wings of airplanes above the hotel rather than in it. The ingenious Yankee Clippers save Belinha’s father’s hotel from the scheming “buzzards,” and Roger Bond marries Belinha. Thus, the film has reassured audiences that North and South America can live in harmony, with mutual respect and well-intentioned assistance when needed.
– Rosalie Schwartz, Flying Down to Rio: Hollywood, Tourists,
and Yankee Clippers (2004), p.14
“What have these South Americans got below the equator that we haven’t?”
– The actress Mary Kornman in Flying Down to Rio (1933)
When Astaire, gliding through the saxophones
on the shiny marble deck, waves his hand, and is seen
by Ginger, high above, astride the Sopwith Camel,
Ginger gives a sign, and the biplanes—
the Staggerwing, the Ikarus Aero,
the Fairey Swordfish—buzz the Hotel Atlantico.
The girls windmill their arms, their legs kick right then
left, as Astaire croons and the band plays.
No, there are no hummingbirds, though the second unit
filmed some in Brazil, thinking the birds—flitting,
sipping orchids—could be fade-cut to the girls,
tap-tapping atop the wings.
But in the final print, we have only moonlight, an elaborate
dance— “the Carioca” —in which lovers tango, sharing
the knowledge of their bodies, forehead
to forehead; the thrum of those great, noisy engines,
a few sweet songs, and the frantic, prop-blown girls, tapping
and wheeling, far above the sugary beach.
Author’s commentary: In 1941, the United States government sent Walt Disney and a group of his studio artists to South America on a good-will tour. The journey (with stops in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru) resulted in three animated films starring Donald Duck: Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944) and Clown of the Jungle (1946). The story of the South American journey is recounted in Walt & El Grupo (2008), a documentary film directed by Theodore Thomas. Donald Duck in Brazil tells the story as Donald might have recounted it, years later, to an investigative journalist. The poem is from a collection I am working on titled Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds, concerned (in part) with the interactions of First World artists and the Third World.